Anyone who has been to a pro-Israel gathering in the United States in recent years has likely heard politicians repeat two popular catchphrases: that the US-Israel relationship is unbreakable and that the relationship is based on shared values.
While the alliance between the countries has seen its ups and downs, it has weathered them bravely, and succeeded, for the most part, since the values seemed to remain the same.
In the Diaspora, and specifically the US, Jews are split about what is happening in Israel. We have both held countless conversations with Jewish professionals and lay leaders in recent weeks and hear concern, and uncertainty, about what Israel is doing, but even more so – a lot of questions about what they should be doing.
Most have a hard time understanding what is happening. They see 300,000 Israelis protesting weekly and understand that as 2.5% of the population that would be the equivalent of eight million Americans protesting every week for more than three months. To them, that is unimaginable and shows the real distress in which the Jewish state is now engulfed.
These Jews want to remain connected to Israel and want to feel pride in Israel, but that is no longer easy as the Israel they thought they knew moves away from its liberal democratic foundations.
Our purpose in writing this article is not to convince readers how to think about the judicial reform. While we acknowledge that reforms are needed, the way this has been done, and the way the legislation has advanced through the Knesset, has us deeply worried not only about the future of Israel’s democratic character, but also about the vitality of the Israel-Diaspora relationship.
While on the surface it might seem like the judicial reforms are a domestic issue, we believe they have wider consequences not only for the US-Israel relationship, but also for the sense of Jewish peoplehood that is supposed to be shared by Jews in Israel, the US and beyond.
Many supporters of the reform are upset by comments from Jews overseas, whom they accuse of interfering in a legitimate domestic democratic process. On the other hand, many opponents of the reform want Jews abroad and their organizations to speak up and get involved to help convince Netanyahu to stop the legislation.
Like America, Israel is a work in progress and needs the help of its friends now more than ever. This is not the time for despair, distancing, or any form of “quiet quitting.” Just as hundreds of thousands of Israelis are taking to the streets and are being moved to action, Diaspora Jews have an opportunity to lean in, to partner up – from each according to means and inclination – and commit to a long-term, intergenerational relationship.
We want the relationship between our countries not only to survive, but to thrive. For that to happen, we believe that it is important for Israelis to know how their fellow Jews overseas are experiencing this crisis. This does not mean that Israelis will listen to what is said but – at a bare minimum – they will not be able to later claim that they were unaware of the consequences of their actions.
The current crisis is a chance for Israelis and American Jews – especially the younger generation – to be part of Israeli and Jewish history and to be full partners in the ongoing creation of what Israel is yet to be.
How can Jews overseas make their voices heard about Israel?
WE BELIEVE that all Jews have the right and obligation to make their voices heard. This list is meant to help with that.
- At the most basic level is the need to be educated about the issue. It is very easy to pass judgment about what is happening, but there is nothing like really knowing the issue to know what is at stake. This will help you engage more effectively with other people – stakeholders in Israel and the US alike.
- Every American Jew who cares about Israel and democracy must read and print out a copy of Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Discuss it with friends and family. It should be inserted into the Haggadah and made a central component of every Seder. Not only this year but every year.
- Reach out to Israeli family and friends. Comfort them as best you can, share your concerns, and ask what they need from you by way of support. “How can I help?” is a great response to this crisis.
- Share their pleas with those in your social circle and the organizations you are most involved with.
- Write about your feelings. There are numerous outlets for you to voice your opinion – from social media to the opinion pages of Israeli news sites and papers or any local newspapers. Make your voice heard through an op-ed, a letter to the editor, or an online petition that you initiate in your community, school, synagogue or more.
- Engage opinion leaders to amplify your voice.
- Fund organizations that you feel best represent your values and feelings. Overseas money supports the right-wing group that helped the coalition draft and advance the legislation. It is perfectly legitimate for Diaspora Jews, for example, to financially support the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, one of the groups spearheading the protests.
- Strengthen Israeli civil society by supporting NGOs devoted to that mission, as well as investigative journalism in Israel, which is a critical tool for ensuring transparency in a democracy.
- Invest in foundations, such as Heart of a Nation, which focus on the training of emerging leaders committed to improving Israeli political culture.
- Get on a plane. Go to Israel now. Not as cheerleaders alone but as full partners in a history-defining enterprise.
Yaakov Katz is the outgoing editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post and author of Shadow Strike: Inside Israel’s Secret Mission to Eliminate Syrian Nuclear Power. Jonathan Kessler is the founder and CEO of Heart of a Nation.