Israel-Diaspora changes

Israel has matured, and in doing so has become much more independent of the American and other Diaspora communities that nurtured it in its earlier years.

AMERICANS TAKE part in the annual Salute to Israel parade in New York City (photo credit: EDUARDO MUNOZ / REUTERS)
AMERICANS TAKE part in the annual Salute to Israel parade in New York City
(photo credit: EDUARDO MUNOZ / REUTERS)
Certain changes are difficult for some people to acknowledge, yet alone accept. The parenting experience offers a good example. My wife and I watched with pride as our six children went from birth and infancy through childhood, their teen years and onto adulthood. They are now all, thank God, grown, financially responsible and independent; some are parents themselves. Throughout childhood and their adolescent years we supported and advised them. Even though from time to time we still “help out,” in truth they can manage fine without our gifts. Occasionally they will consult with us, but major decisions, their own internal family decisions, they take on their own. In truth, we have not been happy with all of their adult decisions. Some, albeit unintentionally, have even caused us pain. But they are now adults who make their own decisions and must live with the consequences.
Some parents have difficulty with their children’s maturation and separation. After so many years, their children’s dependency becomes the family norms making independence difficult for some parents to accept. This dependency contributed to their own identity. While such parents may genuinely take pride in their adult children’s individuality and achievements they still seek to be closely involved in their children’s lives, particularly with regard to decision making. But the needs and capabilities of one’s child at age 30 or 40 are not the same as when she or he was at age ten. The inability to acknowledge changes that come with time and relate appropriately causes friction in the parent/adult-child relationship.
“The times they are a changing,” wrote Jewish troubadour Robert Zimmerman aka Bob Dylan. David Breakstone is deeply familiar with this seminal 1960’s era song and its message. Yet he seems to have forgotten its verity in his “We’re on the edge of a precipice here” (Jerusalem Post, August 17).
The parenting and change metaphors can reference the 70-year relationship between America’s Jews and the state of Israel. Although at no time was Israel wholly dependent upon the American Jewish community for its existence, no one denies that from the day of Israel’s birth in 1948, and especially in the decade following the 1967 Six-Day War, organized American Jewry dedicated much of its political capital and philanthropic largess to supporting and advancing the Jewish state. But throughout the years many American Jewish supporters acted on the basis of an unwritten assumption, namely that as the recipient of millions of American Jewish dollars, Israel was beholden to its overseas patrons, and that as long as money flowed from west to east, this relationship would remain. No government of Israel, it was understood, regardless of who was in power, would therefore enact any policy that would offend the sensibilities nor contradict the purported values of the American Jewish community. Some American Jews seemed to relate to the sovereign Jewish state as if it were just another, albeit exceptionally large, Jewish organization grateful to receive their financial and political support, in return for which they as donors had a say in its running.
But as early as 1999 in his The Death of the American Uncle (Hebrew, republished in English in 2000 as My Brother’s Keeper), Yossi Beilin, then Israel’s minister of justice, shocked much of the Jewish world when he drew readers’ attention to the changing relationship between a stronger Israel and a weakening Jewish Diaspora. Beilin argued that rather than being essential to Israel’s well-being and progress, American Jewish philanthropy was not as important as it once was, and benefits more the donor than the recipient.
There is no doubt that over the years this trend has only grown. During the last quarter of a century, Israel’s economy has enjoyed unprecedented growth. Using methodology employed by the World Bank, the State of Israel is currently valued at approximately $5.03 trillion. While Israel is still a recipient of donations from around the world, particularly from Jews in the United States and Europe, gifts to its nonprofit sector make up a tiny percentage of the country’s total economy. A proper reordering of financial priorities by Israel’s politicians and the state treasury could cover most of these costs. In fact, in an unprecedented gesture, over the summer a group of American Jewish day school principals approached the state of Israel for financial aid.
A similar trend pertains to political support. Even as the impact of American Jewish dollars in Israel was diminishing, there were claims that Israel still needs the clout of American Jews in Washington. But the great majority of American Jews are Democrats and according to a January 2018 Pew survey, Democratic support for Israel is at 27%, while among Republicans it is at 79%. Sadly, America’s Evangelical Christian community currently surpasses American Jews in support of Israel and the current government.
Israel has matured, and in doing so has become much more independent of the American and other Diaspora communities that nurtured it in its earlier years. The reality, even if painful to some, is that not all of Israel’s internal interests are in harmony with the interests of Jews abroad. Some, like Ronald Lauder, have a hard time with this. His attitude toward Israel is paternalistic and regressive. Of course, the state of Israel appreciates the support it receives from Jews around the world, but when the Jewish Federations of North America hold their General Assembly in October in Tel Aviv with the theme, “We Need to Talk,” the talk should be between two mutually respectful adults, not between parent and child.
The author is the director of iTalkIsrael in Efrat.
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