In the last year, relations between Jewish communities around the world, and especially between the two largest, in Israel and North America, have stood in the shadows cast by political and geopolitical developments. The relationship between non-Israeli Jews and Israel has become more complicated. Israel’s status in the world, and Israel’s responses to various political circumstances, have caused many Diaspora Jews to evaluate how their connection with Israel affects them, more than in the past. This evaluation, or reevaluation, has brought into focus the difficulties many have in shaping their relationship with the Jewish state. For the younger generation, these difficulties hit especially hard; their social frameworks and the ways their political views are formed differ markedly from those of their parents’ generation.
In the summer of 2014, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge in Gaza. Along with the support shown by many Jews and Jewish organizations, considerable criticism of Israel was expressed by influential Jews. Further on in the year, there were harsh confrontations between the Israeli and the American governments, over both the failure of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and, perhaps even more so, the nuclear deal with Iran. These confrontations have caused some American Jews embarrassment and confusion. Worldwide anti-Semitism, most notably in France, and the questions raised by Israel’s urging Jews to flee to Israel in response marked yet another stress point in Israel-Diaspora relations.
Internal Israeli developments also influenced Israel-Diaspora relations. The new government, formed in the wake of Israel’s spring 2015 elections, is moving in a direction that many of the world’s Jews (especially in the U.S.) do not endorse. This dissent applies to Israeli policy vis-à-vis the geopolitical arena and domestically, especially in regard to religion and state matters.1 The critical views of many Diaspora Jews were evident in JPPI’s 2015 Israel-Diaspora Dialogue. Around half of the respondents to the written survey participants completed said that they do not believe the Israeli government is making a sincere effort to reach a peace settlement with the Palestinians.2
Interim findings and conclusions drawn from the 2015 Dialogue were discussed with Jewish leaders at a JPPI brainstorming conference in Glen Cove in May.3 Chief among them was that although many non-Israeli Jews feel “proud” of the way Israel conducts itself in war, around a third are “worried” about Israel, and many pointed out that there are members of their communities who feel “detached” from Israel, and some who are even “embarrassed” by Israel (both categories together include around a fifth of the survey respondents).4 The debate about personal attachment to Israel is more pronounced among younger Jews, and the gaps between their opinions and those of the older generation are apparent in this and many other studies.
Within the Dialogue groups, few denied Israel’s right to defend itself, and few expressed strong criticism of the way Israel fights its wars. However, many participants described how Israel’s battles directly affect their lives, especially their relationship and interactions with the non-Jewish world in which they live. In many instances, this results in Israel supporters “lowering their profile” in order to avoid confrontations when Israel acts in controversial ways.