The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s Subcommittee on Foreign and Public Relations, chaired by MK Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beitenu), last week debated current trends in American Jewry and their impact on relations with Israel.
Dennis Ross, Chairman of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, told the committee that “three-quarters of the Jews are identified with the Democrats and the liberal values that the party represents. Until recently, we managed to convey the message that Israel is not a subject divided according to Republican and Democratic party lines but is an issue for all of America. In today’s bipolar environment it is very important to maintain good relations with the great portion of American Jewry which is identified with liberal values by emphasizing the democratic and liberal aspects of Israel.”
“Unfortunately, the visibility of the big pride parade that took place this week in Tel Aviv is low in the United States, while the issue of the Western Wall and the Haredi struggle have high visibility. There are many young Jews who want to be in contact with Israel. You have to strengthen them by publicizing the nice stories. If they see what I see here, a natural connection would be forged.”
MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) wondered, “What happens when a Jew comes from the United States and it turns out that he is not recognized by the Rabbinate? What does it do to everyone around him?”
Probably the same as when a Jew comes to any other part of the world and discovers he is not recognized by the local Rabbinate. Conversion is always an option, one would expect.
Alon Friedman of the Hillel organization waxed philosophical: “A Jew is not someone whose grandfather was a Jew but someone whose grandson would be a Jew.”
Must it be an either or proposition?
Friedman added, “Jewish life on campuses is linked to American agendas, the State of Israel has become a unifying factor because of the conflict with the Palestinians, and because of the attitude towards and non-recognition of Conservative and Reform communities. It pulls the rug out from under us. And it will always hurt a Jewish supporter of Israel that he supports a country that does not accept him and supports values that he does not believe in. Therefore, it is important to emphasize Israel’s liberal values.”
Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman MK Avi Dichter (Likud) said, “The connection between American Jewry and the State of Israel is a strategic-to-existential asset; strategic turbo. The weakening of this asset is a real threat to the State of Israel.” He then asked, “Who is in charge of addressing this issue in the government? Who is being included?”
Hagay Elitzur of the Diaspora Affairs Ministry responded: “We have three building blocks: 1. Jewish identity, without which there is no connection to Israel; 2. Strong communities; 3. Leadership.”
Sagi Aharon of the Foreign Ministry stated, “We are raising the problems facing the leaders up to the top. We do not make decisions. We also refer to those who are not affiliated with a community, but nevertheless see themselves as Jews. There are harsh feelings within the Conservative and Reform communities, to the point of a crisis of confidence. It is important to conduct a dialogue even if it is not easy. We see them as partners. At the same time, they are told that there are aspects that the Jewish State will not be able to meet, political aspects that affect legislation. They tell us: ‘The problem is not us, but you are losing the children and grandchildren who no longer have an emotional connection to the state. This is the challenge we have to work on.”
Ron Brimmer of the Strategic Affairs Ministry stated, “We are only dealing with the aspect of the BDS struggle, and there is a process of radicalization on the left fringes of the Jewish community, who have become partners with BDS. The total majority of the communities belong in the category of ‘legitimate’ views, but there are groups on the margins that are not legitimate, and who actively advance the boycott and constitute a fig leaf of approval for all the other boycotters.”
Chairman Ilatov said, “We need to analyze the entire process that is taking place in the community. We have not seen a government view on the entire process that is happening in the United States … You have to understand what’s happening on the macro level and not focus on thirty students here and a hundred there. Do we know how to identify communities?”
The committee demanded that government ministries produce strategic plans and action plans within a month to respond to the difficulties presented above.