Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

US and Israeli Jews


Let’s leave the Israeli election to continue brewing. The voting is next week. Nastiness rampant.

Currently in the air are comments about U.S. Jews. Where are they? What’s their interest in Israel?

That we’ve developed into two separate communities should not be a surprise. It’s been more than two generations since the Holocaust and the establishment of the Israeli state. Israel is no longer in danger of collapse. It has developed good relations with a number of former enemies, and gets along with most Israeli Arabs and Palestinians. Holocaust survivors and veterans of 1948 are disappearing, but Jewish connections are prominent.

Meanwhile, American Jews are diminishing due to intermarriage and concerns with things that have little to do with Judaism. There remain ties and concerns, but not as prominent as in years past.

Here it is impossible to overlook one’s connection with a history and identity. The State is Jewish, as are the holidays and daily concerns of media personalities. The language is Hebrew. There are daily efforts at attack, and weekend efforts to make trouble on the borders of Gaza. 

When one talks about intermarriage in Israel, is is usually about a Jew whose grandparents came from one country marrying a Jew whose grandparents came from somewhere else. 

As I’m writing this note, I hear a police helicopter in the sky, and my morning walk took me by a parking lot where police vehicles were assembling for something.

Settlements are a subject of dispute between American and Israeli Jews. Many Americans somehow think that the settlements can disappear, and cease hampering a two-state settlement. There are 400,000 Jews living in the West Bank, and another 400,000 in Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Israelis disagree on the issue, but enough seem content with the status quo to assure the continued existence, and even the gradual growth of the settlements. Those who choose to live in the West Bank are taking a risk. There is more Palestinian action there than against Jews living in Israel itself (whatever that is).  However, the settlements are not likely to be removed, except perhaps for some small ones where courts have ruled that they have been built on Palestinians’ land. What happens then is that Israeli officials refuse Palestinians’ efforts to rebuild on that land.

Americans continue to support Israel by more than 70 percent, while less than 30 percent support Palestinians. However, the figures are less encouraging among young Americans, including young Jews, and Democrats.

There are prominent young Democratic Congresspersons who are openly anti-Israel, and perhaps anti-Jewish. They are getting disproportionate attention from the media, as well as opposition from their party leaders in Congress.

And there have been anti-Jewish symbols and statements in the cemetery where my parents and grandparents rest. At one time, Fall River had 3,000 Jews, with a grand temple and several smaller synagogues. The temple’s schools had several classes at each grade. Now the temple serves, occasionally, Jews from outlying towns. With a population of Portuguese, French Canadians, Poles, Irish, Italians, English, and their mixtures, it’s hard to imagine who in the city would scrawl MAGA in a Jewish grave.

Organizations that live by signs of anti-Semitism continue to note increases in incidences of painting swastikas on walls and gravestones. The attack against a Pittsburgh synagogue was prominent, but unusual. 

Here we are getting along well with Israeli Arabs, who we see on the sidewalks and stores. Some of the women have their heads covered, and occasionally with only their eyes visible. But for some their Hebrew is better than their Arabic. Most pharmacists are Arab. And it’s often difficult to tell who is who.

A hundred thousand Palestinians or more come to Israel daily for work. And while the West Bank is generally peaceful, there are nightly raids against the nasties by the Shin Bet and the army. 

Gaza has become a third country, which gets in the way of those still worrying about a two-state solution. 

Continued co-existence seems more likely than anything dramatic. Neither major Israeli party has ascribed to anything more than that. Trump has pledged a grand plan after our election, but the output from Palestinians is that the Americans are not reliable. 

Reform and Conservative activists here and there continue to press for more attention from Israel, and threaten distancing themselves if not heard. But here they are small minorities, with nowhere near the representation in Knesset of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox. 

There has been a decision to provide them with a larger space alongside the Western Wall, but its implementation keeps being postponed. 

Donald Trump is a fearsome joke to most American Jews, but here he’s a hero for decisions affecting the country. 

Benjamin Netanyahu is viewed by Americans as an extreme rightist. Here a majority would like him to depart the Prime Minister’s Office, but the polls are wavering as to whether he could win the election. The question is one of personal guilt and questionable actions of his wife and child, but the policies he has pursued are widely supported.

Should Israeli politicians seek alliance with American Jews?

With respect to American Orthodox, it’s not a problem. Nor is it a problem with respect to American Jews who do not emphasize their non-Orthodox religious agenda. But with Reform and Conservative Jews, with their affinities at high profile, it could be costly with respect to the politician’s support in Israel.

There are lots of details here and there suggesting a mixture of rapport between U.S. and Israeli Jews, but also tension unto more.  It’s not a simple picture to describe. And there aren’t any predictions worth contemplating. Other than continued tensions.

Comments welcome, irashark@gmail.com

Ira Sharkansky is professor (Emeritus) of the Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


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