Ofer Bavly

Resetting Israel-Diaspora Relations

Despite disparaging rhetoric used by Israeli politicians towards most of American Jewry for years, this time again Diaspora Jews are doing what they do best: standing up unconditionally in support of Israel in its time of need. After the war is over, these good and supportive Jews should be repaid with reciprocal appreciation and embrace.

Israel-Diaspora relations have known ups and downs over the years and have been influenced among other things by the political situation in Israel. Nevertheless, in times of crisis and especially during war, Diaspora Jews always stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel clearly and unequivocally.

This support manifests itself on different levels. First of all, on the financial level. Every Jewish community around the world is rallying to support the people of Israel in times of war, with substantial financial contributions that permit society (and the government) to do more for our citizens and to supply immediate and crucial needs that are not always met by the government budget and policy.

On the moral level, the steadfast support of world Jewry is an important pillar of strength at times when Israel does not have too many friends and supporters in the international community. The support of world Jewry is often given to us despite the fact that Jewish communities, synagogues, schools and individuals around the world suffer frequent harassment as a matter of routine and even more so when they express support for Israel.

Experience shows us that every conflict between Israel and its neighbors is accompanied by a sharp uptick in the number of Anti-Semitic attacks on Diaspora Jews. Yet these communities are not deterred from standing bravely and loyally with Israel in its time of need.

In under three weeks of the “Swords of Iron” war, North American Jewry raised an astronomical and unprecedented sum of close to half a billion Dollars for Israel, in addition to and on top of the regular support of North American Jews to the tune of hundreds of millions annually. This huge sum enables Federations to provide support directly and as a collective to dozens of Israeli non-profits and to local authorities faced with tremendous and varied needs often unmet by the government.

The support of communities, especially in the US, which is home to the largest Jewish community outside Israel, is also on the political level. For decades, these communities have fostered strong relationships with elected officials and leaders at all levels, from Mayors to State Governors and legislators and going all the way to the Federal level in Congress and the White House. These ties routinely help Israel secure America’s unparalleled political support and they make our alliance a truly strategic one. The communities’ ties with elected officials are bi-partisan and have but one aim: to raise as much support as possible for Israel. During emergency and war, these ties come into play in the clearest way with declarations of support, with Presidential and Congressional support and with help in international fora, especially the United Nations and the Security Council. They also become important in relation to Congressional allocation of emergency and military aid to Israel and permeate to American society. This support is both declarative and material.

On the public and emotional level, in times of war the communities of North America (and the world) stand with Israel as the one issue that truly unites us all, putting together support rallies, advocacy activity as force multipliers for Israel’s advocacy efforts, on the difficult and challenging arena of university campuses, in social media and in traditional media.

Unfortunately, the unequivocal and constant support of Diaspora communities stands in stark contrast to the treatment they receive at the hands of a sizeable number of Israeli elected officials. In recent years there are growing voices in Israel putting down American Jewry and treating large swaths of that community as Jews of a lesser order and sometimes even undeserving to be called Jews. Those who self-define as Reform or Conservative Jews and the unaffiliated account for 83% of American Jewry, yet for quite a few Members of Knesset, they are considered second-class Jews in the best case and goyim in the worst. Even some in the Prime Minister’s close entourage have recently said that Reform Jews (whose number is growing) are nothing but a weak support which Israel should not count on and it had better rely on its strong ties with Evangelical Christians and their unwavering support.

Legislative initiatives by some members of the present coalition are aimed against Diaspora Jewry, guilty of being non-Orthodox, in order to push it even further away from Judaism instead of pulling it in, embracing is and containing it, in recognition of the fact that Judaism comes in all stripes and colors. The people of Israel, desirous of survival, is better off growing thanks to Jews who pray differently than pushing them out of the ever-shrinking Jewish tent.

The Kotel (Wailing Wall) compromise was designed to provide a suitable solution for Diaspora as well as Israeli Jews who consider the Wall as holy as do Orthodox Jews. That compromise, too, was pushed aside and almost buried by Israel’s political and religious authorities, fearing that a mixed prayer area at the very edge of the Wall and far from sight would somehow offend them, their beliefs and their worship. In that case as in the issue of conversion which is currently under onslaught, the state of Israel took the side of the radical minority over supporting the needs and beliefs of the majority of Diaspora Jews.

Nevertheless and in spite of everything, despite the continuous attack on Diaspora Jewry by the political and religious establishment, this Jewry continues to rally to Israel’s side during emergency, time and time again. Such is the case now, during ”Swords of Iron”, with the massive support of North American Jewry in the streets, in the media, in social media and of course – in philanthropy.

It is only fitting that the Israeli government and especially some of the coalition partners, should change their approach in the near future and understand that the unconditional support of Diaspora Jews necessitates a reciprocal attitude – one of recognition, understanding and acceptance of Reform and Conservative Judaism as legitimate, equally legitimate as Orthodox Judaism. We don’t have another Jewish people and if we do not embrace and connect all parts of our people, we will end up alone.

About the Author
Ofer Bavly was a diplomat with the Israeli Foreign Service from 1991 to 2014, serving in Israel's Embassies in Madrid and Rome. He was Policy Advisor to two Foreign Ministers and was Israel's Consul General to Florida and Puerto Rico. He currently heads the Israel office of the Jewish Federation of Chicago / Jewish United Fund