Until not way back, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky was the go-to man for anybody in search of badurance that Israel did, certainly, worth its relationship with American Jews.
Every time it appeared the “Western Wall deal” – that promise to offer Reform and Conservative Jews with an egalitarian place of their very own for prayer on the Jewish holy website – was off, Sharansky may very well be counted on to argue in any other case. I do know Prime Minister Benjamin nicely, he would inform the skeptics, and no different Israeli chief understands, as he does, the strategic significance of the American Jewish group for Israel.
The former Soviet dissident is singing a special tune these days. That grew to become profoundly evident throughout a particular Knesset session held final week on the Western Wall controversy, attended by a delegation of world Jewish leaders.
Noting that the Israeli authorities had proven no inclination in anyway to fix the rising rift with American Jewry for the reason that deal was formally suspended greater than 4 months in the past, Sharansky warned the individuals: “It is inevitable that the crisis will continue.”
Coming from the final of the true believers, his phrases reverberated loudly.
In a way, Sharansky was echoing what many observers of Israel-Diaspora relations have been saying, each out loud and behind closed doorways, in latest months: that Israel has concluded it now not wants American Jews. Or not less than two-thirds of them, as Dan Shapiro, the previous U.S. ambbadador to Israel, identified just lately, referring to the bulk who vote Democrat, maintain progressive views and have a tendency to establish as Reform or Conservative Jews.
As Shapiro warned at a latest convention sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League: “There is an idea that has some currency in certain circles around the Israeli government that says, ‘You know what, we can write off that segment of American Jewry because in a couple of generations their children or grandchildren will badimilate. So let’s focus on the Orthodox who are an important constituency but smaller. Let’s focus on Evangelicals, and we can sustain our support from the American public by focusing on those populations and writing off and being dismissive of Jewish progressives.’”
The proof supporting this idea has been piling up, the obvious instance being the Israeli authorities’s suspension of the Western Wall deal. Following three-and-a-half years of negotiations, in January 2016 the federal government accredited the plan to increase and improve the non permanent egalitarian prayer platform situated on the southern facet of the Western Wall.
The plan stipulated that the brand new and improved area can be seen to all guests getting into the holy website, and would share an entryway with the present, gender-segregated prayer platforms on the northern facet of the Western Wall. It additionally envisioned the creation of a brand new public authority that will administer the egalitarian prayer space, which would come with representatives of the Conservative and Reform actions.
When the plan was accredited, it was hailed as “historic” – the primary time the Israeli authorities had ever offered official recognition to the non-Orthodox actions on the Western Wall. For near a yr and a half, although, the federal government shunned implementing the plan, and in late June, underneath strain from his ultra-Orthodox coalition companions, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed via a vote to have it formally “frozen.”
As if that weren’t a sufficiently big affront, the Israeli authorities voted on the exact same day to advance laws that will deny recognition of any conversions carried out in Israel exterior the state-sanctioned Orthodox system. In different phrases, Jews of selection transformed by Conservative and Reform rabbis – and in some circumstances, even by Orthodox-ordained ones – wouldn’t be eligible for Israeli citizenship. This determination clearly didn’t think about the truth that the overwhelming majority of affiliated Jews within the United States belong to the Reform and Conservative actions.
Diaspora Jews – notably these in America – obtained one other jolt only a few weeks later, when information broke that Israel maintains a blacklist of abroad rabbis. The listing, compiled by the Chief Rabbinate, contained the names of 160 rabbis, most of them American, whose letters certifying the Jewishness of candidates for marriage in Israel have been rejected.
Topping all this off are the fixed insults and barbs being hurled at Reform and Conservative Jews by well-known Orthodox rabbis in Israel, to not point out members of Netanyahu’s personal Likud occasion. More typically than not, the prime minister has allow them to get away with this name-calling.
Just as he isn’t standing up for America Jews in Israel, he isn’t standing up for them on their very own turf both. Numerous incidents of anti-Semitism within the United States over the previous yr have left the American Jewish group feeling more and more susceptible. But they’ve drawn few, if any, responses from the Israeli prime minister.
If Israel is, certainly, experiencing a change of coronary heart about American Jews, the indicators had been already evident a number of years again. Many observers hint the shift to March 2015 when Netanyahu delivered his well-known speech earlier than the U.S. Congress in opposition to the Iranian nuclear deal, which was about to be finalized. Considering that 70 % of American Jews had voted for Barack Obama, Netanyahu’s efforts to guide a revolt in opposition to him had been seen by many within the Jewish group as unconscionable.
The election of Donald Trump, with whom Netanyahu is on significantly better phrases, has naturally emboldened those that imagine Israel owes nothing to American Jews and may make do with out them.
With Netanyahu having fun with a direct line to the White House as of late, there may be a lot much less dependency on the Jewish foyer in America. That is very true contemplating the unconditional badist he enjoys from Christian Evangelicals, a key base for the Trump administration. Indeed, on controversial points like settlement enlargement, Israel’s right-wing authorities will get far more badist from Christian Evangelicals than it does from the largely progressive Jewish group in America.
Michael Oren, the previous Israeli ambbadador to the United States and now a Knesset member from the center-right Kulanu occasion, believes it will be a strategic mistake for Israel to jot down off American Jews. Yet on the identical time, if rising numbers of Israelis view American Jews as a “lost cause,” he says, American Jews are additionally partly accountable.
“We went to American Jews and told them that the Iran deal endangers 6 million Jews in Israel, and that it’s not an American political issue, but rather, a matter of Jewish existence,” he recounts, “and I don’t need to tell you what happened.”
Nachman Shai, a member of the opposition Zionist Union, additionally considers the Iran nuclear deal a key turning level, however for various causes than Oren. “For Bibi (Netanyahu) to come out like that against a Democratic president who enjoyed such huge support among American Jews was like a smack on the head for them,” he says.
Netanyahu won’t ever declare out loud that he has written off American Jews, in line with Shai, however his habits appears to point in any other case. “Whether it’s the Iran deal or his lack of response to anti-Semitism in the United States, it’s clear that his top priority these days is to get Trump to reevaluate the Iran deal, so he doesn’t want to antagonize anyone in the administration,” says the lawmaker. “Everything Bibi does is motivated by what he believes to be in Israel’s best interests, which is not necessarily the best interests of the Jewish people.”
Leaders of the non-Orthodox actions agree that the indicators are all there.
“What I can say is that the actions the government has been taking suggest very loudly and clearly to Jews in North America that we don’t matter and that we can be disrespected and delegitimized without serious consequence to strategic issues, whether it be security or some of the other many challenges Israel faces, and I think that’s incontrovertible,” says Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism.
“Non-Orthodox Jews see this prime minister and his current decisions as either not finding our cause compelling or making a calculation that says, ‘You know what, we have enough support from other areas. It won’t be a disaster if we lose the overwhelming majority of American Jews.’”
Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, blames primary ignorance in Israel about Jewish life in America.
“Sure, we’re facing huge challenges like badimilation, acculturation and intermarriage,” he notes, “but at the same time, you’ve got 6 million Jews here, 94 percent of whom are proud to be Jewish and 4 million of whom are affiliated with a religious institution. To think that two-thirds of American Jews are going to disappear in the next 10 years is ridiculous. But astonishingly, many Israeli leaders seem to believe that to be the case and that somehow or other Israel’s strategic concerns can be carried by a very small Orthodox population, along with Evangelicals.”
The Ruderman Family Foundation has taken up the problem lately of training Israelis concerning the Jewish American group, typically via delegation visits to the United States. That is why founder Jay Ruderman finds latest actions of the Israeli authorities particularly irritating.
“The current Israeli administration seems to be in the completely untenable situation of choosing between continuing to build strong ties to the American Jewish community or ensuring its political survival,” he notes, “and survival seems to be winning.”
The finest proof, Ruderman continues, is its about-face on the Western Wall deal. “This backtracking may ensure the Israeli government’s political survival but threatens the vital relationship Israel has with American Jews,” he warns.
In July 2010, when Israel was contemplating yet one more controversial conversion regulation, a bunch of Jewish American senators drafted a protest letter, warning that if handed, the laws would hurt the bilateral strategic relationship between the United States and Israel. “And guess what? The bill suddenly disappeared,” remembers Oren. “Compare that to what happened a couple of months ago when a group of Jewish senators sent a letter protesting the suspension of the Western Wall deal and the latest conversion law. It hardly made the news. And that, to me, is the entire story in a nutshell.”
Not all Orthodox Jews in America are proud of what’s happening both. At a latest Knesset session that addressed the rising rift between Israel and American Jewry, Jerry Silverman, president of the Jewish Federations of North America and an Orthodox Jew himself, gave voice to their considerations concerning the Western Wall deal. “What many Orthodox rabbis have said to me is, ‘Listen, we may not have been in agreement about the solution, but once there’s an agreement, and once it’s signed off, it should be implemented,’” he mentioned.
Rabbi Ari Berman, the just lately appointed president of Yeshiva University and a distinguished determine within the Modern Orthodox world, stopped in need of criticizing the Israeli authorities however steered it may benefit by investing extra in its relations with American Jewry.
“It is critical for Israel to consider the fate and fortunes of all Jews, whether in Israel or the Diaspora, no matter their ideological proclivities,” he wrote in an e-mail. “At the most basic level, this is a matter of utility. Jews both in Israel and the Diaspora need each other’s support. But in a more profound sense, the very nature of the State of Israel is that it aspires to serve as a home for all Jews and as such must factor in the concerns of the broader Jewish populace in its decision-making.”
Avinoam Bar-Yosef, president of the Jerusalem-based Jewish People Policy Institute, continues to be prepared to present Netanyahu the good thing about the doubt. To make certain, he says, there are factions within the authorities, particularly the ultra-Orthodox, who can be delighted to subject a metaphorical writ of divorce to giant segments of American Jewry. “But I really don’t think this is the position of the prime minister,” he insists. “If anything, my impression is that he is much more interested than any of his predecessors in Diaspora Jews.”
Jacobs, of the Reform motion, takes little consolation from these phrases and warns Israelis leaders to not downplay the disaster with American Jewry.
“They keep saying there’s not a deep division. To the contrary – it’s very real,” he argues. “We hear it nonstop. It’s real, it’s deep and it needs to be addressed, and the next move has to come from the government of Israel. There need to be concrete deeds that show that we matter.”
“Short of that,” he warns, “this division will develop stronger. “