Barukh Binah
policy fellow, writer and former ambassador
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That gap between the Jewish state and American Jews

The Israel-Diaspora divide has been a long time in the making, and won't disappear easily
Illustrative. Knesset members vote on amendments to the proposed Jewish nation-state bill at the Knesset, July 16, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Illustrative. Knesset members vote on amendments to the proposed Jewish nation-state bill at the Knesset, July 16, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Some processes take time to ripen, but then an eruption takes place: the pent-up energy springs out, and boiling lava streams down valleys and gorges for all to see.

This is what happened here last week with the wave of ultra-nationalist and ill-tempered legislation. Israel took a sharp swerve, but it was in the making for a long time.

Lets’ see:

  • The ever changing plans to expel refugees and migrant workers;
  • The growing hold of religion over the army and public space, including tearing down images of women;
  • The undignified retreat from the agreement over the Western Wall;
  • The exclusion of single fathers from the new surrogacy law;
  • The harnessing of national police to do the bidding of the Rabbinate, to detain a Conservative rabbi;
  • The new Nationality Act which is not needed (we all know who we are), and practically degrades some 20 percent of all Israelis (including the Druze) and their language, which used to be an official language here, but, alas, no more.

Moreover, while this may generate public anger and discontent in Israel, it may also have a devastating effect on Israel’s relations with its ultimate ally, the Jewish people abroad and especially in the United States. It can potentially damage our relations with the superpower of our time (of which the rumors of demise are always premature and exaggerated).

This is a serious matter. The Times of Israel, Ha’aretz and other outlets report a growing Jewish outrage, including expressions like: “a sense of betrayal,” “an abyss — not a rift — between us,” “inconsistent with Israel’s promise as the home of the entire Jewish people,” “contrary to the values of Israel and the Jewish people.” These are only a few statements of American rabbis and Federations and community leaders, as well as national organizations such as the ADL or the AJC. Reportedly, participants in “Birthright” withdrew from trips and went over to “Breaking the Silence,” and, while this involves only a few, it is troubling.

It is not the first crisis we have had with our brethren abroad. In June 1997, there was a serious clash over the Kotel, following vicious attacks against Reform and Conservative Jews (see report by Shachr Ilan  & Shlomo Shamir in Haaretz, June 23, 1997). A very senior Jewish leader then told me: “You know how powerful we can be when we defend and promote Israel on Capitol Hill. Do not think that we will not use our political capabilities to protect our interests as Diaspora Jews. We love Israel dearly, but how long will we be able to contain this situation, where our political and financial support are welcome, but we are not welcome at the Kotel?”

Twenty years have gone by and the message is still sharp and clear. We should warn not only of further estrangement between Israel as the Jewish state and the American Jewish community, of which some 38% are Reform Jews and some 33% are Conservative. We should take into consideration the possibility that they will not be with us on a rainy day, and that some will stay home when we need them on the Hill and elsewhere or even become more active in BDS and related circles.

Unfortunately, Israel seems to have strayed from the decades old writ of bi-partisanship vis-à-vis the American political body. Israel now seems to have opted primarily for the Republican side of the aisle. It may still prove a sound approach for as long as the GOP keeps winning; however, what if they no longer win? What will happen if the Democrats win the House, the Senate or both in the November mid-term elections? We may then meet a more skeptical Congress for which we will need the support of the Jewish community. This community is still very important in the American political layout and unlike other pro-Israel groups, their backing of Israel is brotherly and instinctive and has nothing to do with Armageddon or the Day of Judgement. So far, we could always rely on Jewish support and, but in view of the recent legislative (and other) changes in Israel – will they still be there for us? It seems that the new chair of the Jewish Agency Yitzhak (Bujy) Herzog will have a lot of fence mending to do.

About the Author
Ambassador (ret.) Barukh Binah is a policy fellow at MITVIM, the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies. He has served in a variety of diplomatic positions vis-à-vis the United States, including Spokesman in New York, Consul General in Chicago, Deputy Head of Mission in Washington DC and Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem,  heading the North American Division. He also served as Israel's ambassador to the Kingdom of Denmark. in 2017 he published a poetry book, "it only seems like healing", and recently published his book, "Sonia McConnel and other Stories"
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