Jewish Federations, we need to talk
October 19, 2018
At the end of the month, the Jewish Federations of North America will hold their annual General Assembly in Israel. And while the Federations’ decision to hold their annual conference in Israel rather than America seems at face value to be a statement of solidarity with Israel, in this case, it isn’t.
Five months after U.S. President Donald Trump moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv in an extraordinary act of friendship, the Jewish Federations of North America chose to hold their annual General Assembly in... Tel Aviv.
The name the Federations gave their conference is also a stunner.
“Israel and the Diaspora, We Need to Talk.”
What do we “need to talk” about?
The homepage of the conference’s website makes that clear enough. At the very top, it spells out all the differences dividing Israeli and American Jews.
Fifty percent of American Jews define themselves as liberal and only 8 percent of Israeli Jews define themselves as leftists.
Sixty-one percent of American Jews think that “Israel and an independent Palestinian state can coexist.” Only 43 percent of Israelis agree.
Eighty percent of American Jews vs. 49 percent of Israeli Jews think non-Orthodox rabbis should officiate at Jewish ceremonies in Israel.
The odd thing about these data is that they aren’t new, and they certainly don’t point to unbridgeable disputes between two well-intentioned sides to an argument.
Israel has certainly demonstrated its good will.
According to the American Jewish Committee’s survey of Israeli Jewish and American Jewish opinions published in June, a mere 42 percent of Israeli Jews supported establishing an egalitarian prayer area at the Western Wall while 48 percent opposed it. And yet, out of respect for American Jews who overwhelmingly supported it, the government established an egalitarian prayer area at the Western Wall.
The issue of non-Orthodox rabbis in Israel is imaginary. According to the AJC, less than one percent of Israelis define themselves as either Reform or Conservative. And there is no line of Reform and Conservative American Jews demanding to get married in Israel.
As for the issue of a Palestinian state, if the American Jews shared Israel’s good will, they would not pick a fight on the issue.
The AJC poll showed that 68 percent of Israeli Jews think it is inappropriate for American Jews to attempt to influence Israeli policy on national security issues including the issue of negotiations with the Palestinians. Only 25 percent of Israeli Jews deem it appropriate. Given the wide majority of Israelis who oppose their meddling, it is clear that no Israeli government is likely to give American Jews a seat at the table as it determines policies for which only Israel’s citizens will bear the consequences. Presuming American Jews have a modicum of respect for Israelis and their government, it would seem reasonable for them to respect the wishes of the people of Israel.
As for the ideological divide between liberal American Jews and right-leaning Israeli Jews, it is true that it is wide. But it is also true that it has been that way for decades. And yet, until recently it was never an obstacle to good relations.
So what is going on? Why did the Federations choose to insult Israelis by holding their conference in Tel Aviv rather than Jerusalem five months after the U.S. government finally moved the U.S. embassy to Israel’s capital? And why are the Federations demanding that Israeli Jews give them an accounting for the longstanding disparities in the outlooks of the two communities?
The most reasonable explanation for the Federations’ unfriendly behavior is that it doesn’t lay in anger over Israel’s policies regarding non-Orthodox rabbis or the Palestinians or Israel’s rejection of the political Left. Rather, the Federations decided to highlight these longstanding, workable gaps in order to hide the real source of the anger that their leaders feel toward Israeli Jews. The source of the anger can be summed up in two words: Donald Trump.
Israelis are divided on many issues. But one issue unites them. Israelis love Trump.
This week the Pew Research Center published a new survey analyzing how the nations of the world view Trump and America under Trump. While support for Trump and the U.S. is low and dropping among many key U.S. allies, particularly in Europe, Israelis adore him. And under Trump, their longstanding overwhelming support for the U.S. has increased.
The Pew study found that 83 percent of Israelis and 94 percent of Israeli Jews love America. Israel is the only country in the world where a majority—52 percent—believes that under Trump, the U.S. is doing more to solve global problems than it was in previous years. Seventy-nine percent of Israelis think U.S.-Israel relations have improved under Trump. Eighty-six percent of Israelis believe that under Trump, the U.S. takes its interests into account.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the situation is almost completely reversed. The AJC poll from June showed that only 26 percent of American Jews support Trump while 71 percent oppose him. Seventy percent of American Jews oppose the way Trump is handling U.S.-Israel relations.
As The Wall Street Journal editorialized on Thursday (Oct. 4), one of the clarifying aspects of the Democratic bid to dehumanize and destroy Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh is that it shows that the Democrats’ rage is not solely directed against Trump personally. Trump is the Democrats’ “foil to regain power.”
Kavanaugh, after all, is not a “Trump Republican.” The Washingtonian is about as establishment as they come. By trashing Kavanaugh as though he were what the Journal refers to as “part of Mr. Trump’s New York menagerie,” the Democrats revealed that they oppose Trump because he is implementing conservative Republican policies and not because of his unconventional personality.
The Journal explained, “Republicans across America can see, and certainly their Senators voting on Judge Kavanaugh should realize, that the left hates them as much or more than they loathe Mr. Trump. Conservatives understand that, for the American left, they are all deplorables now.”
The Federations’ use of their conference to disrespect Israelis while highlighting longstanding disagreements is a means to express their anger as Democrats at Israelis for supporting Trump.
The fact that Democrats are using Trump as a foil to discredit his policies and demonize his supporters has had a radicalizing effect on Democrats. Since everything Trump supports is bad, Democrats now embrace positions that they had previously rejected.
Growing Democratic hostility towards Israel and effusive support for the PLO are a consequence of that radicalization. Last week, 34 Democratic senators—two thirds of the Democratic Senate caucus—signed a letter to Trump asking that he restore aid to the Palestinian Authority. This, despite the PA’s continued payment of more than $300 million a year to convicted terrorists and their families. That is, the Democrats called for Trump to ignore the Taylor Force Act, which requires the administration to deny funding to the PA so long as it continues the payments.
The AJC survey indicated that Jewish Democrats are not lagging far behind their senators.
Consider the U.S. Jewish community’s position on Trump’s transfer of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
Eighty-five percent of Israelis supported the move; only 7 percent opposed it. In contrast, only 46 percent of American Jews supported Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Israel’s capital, while 48 percent opposed it.
This position is remarkable because for decades, a solid majority of American Jews supported moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Major Jewish groups played key roles in passing the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1996 that recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and enjoined the executive branch to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The precipitous drop in American Jewish support for the embassy move—graphically demonstrated by the Jewish Federations’ decision to hold their annual conference in Tel Aviv—shows that like their fellow Democrats, Jewish Democrats view Trump’s supporters—including Israelis—as “deplorables” who deserve their hostility. So their longstanding support for locating the U.S. embassy in Israel in Israel’s capital city flew by the wayside.
The program of the three-day GA is similarly discouraging. The three days of panels, speeches and debates are ostensibly supposed to involve frank discussions between Israelis and American Jews, with the goal of building bridges between them. But the Federations invited no Israelis who represent the religious Israeli establishment that they spend so much time and energy demonizing. They invited no anti-immigration activists from south Tel Aviv who complain that their neighborhoods have been transformed into crime-ridden ghettos due to illegal immigration from Eritrea and Sudan. None of the sponsors of the Nation-State Law, so viciously opposed by the Jewish Federations, was invited to speak. No voices calling for abandoning the quest to establish a Palestinian state were invited.
Most of those invited to speak represent marginal factions in Israeli society. The spectrum of views spans from center-left to far-left with a sizable representation of Israel’s Arab community thrown in, to what is billed as a frank discussion between American Jews and the uninvited Israeli Jews who disagree with them (and support Trump).
The only Israeli speaker representing the positions held by the majority of the country’s citizens who was invited to address the GA is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Given that his is the only representative voice on the program, Netanyahu should use his speech to voice the growing frustrations that Israelis feel toward the American Jewish establishment. He should ask them why they haven’t acknowledged, much less applauded, Trump for his unparalleled support for Israel. He should ask them why so few of them support the embassy move—and what possessed them to hold their conference, in this of all years, in Tel Aviv rather than Jerusalem.
And he should tell them that Israelis are proud to stand with their friends and supporters wherever they may be—and ask them why they find it so difficult to do so.
The American Jewish community’s apparent preference for lawmakers who urge Trump to underwrite Palestinian terrorists over Trump and his voters who refuse to do so makes no sense to Israelis.
Netanyahu should tell them that while Israeli Jews are eager to work with American Jewry on the basis of our shared heritage and values, if American Jewry chooses to abandon those values in favor of their swiftly radicalizing partisan agenda, they are free to make that decision—and live with its consequences.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.