Israel must invest in cultivating leaders among American olim - opinion

The clear conclusion is that social and political leaders must invest in the talents of these promising immigrants to cultivate potential leaders among immigrants from the US.

 THEN-US AMBASSADOR to Israel David Friedman speaks at the opening of an ancient road at the City of David archaeological site in Jerusalem, in 2019.  (photo credit: FLASH90)
THEN-US AMBASSADOR to Israel David Friedman speaks at the opening of an ancient road at the City of David archaeological site in Jerusalem, in 2019.
(photo credit: FLASH90)

It is no secret that identity politics play a key role in the Israeli election system. Those politics will be prominent in the forthcoming national elections in November, as they have been in previous elections, alongside policy matters of security, the economy and social issues. The ethnic origins of candidates and longstanding community alignments with political parties influence decision-making.

They bear an impact on the very nature of public dialogue and voting patterns. When we examine the characteristics of Israel’s political parties, the influence of ethos and ethnicity are clear, from ultra-Orthodox leaders to religious Zionists, immigrants from the former Soviet Union, traditionalist Jews, liberal secularists and Arab Israelis.

Yet, it is noteworthy that immigrants from the United States do not have a distinctive influence on political parties, culture and other cultural Israeli institutions. That is the case even though Americans are in sixth place (quantitatively) among Diaspora immigrants and have immigrated to Israel in a steady stream from prior to the founding of the state until our times.

They are under-represented in contrast to other immigrants, perhaps because of their rates of economic and social success. Even after finding their place in Israel, they maintain strong ties to their country of origin, since there is no conflict between their American and Israeli identities. Their natural connection with Israel’s most prominent ally also distinguishes them from immigrants from other English-speaking countries.

Jewish immigrant communities from other parts of the world experience greater difficulties in achieving integration and the cultures of their country of origin do not align as smoothly with Israel’s as do their American peers. These gaps have created a greater need for them to create a political lobby to advocate on their behalf.

242 new immigrants stepped off a Nefesh B’Nefesh chartered El Al flight in Ben-Gurion Airport on August 14, 2019. (credit: GPO)242 new immigrants stepped off a Nefesh B’Nefesh chartered El Al flight in Ben-Gurion Airport on August 14, 2019. (credit: GPO)

What makes American immigrants to Israel different?

US immigrants are characterized by other singular factors, such as their immigration was not forced upon them by economic or social exclusion, it has been a matter of choice. Although the current new waves of antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment cannot and should not be ignored, overall, many Jews still feel well-grounded economically and socially in their lives in the US. Their immigration is motivated by ideological-Zionist considerations, and they make aliyah with a consciousness of the difficulties that immigration and integration will impose on them.

THESE FACTORS naturally raise the question: Given their socioeconomic status, higher education, fluency in English, strong ties with their countries of origin and their strong Zionist commitment, is their considerable potential being fully realized in the Israeli public sphere?

Israel’s history definitely reflects the influence of American Jews, from the pressure exerted on Congress to support for the founding of Israel, to the activists who advance bipartisan support for Israel, and Golda Meir’s unprecedented fundraising initiatives (she too was an American immigrant).

These vital initiatives supported Israel in attaining crucial defense weaponry from the War of Independence until our time. Former US ambassador David Friedman played a significant role in the recognition of Israeli sovereignty of the Golan Heights and the transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

Each year, some 2,000-3,000 US immigrants arrive in Israel. Given their capacities and achievements, is there their potential being adequately realized in Israel’s political and public spheres?

The full realization of their potential is essential to the future of Israel and the Zionist vision, and in an era in which Israeli society is mired in an identity crisis and alienation from the Jewish-Zionist narrative. Renewal of Zionist ideology and inclusion of the ethos of leaders, such as Michael Eisenberg, Wendy Singer, Yoram Hazony, and many others are models for this renaissance.

They bring to life Zionist activism, economic advancement and social initiatives that utilize their mastery of the English language and their natural ties to American culture. They connect Israel with Diaspora Jewry, with a multiplier effect on matters of the economy, politics and Jewish identity.

The clear conclusion is that social and political leaders must invest in the talents of these promising immigrants to cultivate potential leaders among immigrants from the US. Every effort must be made to promote inclusion in research centers, training centers for social action, and engagement in mainstream political and social forums, including a focus on the new waves of young American immigrants. These immigrants have tremendous contributions to make to the fulfillment of the Zionist vision and the future of the Jewish people.

The writer is the founder of YESOD, an initiative he is launching with like-minded colleagues, after some 15 years of guiding young leadership programs in Israel and overseas. He is also the creator of programs to enrich Jewish identity and promote social mobility. He is a reserve-duty combat officer of a search-and-rescue unit of the IDF.