A call for action for Progressive Jewry!

For internal political reasons, the Israeli government consistently acts to distance  the reform and conservative branches of the United States from the State of Israel. We must not let this happen

The bond between the State of Israel and Diaspora Jews is anchored in the Israeli Declaration of Independence, in which the State of Israel is defined as “a national home for the Jewish people.” This connection is vital to both sides—both to the State of Israel and to Diaspora Jewry. Over the years, the reciprocal relations between the State of Israel and Diaspora Jewry have been conducted as a one-way street in which the State of Israel seems to have exploited the Jewish feeling and guilt (of a generation that is now disappearing) in favor of mobilizing support in the form of money and political lobbying in the United States.

This support is expressed through the massive donations that the Jewish communities contribute to the State of Israel, which helped the state establish hospitals (Hadassah is one example) and many welfare services and institutions for Israeli citizens; and through the strong Jewish lobby in the form of AIPAC, which consistently supports Israeli governments (with the exception of the opposition of some of the AIPAC leaders to the Oslo Accords and criticism of the Rabin government). This support led to a clash between the Lobby and the Obama administration over Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the House of Representatives in March 2015, and a disruption of Jewish leadership in the US communities.

American Jewry is heterogeneous, with the vast majority (about 80%) identified as Reform or Conservative. The Israeli government under Netanyahu’s leadership has sacrificed the relations between the State of Israel and American Jewry in its conduct, while alienating them because of internal Israeli politics.

In Israel, too, the Orthodox & Ultra-Orthodox are less than 25% of all Jews, but their relative strength is greater because of the electoral system and the formation of a coalition.

The State of Israel does not have the privilege of giving up the support of American Jewry because it means losing the support of the American administration. Netanyahu’s political acts have already turned Israel from an uncontested issue to a polarizing issue between Democrats and Republicans, and when most American Jews identify themselves as Democrats, he distances Israel from those Jews as well.

Since I see the State of Israel as a national home for the Jewish people, I think that  the reform and conservative Jewish leaders should adopt a different approach—less tolerant of the Israeli government but one that will create direct dialogue with the secular citizens of Israel who are fed up with Orthodox domination. And here I would like to propose several actions that might make the liberal Jewish communities in the United States an active player:

1. Making Jewish Agency emissaries ambassadors of American Jewish communities upon completion of their mission and their return to Israel. Community leaders must work together with the Jewish Agency to preserve Jewish Agency emissaries who are doing a sacred work for the Israeli-Jewish bond in connecting the communities to the State of Israel. You do not have to agree with one religious stream or another to understand that Judaism in the United States is flourishing and open so that every Jew can find a stream to belong to. Jewish Agency emissaries, who learn to know the communities in which they operate, are the people who can advocate and represent these communities in the State of Israel and can become part of the new bridge that must be built within the framework of a renewed dialogue between the reform and conservative Jews and the State of Israel.

2. Directing donations in favor of civic activity while establishing a direct contact with the communities in Israel—not a remote contribution but a direct connection with recipients and meetings with the people. There is nothing better than a direct connection to remove barriers.

3. Establishing a strong lobby in Israel by bringing Knesset members from the secular bloc to inter-communal tours and direct meetings, so that they will learn and recognize the Jewish communities and the challenges that community leaders and members and communities face. These Knesset members must be mobilized in favor of changing the status quo and creating a new socio-religious covenant between the State of Israel and world Jewry.

The days have passed when American Jews express blind support for the State of Israel, and if the State of Israel does not find the way to the hearts and minds of the millions of our fellow members of the reform and conservative Jewish communities, then we will lose them and their support. And Israel needs American Jewry now more than American Jewry needs Israel.

About the Author
Yaakov (Kobi) Cohen is an Israeli-American, born in Jerusalem and now reside to New York City where he works in a Jewish Non-for-Profit. As a political activist, Cohen is most interested in the Israeli-American Jewish relationship and its impact on the future of the Jewish world and seeking to build bridges between Israelis & Jewish Americans, or at least establish a different dialogue. Kobi is a co-founder of Israel Shelanu and Host of BALAGAN - Explaining Israeli Politics Podcast
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