Challenges Facing Diasporan and Israeli Jews

I have just returned from the AIPAC and brand new Alliance For Israel meetings in Washington, DC. With nearly a week’s distance, I found some most enlightening things that add to the complexity of the challenges facing Jews both in Israel and in the Diaspora. New variables stemming from old unacknowledged and unresolved issues from both within our Jewish family and from outside our Jewish family are needing to be faced with new and fresh solutions if Jews are going to achieve some sort of nationalistic and religious homeostasis.

Let’s start from with the issues we are being challenged with from outside the family. Some of these are familiar as they are simply variations on ancient, old or ongoing threats, but some are relatively new and need to be taken into account.

Perhaps the most obvious threat from without to Jews in Israel is the existential threats from Iran, Hamas, Hizbollah, ISIS and other fundamentalist aggressive Muslim nations and groups that seek simply to drive the “infidels” from the face of the earth. This is not news and is being dealt with by Israel both diplomatically and militarily. Where things become problematic for us, quite frankly, is when Jews who refuse to accept the threat seem to blame Israel for it and that number is growing. Whether these folks believe that they are being “good Jews” and “not like those Jews” or simply their naive world view from comfortable protected perches in the West is up for debate. But no matter, their voices give credibility to the enemies of the Jewish people in Israel, like it or not.

Less obvious, but equally compelling, is the growing tide of antisemitism worldwide as evidenced by increased hate crimes, condemnations of Israel in international bodies, emboldened racists and white supremacists taking aim at Jews, antisemitism and anti-Israelism in government legislative bodies throughout the world with emboldened politicians either blaming Jews or Israel for problems of the world. In America where there has been a strong American-Israel relationship since the creation of the state, there has been in recent years under the last two administrations and several congresses erosion for that support with additions of legislators openly advocating for no support for Israel and Israel becoming a political footballs between the parties, not just dividing the congress, but dividing the community as well. What is insidious about this threat is that candidates are aware of the number of votes Jews actually represent in America and elsewhere and yet are pandering for what they believe is “Jewish money” appealing to ancient antisemitic canards. Bones tossed Israel and the Jews have a high price and some Jewish mega-donors are getting wise to this tactic.

Finally, in a relatively new form of antisemitism, distinctions are being made by the enemies of Jews between “Jews of color” and “white Jews,” in an effort to divide and conquer Jews and break up what is seen as the Ashkenazi monopoly of concentrated power both in Israel and in the Diaspora. The fact is that Ashkenazi Jews are becoming the minority of Jews in Israel being outpaced by Sephardic, Mizrachi and other sects of Jews and that worldwide, Jews of color are increasing as Ashkenazi Jews are decreasing.¬† What is problematic here is that Jews of color frequently have their roots in both worlds that are now coming into conflict and are desperately and rightly calling for all of us to acknowledge their dilemma and work for alliances and coalitions in the important populations in which they exist. This is an important and legitimate issue which we must address both as it effects threats from the outside and inside. Let’s face it, despite what many of us would like to think of ourselves as Ashkenazi Jews who are liberal and fight for justice, there have been pockets of us who have alienated people that now must be our allies and we have work to do in that regard to celebrate them not only as alliance partners, but meshpucha.

So now we must address the threats from within. These are the threats we create ourselves which lead to fractionation, alienation and confusion. There are two principles I offer that override my discussion and they are:

1) Regardless of how we each define ourselves as Jews, our enemies, and there are many simply see us as “Jews.” The Nazis, Hamas, Hizbollah, ISIS, Islamofascist fundamentalists, white nationalists and antisemites in general don’t give a damn if you’re secular, Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox or Ultra-Orthodox or any shade of grey in between. They don’t care if you converted to Zen Buddhist Nudism if you were born Jewish…To them you are simply “a Jew” with all of the negative and horrible implications derived from that.

2) Enemies of the Jewish people can always find “the good Jew” that validates their own Jew-hatred. They look to Jews who will validate that ancient fundamental conspiratorial and other tropes that Jews control the government, the media, the economy, the military and geopolitical issues with their money, wealth and cleverness. They look to Jews who are ready to bash Israel and the American Jewish community at the drop of a hat and validate their hateful positions with, “see, even Mr. and Mrs. Katz agree with me.” There were Jews who supported Hitler in Germany thinking nothing would ever happen to them because they were the “good Jews” and did and said all the right things. They were in for quite a terrible shock.

So with these two principles in mind Jews are deeply divided and marginalized  from within at a time when Jewish unity has never been more important to insure the future of our people both in the Diaspora and in Israel.

In Western Countries, namely America and the UK, Jews who have had political homes in progressive political parties are now feeling chased out by growing antisemitic forces from inside their parties and they are fleeing in droves to alternate parties which appear to be strong on support for Israel, but have domestic agendas quite different from their progressive values. Rather than stay and fight and make support for Israel bipartisan, multi-partisan and universal throughout the political system, they are lured by politicians from one party who pander and solicit them with promises and the writing of checks that may be hard to cash in the long run. The fact of the matter is that Jews need to stay and fight within all the parties to keep support for Israel multiparty and not just one party. Inevitably such a party could be displaced and the Israel’s and the Diaspora Jews’ trouble would increase to very dangerous levels.

There has never been a time more crucial for Jewish unity. Jews must be smart enough to stand strong and principled during these times of struggle and remember that united together our whole is greater than the sum of our parts.

For that reason, I appeal to the alphabet soup of Jewish groups requiring our limited advocacy dollars to come together and decrease, not increase the numbers of group advocating and sending mixed messages to leaders and legislators.

I call for Rabbis and denominational movements to come together to bind us together on what our common ground is and not differentiate what our differences are and to do more joint programming, not just in times of crisis, but as part of building our own coalitions from with. I am looking for the building of Transdenominational Judaism, where we can understand and appreciate the worthwhileness of all forms of worship leading to Clal Yisroel.

Finally, I am asking that anyone who has made it this far in the article to see what more you can do as an individual to bring Jews together and to build the coalitions needed from within and without for our survival. We cannot do it alone or in sects. We can only do it with the help of each other and the other and with the wisdom that comes from our teachings to do for others as we do for ourselves whether Diasporan or Israeli Jews.

About the Author
Retired College Professor (Walden University and Penn State University), President Emeritus and Co-Founder Scholars for Peace in the Middle East. Professional and Community Leader. Writer, Blogger, Academic Activist. Residing in Harrisburg Pennsylvania.