Why do Diaspora Jews care about internal Israeli conflicts? - opinion

Political differences, religious differences, sexual differences and even social differences that began as a ripple have now morphed into a wave.

 Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu with Shas leader MK Aryeh Deri, Religious Zionist party head MK Bezalel Smotrich and Party leaders at a swearing-in ceremony of the 25th Knesset, at the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, November 15, 2022. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu with Shas leader MK Aryeh Deri, Religious Zionist party head MK Bezalel Smotrich and Party leaders at a swearing-in ceremony of the 25th Knesset, at the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, November 15, 2022.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Jew against Jew has become a recurring, attention-grabbing theme for the media. In Israel and in the Diaspora, much ink has been spilled discussing and dissecting the numerous internal divisions disrupting the Jewish community.

Internal Israeli conflicts have made their way to the Diaspora. The issues are causing great concern not only for Israelis but also for non-Israeli Jews, and especially for liberal Jews. Political differences, religious differences, sexual differences and even social differences that began as a ripple and have now morphed into a wave, approaching the level of a tidal wave, are overtaking Jewish communities the world over.

These conflicts and concerns have stirred Americans – average, non-Jewish Americans – to take notice. The inner workings in Israel, especially within and surrounding the government of Israel, are now front page, often above the fold, headlines in the secular press, op-eds and back-page news. For friends of Israel, as for haters of Israel, it appears all-consuming.

Is Israel turning into a religious regime?

Like in Israel, this coverage and the conversations they stimulate question the very democratic nature of Israel. In the Diaspora, one of the burning questions being asked centers on whether or not Israel is turning into a religious regime, just like Iran. Another is whether Israel will still protect minority rights.

Then-head of the National Union party MK Betzalel Smotrich and attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir attend Otzma Yehudit party's election campaign event in Bat Yam on April 06, 2019.  (credit: GILI YAARI/FLASH90)Then-head of the National Union party MK Betzalel Smotrich and attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir attend Otzma Yehudit party's election campaign event in Bat Yam on April 06, 2019. (credit: GILI YAARI/FLASH90)

Lovers of Israel are stymied, searching for a response to these searing questions. Being proud of Israel is not a viable answer, not now when some of the things Israel is doing are hard to be proud of.

I have been brought into numerous conversations with unaffiliated Jews, non-Orthodox Jews and Orthodox Jews, people who feel as if they have been disenfranchised by the new Israeli government. And they have begun to articulate what they believe are the points of view of this new government that are antithetical to democratic values.

My reasoned responses, that Israel is still a democratic state, that in democracies the pendulum swings back and forth that Israel is no different in that way than the United States, are met with skepticism at best. At worst, my words fall on deaf ears.

What about the Bennett-Lapid government?

REMINDING PEOPLE that the previous Israeli government, the Bennett-Lapid government, was liberal does not impress them. That this time liberal voices lost and conservative voices won now holds sway and I understand why.

Israel is different and is supposed to be different. Israel has always been held to a different standard, a higher standard, not only by the world at large but also by Jews at large.

What disturbs the Diaspora Jewish community is what unites the Diaspora Jewish community. The reality is that there are many more positive forces that bind the Jews of the world together than splinter it apart.

For mainstream Jews across the world, Israel is still the centerpiece of Jewish life. For those for whom it is not the epicenter of their lives, it at least plays a significant role in their lives.

And, alas, for those Jews for whom Israel is a negative force in their lives and their identity, for whom no argument will tip the scale, there will be no redemption regardless of what Israel does or does not do. For them, Israel is always wrong and they will always find evidence to prove their point. Thankfully, while very vocal, they are still in the minority.

The bond that unites Jews is a strong one.

It is linked to the past and inextricably bound to a positive, creative, future for the Jewish people. Our history is no trivial event. That, combined with Jewish tradition, language, culture and foods runs far deeper and is far more expansive than politics.

And that link is strengthened in defense against those who attack other Jews or Israel – especially attacks against Israel. As Theodor Herzl once said, “We are a people. Our enemies have made us one.”

Let the media cover the internal struggles. Let Jew debate Jew. In the end, Israel has nothing to hide. Debate is mere dialogue. In a few days, the world will move to another topic. But we will remain strong, united, democratic and proud.

The writer is a social and political commentator. Watch his TV show Thinking Out Loud on JBS.