Viewpoint: Diaspora Jews right to influence Israel's political decisions
June 21, 2019
By Howard Lefkowitz
Last weekend, I had a heated discussion with my son-in-law, a political science professor at Virginia Tech, as to America’s right to demand change in Israel’s internal and external political directions. He asserted that Israel’s regional activities, as well as internal political structure, could become detrimental to the U.S.’s best interest. He argued that the US provides $4B a year in foreign aid to Israel. Therefore, the U.S. is entitled to demand certain actions that it deems appropriate.
My son-in-law has a point regarding an exchange of value for foreign aid to any country, Israel included, as it may relate to U.S. interests. Defining U.S. interests, however, is a broad topic. Applying it to the Middle East, and Israel’s relationship to its Arab neighbors, is even broader. However, two positions need to be considered: The first is Israel’s physical security being the primary objective of both countries. Since funding is mandated through Congress, this consideration may include political support implications. The second is the American Jewish community’s entitlement to demand political re-direction by the Israeli government of either its internal or external policies.
Most Americans Jews are ignorant or unconcerned with Israel’s internal political machinations or the structure of its governing institutions. There is a segment of predominantly progressive, non-Orthodox American Jews who are focused on Israel’s right-leaning governing coalitions and its impact on contemporary Jewish society. These American Jews actively work to influence Israel’s internal politics, specifically regarding West Bank and Palestinians policy and/or Israeli legislation and laws that are perceived to negatively influence the non-Orthodox Jewish population. But how aware are these American Jews of Israel’s internal issues such as housing, immigrant inclusion, funding for secular education, social support, overburdened transportation, or daily functioning Israeli bureaucracy? Does their narrow perspective distort their ability to understand the State’s governing obligations?
Diaspora Jews have chosen not to make Aliyah and not to become citizens of the State of Israel. Therefore, we are not entitled to enjoy the rights or accept the responsibilities of Israeli citizens. We do not pay Israeli taxes or have mandatory military or civil inclusion. We do not have the right to lobby or vote in Israeli elections nor participate within an Israeli political party. We must trust that Israel functions under a democratic structure that will ultimately prevail in determining its balances, similarly to the history of the U.S. democracy. Our responsibility is to work externally to insure Israel’s public support, physical security, and insured longevity as the homeland of the Jewish people.
Diaspora Jews are members of the Jewish State of Israel, not to be confused with the political State of Israel. The two States are morally intertwined, but independent as regards governmental responsibilities. It is the political State of Israel that makes the laws, provides for defense, and deals with social requirements of its citizens. While certain religious laws and rules may evolve thru the State governing structure, as such they technically apply only within the political State of Israel.
So, until such time as Diaspora Jews become Israeli citizens, we are not entitled to directly influence the State of Israel’s right to govern itself as a democracy; determine the legality of its politicians’ actions; and make determinations as to the legal direction of the Knesset. We have no more right to “demand” different results from Israeli institutions of government than an Israeli citizen has to demand actions by the governments of England, Spain, Argentina, or the U.S. Perhaps its time for that segment of the progressive, non-Orthodox American Jewish community to treat Israel in the same objective manner that we ask from every other country in the world: Speak your minds, respect Israel’s sovereignty. But, don’t work to undermine Israel’s right to self-determination.
Howard Lefkowitz is president of Leeds Holdings Southeast, Inc., in Winter Park, Fla.