Is­rael-US Di­as­pora rift a hot topic at Jewish Fed­er­a­tions LA meet-up

Jerusalem Post - - FRONT PAGE - • By KELLY HARTOG Spe­cial to The Jerusalem Post

LOS AN­GE­LES – In a ses­sion at the Jewish Fed­er­a­tions of the North Amer­i­can Gen­eral As­sem­bly in Los An­ge­les on Sun­day, at­ten­dees were asked to take part in a se­ries of in­ter­ac­tive sur­veys via their phones about how well they thought they knew Is­rael.

One of the ques­tions was, “In a re­cent Pew study, about 51% of Amer­i­can Jews iden­ti­fied as po­lit­i­cally lib­eral in an Amer­i­can con­text. What per­cent of Is­raeli Jews place them­selves on the left of the Is­raeli po­lit­i­cal spec­trum?”

Of the four choices on the list, only a very small per­cent­age of the 100 or so peo­ple in the room picked the cor­rect an­swer: 8%.

Mod­er­a­tor Re­becca Caspi, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of global op­er­a­tions and di­rec­tor of the Is­rael of­fice of JFNA, used this ques­tion as a jump­ing-off point for pan­elists Jonathan Sarna, pro­fes­sor of Amer­i­can and Jewish His­tory at Bran­deis Univer­sity, and Sh­muel Ros­ner, se­nior po­lit­i­cal ed­i­tor of the Jewish Jour­nal of Los An­ge­les, to dis­cuss

Is­raelis’ and Amer­i­can Jews’ dif­fer­ing points of view on Is­rael and its pri­or­i­ties.

Re­spond­ing to a ques­tion about why North Amer­i­can Jews are so dis­ap­pointed in Is­rael to­day, Sarna said it harks back to how Zion­ism was sold to the Amer­i­can Jewish com­mu­nity be­fore the es­tab­lish­ment of the state. “It was a pro­jec­tion of how Amer­ica ought to have been. It was go­ing to be a so­cial com­mon­wealth.”

How­ever, Sarna said, as time went on, Amer­i­cans dis­cov­ered Is­rael wasn’t a Utopia or the 51st state. “They re­al­ized that Is­rael doesn’t sub­scribe to some of the same univer­sal lib­eral ideas, or agree with some of the mi­nor­ity rights ideas of Amer­i­can Jews,” and as such, they’re now dis­ap­pointed.

Ros­ner ar­gued that Amer­i­cans feel that they have the lux­ury of be­ing dis­ap­pointed with Is­rael only be­cause life is so good to­day. “When things were not as easy as they are to­day, when we were too busy build­ing a state, form­ing re­la­tions and try­ing to over­come chal­lenges, we didn’t really have the time to be dis­ap­pointed,” he said.

Asked if North Amer­i­can Jewry’s dis­ap­point­ment reg­is­tered with Is­raelis, Ros­ner said it does with some peo­ple, but “they don’t quite grasp what the fuss is all about.” He also said he doesn’t see any rea­son why peo­ple should be specif­i­cally dis­ap­pointed in Is­rael.

Sarna pushed back, say­ing, “I think it’s quite shock­ing that Is­raelis know so lit­tle about Amer­i­can Jewry.” He said Is­rael is taught at ev­ery ma­jor Amer­i­can univer­sity, but it’s hard to get a minyan of teach­ers of Amer­i­can Jewry in Is­rael.

“To teach about the largest Di­as­pora com­mu­nity is very im­por­tant,” Sarna ar­gued. “Un­til we see as many Is­raelis come to Amer­ica and learn about Amer­i­can Jewry, we will have a prob­lem. We need a re­verse Birthright. North Amer­ica and Is­rael are in­ter­de­pen­dent, and we need to learn about one an­other.”

Ros­ner said he be­lieves Is­raelis know so lit­tle about North Amer­i­can Jewry be­cause the his­tory of Zion­ism was a his­tory “built on nega­tion of the Di­as­pora for many years.” He said un­til Is­rael be­came suc­cess­ful, it was not in the in­ter­est of the lead­ers of the state to teach stu­dents about other op­tions for Jewish liv­ing.

And while he said that it is a shame that so few Is­raelis know so lit­tle about Amer­i­can Jewry, Ros­ner said, “I have so many com­plaints to share about the Is­raeli ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem; I’m not so sure the top pri­or­ity of Is­raelis would be to im­prove their knowl­edge of Amer­i­can Jewry.”

How­ever, Sarna ham­mered home why it should be a top pri­or­ity.

“We would be de­lud­ing our­selves if we ig­nore the fact that for a gen­er­a­tion of young Amer­i­can Jews, they be­lieve Is­rael should be judged on how it treats the Pales­tini­ans,” Sarna said. It’s an is­sue that needs to be re­solved, es­pe­cially when the Pales­tinian com­mu­nity and its sup­port­ers “have done too good a job in per­suad­ing peo­ple that [the Is­raeli treat­ment of] Pales­tini­ans is the equiv­a­lent of the treat­ment of blacks and other mi­nori­ties in [Amer­ica].”

He added that this is a cen­tral prob­lem for Jews who don’t re­mem­ber 1948 or the Holo­caust or even 1967. “For those Jews, [the Pales­tinian is­sue] is the cen­tral rea­son they are dis­ap­pointed. We can’t ig­nore that. We need to de­vote more at­ten­tion to that is­sue and how it plays out in North Amer­ica.” •

(Kelly Hartog)

JONATHAN SARNA of Bran­deis Univer­sity (cen­ter), Re­becca Caspi of the JFNA (left) and Sh­muel Ros­ner of the LA ‘Jewish Jour­nal’ par­tic­i­pate in a panel at the Jewish Fed­er­a­tions Gen­eral As­sem­bly in Los An­ge­les on Sun­day.

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