Eli Nirenberg

Amidst Judicial Debate, American Jews Must Maintain Our Love for Israel

A pro-Israel demonstrators waves flags, toward the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, March 3, 2015, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a joint meeting of Congress. In a speech that stirred political intrigue in two countries, Netanyahu told Congress that negotiations underway between Iran and the U.S. would "all but guarantee" that Tehran will get nuclear weapons, a step that the world must avoid at all costs. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
A pro-Israel demonstrator waves flags at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, March 3, 2015. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

It is no secret that right now, Israeli society is deeply divided over Prime Minister Netanyahu’s proposed judicial reform plan. As a young Zionist and Israel supporter who wants to see a prosperous Jewish future, it is hard for me to see the country overcome with a crisis. As a college student who has engaged in political activism, I wish I could be in Israel right now, and I sympathize with the many American Jews who have concerns about the situation there and the direction in which the Israeli government is headed. As Israel approaches its 75th birthday, the country has grown impressively independent. This has been the norm for Jews my age, and sometimes, it can feel like our voice as American Jews is not heard enough in the Knesset or the Prime Minister’s Residence. In the last few months, I have seen this sentiment increase here in the United States. However, to all those American Jews who are disappointed by the strife within Israeli politics, I encourage you to remember what we are fighting for.

When the State of Israel was born in 1948, the Jewish people had just endured the worst genocide in world history. The Holocaust was the culmination of two thousand years of persecution, humiliation, religious coercion, death, and destruction. Just about every Jew in the world today can recall a recent ancestor who had to flee their home. In my case, my great-grandparents left Poland during the 1930s with the hope that another country – in their case, Canada – would take them in. What if Canada did not have mercy on them? We do not have to imagine the outcome: six million dead Jews give us the answer.

In 1948, the Jewish people had the opportunity to have a state of their own, where they could defend themselves. Jews around the world knew that we had suffered for far too long to let our own infighting rip up a potential safety net for our own protection. There were certainly disagreements among us: The competing visions of the Labor Zionist, Revisionist Zionist, and Religious Zionist camps; the divisions between the Haganah and Irgun militias; the chasm between Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities. However, we united around the basic cause of protecting Jewish people and investing in their homeland.

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In America, even as many had reservations about what the new Jewish state may look like, American Jews recognized their unique role as citizens and constituents in the most powerful country in the world. We united to raise money for Israel and persuade American leaders – and the entire free world in tow – to support our brothers and sisters across the ocean.

Though Israel is stronger than it was in 1948, American Jewish support for Israel is still critical. Every year, the United States, in part due to the support of the American Jewish community, provides Israel with $3.3 billion for security assistance and $500 million for missile defense cooperation. These are no small numbers, and with Hamas to the south, Hezbollah to the north, incessant terrorist attacks, and an almost-nuclear Iran on the rise, we as American Jews must recognize the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship in defending the safe haven of the Jewish people.

When it comes to formulating his Israel policy, Ayatollah Khamenei does not care whether the Prime Minister is Benjamin Netanyahu or Yair Lapid. Likewise, on core issues relating to Israel’s safety, American Jews must be resolute: Being pro-Israel is about protecting a nation of nine million from those who want to destroy it, and security assistance to Israel must continue regardless of any domestic policy disputes.

We must remember that we are one family; that we are all the children of Abraham, that we all left bondage in Egypt together, and that we all survived a brutal exile together. The camaraderie between American Jews and Israelis is about so much more than politics; it is about the idea that overall, our values are shared values, and our fight against antisemitism is a shared fight. For the first time in two thousand years, the Jewish people do not wait on the mercy of other countries to save them from death. In the State of Israel, we have achieved a miracle that has made us stronger than ever. Having a state brings new challenges, but we should have faith that Israelis – who are engaged in a vigorous and democratic debate – will make the right choices.

During the moments where it feels difficult to step back and look at the big picture, I encourage American Jews to take a deep breath and remember what we as a people experienced, fought for, and achieved as one. It is my hope that when I am seventy-five (fifty-three years from now), I can remember Israel’s 75th birthday as a challenging yet stimulating time which brought the Jewish people closer together. Let our love for our brothers and sisters in the land of milk and honey go above and beyond our concerns about the politics of the moment. Let the bond between American Jews and Israel endure.

About the Author
Eli Nirenberg recently graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, double majoring in Economics and Political Science and minoring in Spanish. He has interned with AIPAC, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and the Tikvah Fund and is a veteran pro-Israel campus activist. Eli most recently returned from five months in Israel, where he learned at David Shapell College of Jewish Studies and volunteered in the Israeli war effort.
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