The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, headed by MK Tzach Hanegbi (Likud), held on Wednesday a debate on ”US Jewry as a strategic asset for Israel`s security.” The debate was held as part of a special day at the Knesset marking ”100 years of Jewish-American involvement in the Yishuv and the State of Israel,” an initiative of MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Camp).
Shai, who chairs the Lobby for US-Israel Relations, opened the meeting by saying that ”US Jewry is a bridge on which the relations between Israel and the US are based. This triangle, which exists due the help and support of the US Jewry, is one of the State of Israel`s most important strategic assets.”
(From left: Nachman Shai, Dori Gold and Michael Oren)
Foreign Ministry Director-General Dori Gold said, ”It is possible that we are currently in a situation where the directions of Israel and the US Jewry are slightly different. This situation has existed before, and I do not think the State of Israel should reinvent itself in order to preserve the relationship, but the dialogue must certainly be deepened. The past situation whereby we could automatically count on the relationship is going through a change, and it requires much thought on our part. We must make every effort to preserve the relationship and deepen it. And, most importantly, we must listen to what they have to say.” Eli Groner, Director General of the Prime Minister`s Office said, ”The love remains, even when there are disagreements.”
The meeting was also attended by a number of former Israeli ambassadors to Washington. Professor Moshe Arens told those on hand that he was more optimistic about the future of the relations between Israel and America`s Jews. ”I remember the US Jewry`s attitude towards Zionism, before the establishment of the State, and it was not at all unequivocal. There were also those who opposed the establishment of the State. Since the State`s inception, to this day actually, their identification with Judaism is identification with the State of Israel. From an historical perspective, the situation is improving.”
Efraim Halevy said, ”The problem with our relations with the US Jewry stems from the [fact that] many young people who want to be active cannot do so because we do not consider them to be Jews according to the Halacha. Because of Israel`s strategic diplomatic decision not to recognize their Jewishness, we will exclude the US Jewry, and the nation of Israel will significantly shrink in the next decade or two, so much so that Jews will become a minority where they are the sovereigns. This would be a catastrophic result for both communities. On this festive day, we must not only look back in pride, but also look to the future with concern. Solutions must come from Jerusalem, `for out of Zion shall the Torah come forth.`”
(From left: Nachman Shai, Isaac Herzog, Benjamin Netanyahu and Yuli-Yoel Edelstein view photo exhibit)
Sali Meridor said, ”More and more responsibility for the future of the Jewish nation rests on the shoulders of the State of Israel. If we believe Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, then we must stop viewing the Jewish-Americans a human resource and ask what they could do for us, but instead take responsibility. Most American Jews today are considered Americans first and only then Jewish. We are having difficulties with two unique groups: the young-liberal population, which finds certain issues regarding our policy and reputation difficult to accept, and the Reform and Conservative publics, which sense their legitimacy as Jews is undermined.”
MK Michael Oren (Kulanu) said ”we are living in an era of miracles. For the first time in 2,000 years there exist two Jewish communities which are strong, prospering and influential around the world. A miracle needs to be nourished and preserved. We must not only listen to one another, but also talk openly about what should be expected from the other. Israel can expect American Jews to understand where we are – in the most dangerous region – and grant the Israeli democracy at least the same appreciation they bestow upon other democracies around the world. On the other hand, Jews in Israel must acknowledge the huge contribution and firm legacy of American Jews and their struggle for the benefit of the State.”
Richard Sandler, Chairman of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), told the committee that ”in the eyes of our parents and grandparents Israel was only a dream, which was fulfilled not long ago. Israel has done a lot, and made us proud, in spite of all the obstacles which stood in its way. The demographics are changing, there are great challenges, and still, we have more in common, the same set of Jewish values. Regardless of the demographic changes, we promise that the community will continue to rally for the benefit of our brothers and sisters in Israel in the event of danger.”
Shira Ruderman, director of the Ruderman Family Foundation, said ”the relationship is a triangle between the US, Israel and American Jews. In our eyes, the State of Israel should conduct dialogue with the two sides simultaneously, because they are not identical or constant. Another aspect is the timeline, whereby we consider the clear and complicated past, and the present, in which we refer to the relations between the Prime Minister and the President. We want to consider the future, with the future of the entire Jewish nation in mind.”
During the meeting, MK Amir Peretz (Zionist Camp) argued that ”most Israelis consider American Jews as merely a list of donors and not as strategic [asset]. American Jews are a minority in a democratic state and Israel`s Jewry is a majority which sustains minorities. I would expect to hear how this affects the relations and the discourse. Not everything is an internal issue, some things cross borders. Such is the Western Wall issue and it is important to remember that the Reform movement is a crucial protective wall on the way to assimilation. You should have stood up and placed a mirror in front of our faces, and told us that such legislation would result in a crisis with American Jews”.
MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) said ”We need to recreate the discourse in which Israel is a part of the identity and development of American Jews. The language of the young generation in America is not the same as the language of the young generation here, and if we do not find a common language, we will move backwards rather than forward.”
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, CEO of the Israeli Reform Movement, said ”one issue is absent from the committee`s agenda today – the contribution of American Jews to the spiritual life of the Israeli community. Israel is still blind to the multicolored ideals and spirituality that is present in American Judaism. If Israel will not change its direction in the next decades, the connection between Israel and the Diaspora will become devoid of content. We must make a decision on whether our Jewish and Zionist identity is an identity of narrowing the tent and its openings or expanding them.