Ronald Lauder’s thoughtful Opinion piece in the New York Times earlier this week is worth reading.
He writes of the damage caused to Israel/Diaspora relations by Israel’s government having withdrawn from the agreement that would have created an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel. He criticizes recently enacted legislation dealing with the right of same-sex couples to adopt children and the status of non-Jewish minorities in Israel.
“Jewish millennials”, he wrote, “are raising doubts that their parents and grandparents never raised. The commitment to Israel and Jewish institutions is not unconditional.”
We live in a changing world. More than seventy years after the Holocaust young Jews are less emotionally and intellectually attached to and conscious of the need for a Jewish State to protect them from being the helpless victims of anti-Semitism.
Over 40 years have passed since Operation Entebbe. Its message that Israel is there to protect Jews wherever they are threatened rings hollow for many young Jews who feel that they suffer discrimination and anti-Semitism on campus precisely because of how Israel treats the Palestinians. For many, Israel has become a liability rather than a country of which they can be proud.
The fact that the Palestinians bear their fair share of guilt for the tragic impasse in which we find ourselves is lost on those with little knowledge of the roots of the Israel/Palestinian conflict. They are confronted day in day out with the biased material put out by the media and propaganda that tells them that “Gaza is the largest open-air prison camp” and that Israelis are fascists.
But there are other issues too. The vast majority of American Jews, certainly Reform and Conservative ones, are Democrats, whereas Israel has had a right-wing government in place for nearly all of the past 20 years. This has also inevitably lead to a sense of estrangement, as many in the Diaspora do not share Israel’s political orientation. The concept of Tikkun Olam is incompatible with the actions of a Jewish State that does not grant full and equal rights to all of those over whom it has dominion.
And then there is assimilation. Those who have lost any sense of religious or ethnic identity as Jews inevitably feel no connection with Israel.
If this all sounds pessimistic, I believe there are good reasons to be so. Unless Israel re-embraces non-Orthodox Jewry, who represent the vast majority of Diaspora Jews, and is sensitive to their values, we are likely to see an ever-growing chasm between most of them and the Jewish State. Slogans such as “We are one People” will have become devoid of any meaning for those who no longer feel that Israel is their spiritual home.