Tracy Frydberg

American Jewry, don’t social distance, think strategically

American Jews looking to “social distance” themselves from Israel, pushed over the edge by Israel’s potential annexation after years of the Israeli government’s slow beatdown, should pay attention to the current mood shift in Israel and strategically use this moment to bring American Jewry’s voice directly to Israel in order to create a reciprocal conversation between the two centers of the Jewish world. 

While American Jewry has seemingly lost its taste for “peoplehood,” Israelis are just now waking up to the notion that they are a part of a larger Jewish people. This awareness is creating an unprecedented opportunity for American Jewry to share with Israeli civil society leaders how Israeli policy impacts their lives and why it matters. 

It’s been a slow process, but based on a series of intentional initiatives to create a sense of “peoplehood consciousness” in Israel, Israeli society is experiencing increased connection and interest towards world Jewry. The implications of this trend are playing out in real-time during corona as Israeli leadership, organizations and the government work to reach out to the Jewish world; the Reut Group’s Peoplehood Coalition and Ministry of Diaspora Affairs sent out a shared message of solidarity to Jewish communities, a joint online platform launched last week to match needs with solutions between Israel and Jewish communities around the world during COVID-19. When it was announced last week that the new Israeli government planned to dissolve the Knesset Committee for Aliyah and Diaspora, this same Peoplehood Coalition jumped into action, calling members of Knesset and creating a media storm in Israel to reverse the decision. All of these actions come from the basic understanding that Israel must do more to listen and respond accordingly to world Jewry. 

Additionally, thanks to a series of policy papers and key players making the case for why world Jewry is a key component of the State of Israel’s national security and foreign policy abilities, there’s a shifting understanding as to why a strong relationship between Israel and the Jewish world ought to be of central importance to the Israeli government. We’re already seeing new ministers and Knesset members think and talk about world Jewry in this light, representing an evolution in the usual Israeli tone and resulting policy towards Jewish communities.

Through this angle, incredible opportunities arise. The above initiatives and emerging trends might seem misaligned and irrelevant to American Jews who would prefer that Israelis hold back their hollow messages of solidarity and “startup nation” solutions for something that American Jews actually care about such as annexation or an egalitarian portion of the Kotel or creating an evolved conversion policy. But that mindset misses the larger game: that Israelis opening their hearts and minds to world Jewry unlike ever before creates an incredible opening for world Jewry to share their needs and concerns with a finally attentive Israeli public. 

Instead of socially distancing, my suggestion to American Jewry is to tap into the feelings of solidarity and compassion being generated in Israel right now. Harness this wave to bring your stories, your identity, your passion directly to Israeli civil society leaders. Take advantage of bodies like the Peoplehood Coalition and the Jewish Agency who care about world Jewry to ask to represent and advocate for world Jewry’s interests directly. Make the argument in Israel and within the Jewish people– not just to your members of congress — why you care about issues taking place in Israel and why having your voice at the table is crucial for Israel’s ability to fulfill its role as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and your ability to acknowledge Israel as such. 

Internalize and capitalize on this moment by using the language of peoplehood, of avrut hadadit, mutual responsibility, to let your voice be heard within Israeli society and in front of the Israeli government. Consider that perhaps working to mend the Jewish people’s intergroup conflict is a prerequisite to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. With this in mind, don’t socially distance, think strategically and take part in Israel’s moment of peoplehood.

About the Author
Frydberg is the director of the Tisch Center for Jewish Dialogue at the ANU Museum. She is a former adviser to two ministers of diaspora affairs.
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