Aron White

Diaspora Jewry – Do you know enough to have an opinion about Israel?

It is one of the great discussions in Diaspora Jewry today – do Jews in the Diaspora have a right to criticise Israel`s policies? Should Diaspora Jews criticise Israel in the national media?

This has been the subject of much discussion in the past, but I think that we urgently need to shift the discussion, and ask a different question – Do Diaspora Jews know enough about Israel to even have a serious opinion?

Let us start with a basic question – How many of the Israeli political parties can Diaspora Jews actually name? Could the average Diaspora Jew, with strong opinions about Israeli policy, even name which four parties were in the coalition of the last government? (For those who are interested, it was Likud, Bayit Yehudi, Yesh Atid and HaTenua.) Criticising Israeli policy without knowing such basic facts would be like claiming to have an opinion on American politics without being aware of which party has a majority in the Senate, and which party the President represents.

But it gets worse. A poll just came out in the (British) Jewish Chronicle which said that 67% of British Jews would vote for Netanyahu in the coming election. This is absolutely absurd. In Israel, Netanyahu`s Likud is currently expected to get around one sixth or one fifth of seats (21-25 seats out of 120), which in a proportional representation system, and if we take into account the “wasted votes” due to the electoral threshold, means that about 30% of Israelis are voting for Netanyahu. So the fact that 67% of British Jews would vote for Netanyahu makes them absolutely at odds with the Israeli public. (And by the way, the fact that left-leaning Anglo Jewry would vote for right wing Netanyahu, over the left wing Herzog-Livni partnership, by a factor of 3 to 1, is almost laughable.)

Why is this? One obvious reason is that the Prime Minister of Israel is simply the most well known Israeli figure, as he appears in foreign media more often. But a further, equally important point, is that Diaspora Jews often have a one dimensional view of Israel. As David Hazony has pointed out, Diaspora Jewry takes a great interest in issues like the Iranian Bomb and Hamas missiles, but has very little knowledge about any of the internal issues in Israel. Issues such as the economy, culture, education and health of Israel are virtually unknown and undiscussed in Diaspora communities.

For example, the importance of liberalising Israel`s economy is a huge factor in this election – Moshe Kachlon`s Kulanu party is running on an economic platform, and he is predicted to get at least 8% of the vote due to this, and he may well be kingmaker in making the new coalition. Yet Anglo Jewry gave him 0.7% of their vote – one of the most important figures in this election is virtually unknown and unappreciated in the Diaspora, because he is running on an internal issue. (It is a similar story for Yair Lapid, who is also running on an economic platform – about 12-15% of the vote in Israel, 3% in England) Having an opinion on Israeli politics that does not take into account any internal Israeli issues, is like claiming the right to an opinion on American politics based on American policy on Iraq, Afghanistan and ISIS without knowing anything about healthcare, gun control or race-relations.

One cannot criticise Israel if one does not have sufficient knowledge to be making that criticism. Someone who cannot name the Israeli political parties, who has no idea about the make-up of the Israeli government, and has no about the numerous issues that the  government actually faces, simply does not have a right to publicly make known their “opinion”.

The discussion about Diaspora Jewry criticising Israel can wait. First, let`s make sure that Diaspora Jewry actually knows enough about Israel to form sophisticated and informed opinions.

About the Author
Aron White, 22, is currently studying and teaching in Yeshivat HaKotel, whilst studying for a degree in Politics and International Relations through LSE.