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2017 Annual Assessment

Donald Trump’s election, and trends such as rising anti-Semitism bring a dimension of uncertainty to Israel–Diaspora relations because their long-term influence is unclear. Israeli government decisions regarding the Kotel and conversion have sharpened Israel–Diaspora tensions. In light of these decisions and their reactions, we are moving the needle in a negative direction.

 

The dynamics of Jewish bonds have changed in the last year. Long-term trends recognized in previous years are still in place in in Israel and the Jewish world, but there have been a few major developments in the last, the three most notable are: 1) The election of Donald Trump. 2) The crisis in Israel-Diaspora relations in the wake of Israeli government decisions regarding the Kotel and conversion, which were perceived as provocations, especially by non-Orthodox Jews worldwide. 3) Unusual expressions of anti-Semitism in North America and the outrage they set off among American Jews. These developments are impacting the relational dynamics, especially between Israel and U.S. Jews.

The most immediate and dramatic impact, at least in the short term, was the June 25, 2017 Israeli cabinet decision to freeze the Kotel Compromise Agreement that had been struck in January 2016. At the same time, a new, more onerous conversion law was proffered – a decision that has since also been frozen. Many Jewish leaders, especially but not exclusively in North America, interpreted these government actions as evidence that Israel does not give adequate consideration to their needs and perspectives. As a result of the Kotel decision, a discussion was ignited throughout the Jewish world on the very nature and character of the bonds between Diaspora Jewry and the State of Israel.

The most immediate impact Trump’s election has had is the reduced pressure on Israel from the U.S. administration. It also created a set of circumstances that caused the U.S. Jewish community to focus primarily on domestic American affairs. The polarization within the general American society following the results of the November 2016 presidential election has not subsided, and is diverting more political energy toward domestic U.S. affairs. However, a Trump administration decision to focus its attention on an Israeli-Palestinians peace process could alter that dynamic in the coming months in one of several possible directions: It could focus the spotlight again on Israel; it could enter Israel into a peace process that would improve its image. or difficulties in the peace negotiations could perhaps cause damage to Israel if she would be perceived as responsible for their failure.

2017 and 2018 provide Israel with opportunities to educate Jews around the world about its creation (70th anniversary) and great victory (50th anniversary) – and hence attempt to recover some of the sentiments that made Israeli and Diaspora Jews partners in building the Jewish state. Yet persistent problems remain: Israel’s political stance concerning its relations with the Palestinians is anathema to many liberal Jews. Its impotence in resolving the Western Wall controversy continues to anger non-Orthodox Jews. A triumphalist undertone of Orthodox Jews who feel that they grow in power both in Israel (as the current political coalition maximizes their influence) and in other communities (notably in the U.S., where Orthodox Jews have more access and ties to the new administration) have also contributed to heightened tensions between Jewish communities. Demographic trends in Diaspora communities widen the gap between traditionally committed Jews – who see strong ties with Israel as an essential component of their identity – and more distant Jews who do not have the same instinctive need for keeping ties with Israel strong.
The following table briefly describes developments in 2016-17 that have contributed to either the strengthening or weakening of bonds between Jewish communities worldwide – with an emphasis on Israel-Diaspora bonds.

As a result of these factors we are moving the needle in an unfavorable direction toward “troubled.”

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