Is­rael’s uni­fy­ing mis­sion

Jerusalem Post - - COMMENT & FEATURES -

‘Di­vi­sive and dam­ag­ing” were the ad­jec­tives used by the Jewish Fed­er­a­tions of North Amer­ica to de­scribe the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment’s reneg­ing on a plan to cre­ate an egal­i­tar­ian prayer space at the Western Wall Plaza.

But you do not need the JFNA’s res­o­lu­tion to know that all is not well among the mem­bers of the tribe. A di­vide has al­ways separated Is­raelis from Di­as­pora Jews, par­tic­u­larly those liv­ing in Amer­ica. But we are now in the midst of cri­sis.

The time has come for Is­raeli po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship to ask it­self whether its re­spon­si­bil­ity is re­stricted solely to the six mil­lion or so Jews liv­ing in Is­rael or whether the Jewish state has a broader mis­sion of striv­ing to be the na­tion-state for the en­tire Jewish peo­ple.

We be­lieve Is­raelis and in­ter­nal Is­raeli pol­i­tics should not be the fi­nal ar­biter of is­sues such as the cre­ation of an egal­i­tar­ian prayer space at the Ko­tel. Rather, poli­cies im­pact­ing Jewish ge­o­graphic sym­bols, which have mean­ing far be­yond Is­raeli so­ci­ety, should be de­ter­mined by more broader con­sid­er­a­tions of Jewish unity and in­clu­sive­ness.

Jerry Sil­ver­man, pres­i­dent and CEO of the JFNA, ar­gued sim­i­larly dur­ing his speech ear­lier this week at the Gen­eral As­sem­bly in Los An­ge­les. Is­rael is re­spon­si­ble not just for the Jews who live there, it also has an obli­ga­tion to make good on its un­der­tak­ing to be a place in which ev­ery Jew – re­gard­less of af­fil­i­a­tion or de­nom­i­na­tion – should be made to feel at home.

Of course, there are sit­u­a­tions in which Is­rael will pur­sue poli­cies that are at odds with the ma­jor­ity opin­ion of US Jewry. Ne­tanyahu’s de­ci­sion to pub­licly clash with for­mer US pres­i­dent Barack Obama on set­tle­ments and the Iran nu­clear deal are one sign of how dif­fer­ent the two largest Jewish com­mu­ni­ties are. Many US Jews un­doubt­edly felt un­com­fort­able when in March, 2015 Ne­tanyahu ad­dressed the US Congress against Obama’s Iran deal. The di­rect at­tack on Obama, who en­joyed about 70% of the US Jewish vote, em­pha­sized the di­ver­gent po­lit­i­cal sen­si­bil­i­ties held by Is­raelis and US Jewry.

Ne­tanyahu’s nat­u­ral affin­ity with Repub­li­cans and his strong ties with US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who en­joys an ap­proval rat­ing of 30% among US Jews but is more pop­u­lar among Is­raelis, have fur­ther fleshed out the stark dif­fer­ences of ap­proach be­tween Amer­i­can and Is­raeli Jews.

But Ne­tanyahu’s sus­pen­sion of the Western Wall deal, which was the re­sult of years of sen­si­tive ne­go­ti­at­ing and com­pro­mise, and his seem­ing will­ing­ness to cede more pow­ers to an Ortho­dox Chief Rab­binate that openly and un­abashedly serves the nar­row po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests of a mi­nor­ity of Is­raeli Jews, are an un­jus­ti­fi­able de­par­ture from his pre­vi­ous stance which saw the fos­ter­ing of relations with Di­as­pora Jewry as not just a strate­gic goal but also a moral obli­ga­tion.

It was Ne­tanyahu who, dur­ing his first stint as prime min­is­ter be­tween 1996 and 1999, cre­ated the Nee­man Com­mis­sion on con­ver­sions. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Ortho­dox and non-Ortho­dox streams of Ju­daism from Is­rael and from the Di­as­pora came to­gether in an at­tempt to ham­mer out their dif­fer­ences and avoid a to­tal break­down in Is­rael-Di­as­pora relations.

Ad­mit­tedly, to­day from a purely po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tion of profit vs. loss, there is lit­tle rea­son for Ne­tanyahu to be forthcoming with the non-Ortho­dox streams of Ju­daism in the Di­as­pora. He en­joys good relations with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion re­gard­less of the Jewish lobby in the US, and in Is­raeli so­ci­ety there is no sig­nif­i­cant po­lit­i­cal sup­port for non-Ortho­dox streams of Ju­daism. Even Avi Gab­bay, the new leader of the Zion­ist Union, the na­tion’s largest left-of-cen­ter party, is now at­tempt­ing – so far suc­cess­fully ac­cord­ing to polls – to reach out to more vot­ers by steer­ing the party in a more right-wing and re­li­giously Ortho­dox di­rec­tion by claim­ing “the Left has for­got­ten what it is to be Jewish” [read Ortho­dox].

But there are ideals that stand above po­lit­i­cal sur­vival. One of them is main­tain­ing Is­rael’s po­si­tion as a na­tion­state for all Jews through­out the world. And this means tak­ing steps to make sure that ev­ery Jew, re­gard­less of his or her af­fil­i­a­tion, feels at home in the State of Is­rael.

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