Thursday, June 14, 2018

Jewish, American, and International Support for Israel

Israeli Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett (WJD)
There has been a lot of angst of late about American Jewish disaffection with Israel.  Which should be a concern for anyone that cares about the welfare of the Jewish state.  Israel’s Minster of Diaspora Affairs, Naftali Bennett, who addressed a conference of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) expressed that very concern. He said it keeps him up at night and worries him more than does Iran.

The question is why is this the case? Why are American Jews abandoning Israel’s cause? There was a time where most American Jews defined their very Judaism by their support for Israel. Other than that there was little else they did that distinguished them as Jews. They were basically indistinguishable from their non Jewish American neighbors. Social justice is what concerned the more idealistic Jews among them.  As did the soft antisemitism of the time that had quotas for Jews in ivy league universities and barred Jews from from certain country clubs. 

But all American Jews who were mostly non observant loved Israel and supported her with massive donations - raised by Jewish federations. They viewed with pride Israel’s idealism as expressed by secular Zionism with socialist type communes (called Kibbutzim) working to make the desert bloom. In those days it was all about building up  the country.

That kind of idealism has all but disappeared in Israel  right along with most Kibbutzim. Today’s Israel is more like America where the profit motive fuels economy. They saw a country whose pioneers were idealistic, where Jews that lived in and worked on collective farms (Kibbutzim) were all working for the same cause of bettering the society in which they lived.  The profit motives seemed at most to be secondary if they existed at all. That is what socialism is all about. And they were doing this while under the threat of constant attack from hostile neighbors. It was a time where the labor government ruled and believed their reign would last forever. 

That changed after the Six Day War, especially when the Israeli electorate turned rightward – and voted labor out of office replacing him with Menachem Begin. From that moment on the country started moving away from socialism and more towards capitalism. Kibbutzim started dying out as a result.

That is one reason support has waned. But in my view – by far not the most important one.

There are at least 2 other factors that better help explain this new disaffection. One is the huge influences anti Israel Leftist professors in universities. Some of it so extreme that it refuses to see Israel as anything other than an oppressor state that should be boycotted and protested. Unfortunately there are a lot of young Jewish students – ignorant of their own heritage that easily buy into that narrative.  They boycotting Israel see it as a socially just cause.

Another big factor is one Bennett alluded to. American Jews have almost completely lost their Jewish identity and have no reason to support a Jewish State. They also see injustice in the fact that Heterodox rabbis have been barred from any official influence in Israel because of out sized influenced of the religious parties in the Knesset.  That good people like those rabbis are denied any power in a Jewish democracy is a huge turnoff to many American Jews. And those rabbis make sure their voices are heard on this matter – which of course exacerbates their apathy.

90% of Jews in America that are not Orthodox have raised their children with hardly any real identifiable Jewish content at all. Urging their children to have a sense of social justice is hardly a value unique to Judaism. Why should any of those children care if they are Jews? This is probably why the intermarriage among the 90% that are not Orthodox is over 70%!

Naftali Bennett’s concerns  are therefore very real and based on the existing reality of a Judaism in America that has little if any resemblance to actual Judaism.

I actually had an online debate about this with a dear friend who identifies as liberal. He believes that Israel’s move to the political and religious right is what causes this problem. He worries that the above mentioned American Jewish apathy will substantially reduce its generosity and irreparably hurt Israel. He believes Israel needs that financial support and can’t afford to lose it.

He further believes that the policies of Israel’s current government alienates world support too. And that Israel cannot survive as a nation – isolated form the rest of the world.He also laments the bipartisan support Israel had until the current Israeli government alienated the Democratic party.  He does not believe it benefits Israel to lose or substantially reduce bi-partisan support. 

I agree that ideally it would be best to have bi-partisan support in congress and have the support of all the nations of the world. I also agree that Israel has lost and will continue to lose some American Jewish support. But I do not agree that it will hurt Israel to maintain its current policies. It is not a one way street with Israel The US needs Israel too. Which is why financial aid, military and intelligence cooperation increased substantially under a President who couldn’t stand Israel’s leader. 

Trade with Israel benefits the nations of the world too. It is not a one way street. It has contributed mightily to the welfare of the entire world through its accomplishments in a variety of fields.

What about the money they will lose from Jewish American donors? My hope is that Israel will at some point no longer need their donations. A point that they have already reached. Their economy is strongest its ever been.  Sure, Israel does not want to lose any support. Everything helps. But if they lose some of it, I do not believe it will destroy them; will not even hurt them that much in the short term; and in the long run they will be better off.

I therefore believe that Israel’s current religious ‘move to the right’ is a good thing. (Even though I would tweak it a bit for reasons beyond the scope of this post). Because at the end of the day, Israel was given to the Jewish people so they could serve God through Torah and Mitzvos. Without that, there is no reason to have a Jewish state at all.