The Israeli right-wing comeback in parallel with the midterm elections for Congress in the United States brings up, again, the discourse on mutual Jewish expectations in both countries. Many in Israel expect that when a New York Jew goes to the polls, he will cast a ballot that will prioritize the needs and plight of Israel. It didn’t happen and it won’t happen either.
In recent weeks, we have been exposed to the American mirror image. Like many of us, including Netanyahu voters, many Jews in the US are disgusted by the statements and the possible inclusion of Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir as senior ministers in the new cabinet. Opinion leaders and Jewish community leaders are shocked by the possible consequences on the relations between Washington and Jerusalem: how will we be able to protect Israel when it tramples on our shared values?
What will we say to our neighbors? What will we say to the administration, to Congress? How will the progressives who do not sympathize with Israel react? Do you consider the growing antisemitic expressions on our side? Why are you not taking us into consideration when you make your political decisions? Well, it didn’t happen in the past and it probably won’t happen in the future either.
Will the Israeli election results affect the relationship between American Jews and Israeli Jews?
It should not. When a Jew in New York, Chicago, Cleveland, or Los Angeles goes to the polls, he is affected by the polarization and the deepening rift between Republicans and Democrats, and he relates to the cost of living in America, the education of his children, the treatment of minorities, the rise of antisemitism, the right of a woman on her body and the freedom for LGBTQs in his community.
What mainly bothers a Jew in Israel on his way to the polls? The internal environment of hate, equality before the law, the lack of personal security, the loss of governance in the Negev and the Galilee, the rise of Bedouin crime, the robbery of farmers in moshavim and kibbutzim, the phenomenon of protection demands, and who is better prepared to challenge the Iranian nuclear threat.
Above all, when 18-year-old soldier Noa Lazar was killed at the Kalandia checkpoint, most Jews in Israel were horrified – she could have been the daughter of any of them. On the other hand, Knesset members in the Arab sector expressed understanding and support for the murderer martyrs. The government kept quiet, lest their finger is needed after the elections.
The US is Israel’s most important ally. This alliance relies on geopolitical interests, cooperation in the fields of high-tech and intelligence, and a series of common democratic and humanitarian values that draw in part from Jewish and Christian traditions.
The Jewish community in America is a strategic asset for Israel. It’s a major player in the relationship between Washington and Jerusalem. Its strength and influence in the US are at the center of the Israeli interest. Without the use of the US veto in the Security Council against hostile decisions by its enemies, Israel’s position in its relations with the world could have wholly deteriorated.
The establishment and prosperity of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state is a major asset for American Jews, adds security against the waves of traditional anti-Jewish sentiments and its success contributes to ethnic pride. The North American Jewish community is aware that antisemitism was not born with the founding of Israel. It has been there forever since Jews were not welcomed as members of country clubs and leading universities limited the entrance of Jewish students with quotas.
Matching expectations between Israeli and American Jews are iron terms for having a warm, loving and supportive relationship between Jews on both sides of the ocean. When an American Jew considers who to vote for, he puts the prosperity of America as a superpower in the security, economic and social spheres in the forefront of his mind. This is good for Israel.
An Israeli Jew on his way to the polls usually puts his existential interests at the forefront and rejects the arrogance and insult of some at the center towards the periphery, which harms the main achievement of modern Zionism: the kibbutz galuyot (ingathering of exiles) and the founding of a homeland for the Jewish people in the land of their forefathers. This shouldn’t harm American Jews.
These differences should be understood and digested by both sides with a minimal negative impact on either side.
The writer is president emeritus of the Jewish People Policy Institute and a former diplomatic correspondent and Washington bureau chief of Maariv.