Who among the leading candidates in the upcoming elections bothers to familiarize themselves with the Jewish universe outside of Israel, to truly understand its challenges, its concerns and accomplishments?
Israel’s leaders are committed not only to Israeli citizens. Their actions and decisions often have deep impact on the wellbeing and safety of Jews worldwide, and they should view themselves as responsible representatives of world Jewry.
To understand the depth of the crisis, recalling Prime Minister Netanyahu’s grim forecast for non-Orthodox US Jewry, meaning the majority of Jews in the diaspora, should suffice. He said, “I do not see benefit from investment in contact with them.”
In view of the widening gap between Israel and US Jewry in particular, and the potential implications of this crisis on Israel’s long-term resilience, it is high time for Israeli voters to demand the accountability of their elected officials on this matter. Candidates must express clearly their commitment and responsibility towards Jewish wellbeing worldwide.
In the late 1990s, the renowned American pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, used to take candidates through “the Ten Commandments of US-Israel relations,” a sort of brief seminar regarding the pillars of the alliance between their country and Israel. At the end, each candidate was expected to produce a one-pager in which they expressed their personal commitment to the relations, specifying how they intended to maintain and add to its strength. AIPAC and its network knew how to wisely leverage this document, which became publicly available, ahead of elections.
This and additional tactics were imported to Europe by the organizations I created and led for a decade, mobilizing European friends of Israel to become more politically engaged. Needless to say, the rules are different in Europe and the necessary adjustments were made, tailoring them to cultural and political modalities of each European country. The expectations that were set with elected officials in Europe were also significantly different than in the American model.
Just as demanding political activism should now be employed by Israelis, with respect to their elected officials’ commitment to the Jewish diaspora, a sort of standard for gauging all major candidates’ Jewish peoplehood sensibility.
Further deterioration of the relations could undermine the unity of our people and damage the national security of Israel. Taking into account the current problematic partisan place Israel takes within the American debate, and the fact that Trump will sooner or later be replaced, the danger is imminent. Even those who are not concerned with the deterioration of Israel’s legitimacy, must be worried when their brothers and sisters in the diaspora question Israel’s actions. This would require a serious response from the next government, whatever its composition be.
One key area in which this rift is already visible is philanthropy. Jewish American donors who once supported the Zionist project without hesitation, are more hesitant today. Many find it easier to identify with other goals, which are not necessarily contributing to Israel. Thoughts of “disengagement from Israel” among radicals in the American Jewish community are wrong and misleading. Without a strong partnership, both Israel and the US Jewish community would be weakened significantly, and the standing of the entire Jewish people would be harmed.
Naturally, the leaders of the State of Israel are committed, first and foremost, to Israeli interests and to the welfare and security of its citizens, even at the expense of the interests of the diaspora. But these are rare cases, for example when violence erupts, and should not occur as frequently as today’s violations of diaspora interests by Israeli leaders.
What should be demanded as the baseline? Israeli leadership must avoid statements and policies that estrange diaspora Jewry, or intentionally put them at risk. This is not a lot to ask. Internal political struggles and petty manipulation on the backs of Jews in the diaspora, which we have witnessed often in recent years, should not be accepted by the Israeli public. More than occasionally, requesting Jews abroad to fight on behalf of Israeli interests served as a two-edged sword – it did not reach its objectives and created difficult backlash among community members, feeling they are paying a heavy price with no real justification.
Over and above the passive and often reactive fight against anti-Semitism, Israelis can help their brothers and sisters in the diaspora by recognizing the challenges they face and by taking into account their interests and concerns. In addition to assisting those who chose to immigrate to Israel, it is in Israel’s interest to help the Jews who wish to remain where they are, prosper and thrive. The existence of a self-confident and well-integrated Jewish universe across the globe, one that speaks to power as equal and is proud to be aligned with Israel, can serve Israel and Jewish wellbeing much more than a few more immigrants back home.
Raanan Eliaz founded the European Leadership Network (ELNET) and the Forum of Strategic Dialogue (FSD) in 2007, a network of organizations which he led until 2017. This network had aimed at strengthening political ties between Europe and Israel, through the empowerment of politically active citizens across the continent.