The state of relations between Israel and Diaspora Jewish communities are less positive than they were a year ago. Israel’s negative international position and the increasing worldwide criticism of its policies, together with the election of a right-wing government whose positions in regard to many important issues (Israel and the Palestinians, religion and state) substantially differ from those of the majority of world Jewry, raised difficulties this year in regard to the ties between Israel and the Jewish communities in the Diaspora.
The increasing prominence of anti-Semitic incidents in the world also served as background for complex Israel-Diaspora relations as on the one hand it emphasized Israel’s role as a shelter for persecuted Jews, yet on the other hand it sharpened questions concerning the connection between Israel’s policy and attacks against Jews all over the world, and as to its role as the representative of non-Israeli Jews.
JPPI’s expert panel brought out several of these points. Writing at a time following the prime minister’s speech before Congress, two-thirds felt that overall Jewish community bonds had declined somewhat from the previous year. Half felt that Operation Protective Edge in response to renewed hostilities and missile strikes from Gaza had the net result of causing some decline in global Jewish attachment to Israel, and most respondents held that there had been at least a slight decline in acceptance in general when Israel finds it necessary to resort to the use of military force. By a similar majority, the queried experts saw a divide between the reactions of the older generation and the younger members of the U.S. Jewish community to the same geopolitical events.3
In a similar vein, four among the five respondents who addressed the question felt that measures that might challenge outside perceptions of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, such as bills brought before the Knesset designed to emphasize Israel’s character as the nation-state of the Jewish people at the potential expense of liberal democratic values, had potential to reduce Israel attachment.4 Given the level of American Jewish understanding, most felt that outcomes of Israeli elections have little effect on attachment except in unusual circumstances and in these instances it is the Israel-Palestine conflict rather than domestic orthodox-liberal religious issues that hold most sway.
JPPI conducted a more detailed exploration of these issues through a worldwide dialogue process in Jewish communities between January and late April 2015. The effort brought individuals together in workshops to discuss Jewish values and Israel’s use of force in armed conflicts. A special report on this subject, released July 2015, largely found Jewish approval of Israel’s actions during war, and disapproval of Israel’s actions “between wars.”5
JPPI’s Jewish world dialogues did not find widespread criticism of the IDF’s morality. A participant survey found that many Jews do not believe: “The current Israeli government is making a sincere effort to bring about a peace settlement with the Palestinians.” Many seminar participants raised the concern that some Jews hold Israel to a higher standard. On some occasions this took on a negative tone (“Jews are part of the problem”). On others it was greeted as a positive and justified standard (“As Jews, we have to set the bar higher”).
Two-thirds of the respondents on JPPI’s expert panel saw a worsening in the dimension of community bonds over the prior year. Despite the strength inherent in these Jewish bonds, particularly as witnessed in response to anti-Semitism and threats to Israel’s safety, the concern raised in the past year and the rapidity of the transformation causes a marked decline in the gauge for this dimension.