דלג לתפריט הראשי (מקש קיצור n) דלג לתוכן הדף (מקש קיצור s) דלג לתחתית הדף (מקש קיצור 2)

Nadav Tamir, Senior Advisor for Governmental and International Affairs

 

Closing the Rift Between Israeli Jews and Jews of the Diaspora 

The Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel stipulates that Israel will at the same time be a homeland for the Jewish People and a state where all its citizens are equal – Jews and non-Jews alike. This dual role of the State of Israel led to the question of identity - are we more Israeli, or Jewish? It became an issue that can tear our society apart, as was demonstrated by the controversial “Nation-State Law”.
The answer for me is that the two concepts are not mutually exclusive and that as Jews, we can and should feel both identities. The same is also true for Arabs in Israel who feel both Israeli and Muslim or Christian Palestinian at the same time. Multiple identities are natural and legitimate, just as Jews in the United States can be American Jews and Zionists at the same time.
When I grew up in a kibbutz, I resented Jewish identity, because I felt more connected with Arab or Druze Israelis than with the Jews in the Diaspora who back then, seemed less relevant to my life. As a child one usually looks for clarity and it was harder to deal with the complexities of several identities. I was also influenced by the founders of the kibbutz movement who were trying to distinguish us from the Jews of the Diaspora, who were considered weak while we were strong, capable of defending ourselves and knew how to work the land as farmers.
The Socialist ideology of the kibbutz movement also pushed us away from Judaism and the antagonism towards the monopoly of the Orthodox religious establishment in Israel didn’t help.

Fast forward many years. When I met Jewish communities in my role at the Israeli embassy in Washington DC, I saw them as a mere instrument to accrue political influence and connections in Congress, the administration and the media.
The first time that I was really part of a Jewish community, was when I interacted with the Jewish community of Boston during the year I spent in Brookline, Massachusetts as a Wexner fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. The Wexner Foundation saw the connection between us and the Jewish community of Boston as one of the goals of that life changing year.
Only then did I understand that we are one extended family and that Israel is a joint venture between us Israelis (Jews and non-Jews) and the Jews of the world.
For the first time I understood the concept of ‘Peoplehood’ and that Israel was created also for them and not them for Israel. Only then did I understand that the instrumentalist prism in which Israelis view the Jews of the Diaspora is counterproductive. The Israeli public and establishment have always taken an instrumental and unilateral approach toward Diaspora Jewry, expecting it to serve as a pro-Israel lobby, a cash machine for unconditional funding and a potential immigrant pool.
At the same time, since Diaspora Jews do not have voting rights in Israel, their needs and preferences do not enjoy political advocacy or representation. I decided that I should be their voice in Israel.
In retrospect I think that had Israel adopted a constitution, it should have stipulated that the President of the State or, alternatively, the Supreme Court, wield the authority to strike down Knesset legislation deemed damaging to the State of Israel’s designation in the Declaration of Independence as the Jewish nation state.
In the absence of a constitution, the commitment to Jewish ‘peoplehood’ should have been enshrined in the 2018 Nation-State Law, along with a promise of equality for non-Jewish citizens, given that both elements constitute the pillars of the democratic Jewish nation state.
Another reason for the rift between Israel and global Jewry lies in the Israeli establishment’s attitude toward the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, which constitute a large majority of the Jewish people. Jewish peoplehood, which essentially means one extended family, cannot be forged when we treat members of Judaism’s liberal streams as second-class Jews.

Israeli legislators have no incentive to deal with this issue, since there are many more Orthodox Jews in Israel than there are Conservative or Reform Jews. In addition, most secular Israelis simply do not care about the issue. It requires those of us who do care to adopt a proactive approach with a broad vision of ‘Jewish peoplehood’ to ensure that the executive and legislative branches of government do not adopt myopic, harmful decisions (such as those reneging on promises of pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall and a draft law on Jewish conversions).
In the context of political instrumentality, those who regard Israel as their state cannot be expected to express only political views in tune with those of the government. The approach that sees the political views of world Jewry as a litmus test of their allegiance, turns Israel into a divisive element rather than a unifying force. We must be open to criticism and embrace those among the Jewish people who disagree with our government’s positions. Judaism has always encouraged debates and disagreements.
As for the funding issue, with Israel having one of the strongest economies in the world, Diaspora Jews can no longer be expected to finance us as they once did. Israel no longer needs donations, but it does desperately need a strong connection with Diaspora Jews - relationships between people and not between bank transfers. Funds from both sides of the ocean should be directed toward greatly needed youth exchange programs and joint projects with civil society organizations.
As for the expectation of Jewish Aliya (emigration to Israel), we should be happy with every new immigrant to Israel. However, we must accept the legitimacy of life in the Diaspora and avoid judgment or arrogance towards Jews living abroad as if there were only one way to be a Zionist.
On top of these longstanding structural flaws, successive Israeli governments have distanced themselves from the liberal values enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, shared by a large majority of American Jews, further exacerbating the crisis. Most Diaspora Jews care deeply about the manner in which minorities are been treated in Israel because they know what it means to be a minority in their own countries and expect the State of the Jewish People to be a role model in equal rights for minorities.
The situation deteriorated further when Israeli diplomacy abandoned the guiding principle that support for Israel must be a bipartisan issue in US politics, rather than one identified mostly with the Republicans. Many Jews also perceive Israel as forging alliances with populist, racist regimes that have replaced anti-Semitism with a hatred of Muslims and thus believe Israel to be a like-minded state.
Resolving the rift requires a shift in all Israel-Diaspora relationship paradigms, basing them on actions that connect people, especially those on the liberal side of the spectrum, through joint work on “Tikun Olam” (loosely translated – building model societies to repair the world) projects. This ancient Jewish ideal speaks to all Jews of their relationships with each other and with the rest of the world.

It could also be attractive for the younger generation. A self-confident, globally integrated Judaism, rather than an isolationist one, is far more of a draw for younger Jews. Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation (MASHAV) under the Foreign Ministry should be transformed into a joint project between Israelis and the entire Jewish people, training young Jews and sending them to confront need wherever it arises, not just where narrow interests dictate. Obviously, we must make sure that these Tikun Olam projects reflect a desire for compassion and connection, rather than arrogance toward aid recipients.
We must also create a ‘reverse Birthright project’, enabling every Israeli high school student to join a Jewish community abroad for a week or two, to experience direct contact with its members. Despite the importance of the annual visits by Israeli high school students to concentration camps in Poland, in order to understand our national trauma, meeting living Jews is no less important. For the sake of our joint future, the living is more important than the legacy of the dead.

Birthright project group visiting Israel. Image by Luqux, Wikipedia.

Birthright project group visiting Israel. Image by Luqux, Wikipedia.

Israel must adopt a forward-looking foreign policy that does not limit Israeli interests to the current government term in Israel or to a specific US administration. Rather than an isolationist, victimized narrative, Israel must conduct a constructive discourse with the US and the liberal nations of Europe, even those critical of its ongoing occupation and settlement policies.
To sum up, if we are to be true the State of Israel’s definition as the democratic nation state of the Jewish people, then resolution of the rift with world Jewry and promotion of ‘Jewish peoplehood’ must become a central item on Israel’s public agenda. The crisis with Diaspora Jewry is by its very nature, both strategic and existential, given the threat it poses to the essence of the State of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.
I am proud to say that at the Peres Center of Peace and Innovation, we demonstrate a model of relations with Jewish ccommunities. We stay away from the politics that separates Jews from Israel. We are contributing to “Tikun Olam” both in our peace, development and shared living programs as well as through the promotion of innovation in technology and in social innovation.

 

 

Nadav Tamir is The Peres Center's senior advisor for governmental and international affairs and former personal adviser of Shimon Peres for diplomatic affairs.