THE RESPONSIBILITY OF CONSIDERATION
This is already the fifth Dialogue in which participants have been asked about their attitude about considering the position of Diaspora Jewry when taking decisions in Israel, and in all the previous rounds it has been apparent that Diaspora Jews are of the unambiguous opinion that they have the right to such consideration. In previous years the question has always pertained to a particular matter (who is considered a Jew in Israel; when Israel goes to war; how the future of Jerusalem is being shaped), and as shown in the table below, the more participants associated the question with “Jewish” matter (like who is a Jew, or the cultural future of Jerusalem), the more they tended to demand participation in the decisions – and the more they associated the question “political” or “security” matters (going to war, the political future of Jerusalem), the weaker their demand to be considered in decision making. This year, when the Dialogue dealt with the entirety of the Israel-Diaspora relationship, we asked the same question but at a very general level. The question related to “consideration of the opinions” of Diaspora Jews in “taking decisions” by Israel.
|During armed struggle||When deciding who is a Jew in Israel||When deciding on the political future of Jerusalem||When deciding on the cultural future of Jerusalem||When taking decisions in Israel|
|Israel should take decisions without considering the opinions of Jews in the rest of the world.||31%||6%||18%||14%||9%|
|Israel should take into account the opinions of non-Israeli Jews, mainly because its decisions are liable to affect their lives in the countries where they are living.||38%||18%||21%||19%||35%|
|Israel should take into account the opinions of non-Israeli Jews, mainly because Israel is the national home of all the Jews.||11%||54%||44%||51%||34%|
|Israel should take into account the opinions of non-Israeli Jews, mainly in order to gain the support of Jews who do not live in Israel.||21%||22%||17%||17%||22%|
In addition, many more Israelis took part in the Dialogue this year than in the past, and their answers to the question of the right of Diaspora Jews to consideration by Israel did not always line up with the answers tendered by Diaspora Jews. As might have been expected – when the answers of Diaspora Jews conflict with those of Israeli Jews, a somewhat less harmonious picture emerges. However, even with these differences it appears that most Israeli Dialogue participants (young Israelis with some awareness of Israel-Diaspora relations, see Appendix for details) are prepared to take Diaspora Jewry into consideration in Israeli decision making. Still, the rate of Israelis supporting such consideration is lower (while the rate of Israelis who feel that the position of Diaspora Jewry should not be taken into account is very high – 25%), and also the explanations they offered for their answers were very different. In fact, the Israelis did not tend to give purely reasons rooted in a strategy of strengthening support for Israel among Diaspora Jewry and appeared to prefer the argument based on principle – Israel is the national home of the Jewish people.
In a UJA- Federation of New York survey of Israelis from last year, the picture was even less inviting of Diaspora intervention. Unlike the Dialogue participants, a distinct group of Jews who have an interest in Israel-Diaspora relations, and therefore tended to express greater acceptance of Israeli consideration of Diaspora positions, this survey examined the degree to which Israelis agreed with such consideration among a representative sample of the Jewish population in Israel. Not surprisingly, the average Israeli, according to the UJA-Federation of New York study, is less interested in taking Diaspora Jews into account than were the Israeli Dialogue participants.
But even in the representative sample it can be seen that the resistance of Israelis to diaspora involvement is much stronger when political issues are at stake (settlements, the peace process) whereas when it comes to issues from the the “Jewish” arena – such as conversion, the status of the different streams, and so forth – Israelis are weaker in their objection to diaspora involvement. Still, in general, Israeli Jews do not feel that the Israeli government should take the position of American Jews into account on almost any subject. Even subjects on which the Israeli Dialogue participants were slightly more prepared to accept the involvement of “American Jewish leaders” – conversion is the most notable example of these – ,a majority of Israelis still object to the Government of Israel taking these Jews into account (53%).
These figures show, among other things, that even before Diaspora leaders are able to persuade Israelis to consider their positions on particular subjects, they have to persuade them of the very legitimacy of their claim to consideration. They also show that the argument for consideration will meet a lower persuasive threshold on Jewish issues than on what Israelis interpret as relating to security matters.
The discussions clarified that alongside the Israelis’ objection to the Diaspora’s demand for consideration, Diaspora Jews do not feel they receive sufficient consideration from Israel – not even among those who advocate minimal consideration on limited matters. “There is no point in beginning to talk about dialogue on weighty matters, when even on relatively simple matters the Government of Israel does not show goodwill,” claimed a Chicago participant. “Israel and Diaspora Jews share a common responsibility. One side cannot do something that harms the other side. Unfortunately, Israeli politicians do not always act this way,” said a European participant. Shalom Lipner, who worked for many years in the very heart of the Israeli establishment, put it this way: “Israel’s approach to the Jews of the world is an instrumental one: it is not attentive to their desires, and mainly seeks the benefit in the relationship.
The message put across by the state is that it has no great interest in Jews who do not adopt its ideological doctrine, and this is true across the entire political spectrum. Its official representatives flaunt the title of ‘leaders of the Jewish people,’ but do not relate appropriately to the responsibility that comes with the job. The expectation is that the Jewish communities will subordinate their priorities to those of the State of Israel.”
The feeling that this is Israel’s policy modus operandi and leads to a not inconsiderable sense of anger among Diaspora Jews. Almost 40% of the Dialogue participants – Jews who have a considerable interest in having a relationship with Israel – said that “they often feel anger toward Israel.” Just under a third of them also agreed with the statement: “Israel does not particularly care about the Jews of the Diaspora” (only 17% of Israeli Dialogue participants agreed with the statement). “I hope that you will pass on the feeling of rage among Jews to the important entities in Israel,” said one participant in a meeting with the the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations in America. “I am not certain that they understand in Israel how difficult it is to deal with a community that is so angry about Israel,” said an American rabbi. “Obviously it is sometimes exaggerated, but in recent years there is a great deal of disappointment, and a great deal of frustration with Israel,” said a participant in New York. “Israel can’t assume that it will do what it wants, and this will not provoke negative feelings on our part,” said a participant who wanted to emphasize that she was a Conservative Jew.
However, a certain degree of anger, although less intense, can also be found on the Israeli side. About a third of Israeli Dialogue participants (32%) – almost all of them young (around conscription age) – agreed with the statement that “I am often angry with Diaspora Jewry.” More than a quarter of them (27%) felt that young Jews around the world “don’t really care about Israel.” Many participants in the Israeli discussion groups expressed a lack of interest, and even anger, when the possibility of Israeli consideration of Diaspora positions was raised – mainly, but not exclusively, when in connection to security issues.
“A person living in Metulla and paying taxes is more important [than a Jew in the Diaspora] in taking decisions with regard to prayer arrangements at the Western Wall], even if he never goes to the Western Wall,” said an Israeli participant. “There is a line between consideration and changing the norms of life,” said another in the same discussion. In a different discussion, also in connection with the argument over the Western Wall, a participant said, “there are not enough Conservatives in Israel, if they want to have an influence –
let them make Aliyah. If you are not from here – don’t interfere.” Another participant said: “I don’t see that they give us so much support in the matters that are most important to us, for some reason there are more demonstrations against us than in support of us, so don’t let them come to us with demands.” A participant in Tiberias commented: “Many Jews know nothing about Israel. How can we tell the difference between those who know and contribute, and those who are just Jews? Jews who demonstrate against us are crossing a line.”
As mentioned, in many Diaspora discussion groups as well, calls were heard against the involvement of Diaspora Jews in certain types of Israeli policy, mainly when the discussion overflowed to issues of security and foreign policy. “I see no reason for Israel to manage its policy issues while taking into account what students in Texas say,” said a participant in Austin. “Even if I have a position, I don’t always feel comfortable saying what Israel should do in situations of coping with military issues,” said a participant at Brown University.
This is a distinction we also found in JPPI’s previous Dialogues, and which was discussed in the final report of the first of them, on Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. “The issues where various Jews in various communities around the world expect to have an influence on Israel, and the level of influence that they hope to have, differ from case to case – from those who believe that they have an obligation to raise their voice on every subject, including those clearly related to Israel’s security, to those who prefer to focus on questions relating to Jewish life in Israel alone. Attempts to outline a clear boundary for the legitimacy of intervention by world Jewry in Israeli affairs have turned out to be very complicated.”
In the second Dialogue, which focused on security questions, it emerged that “not a few Jews around the world feel that they are entitled to a voice, and to consideration of their positions on the part of the State of Israel, even on matters clearly dealing with security. Their reasons are varied – their support for Israel, the fact that it is a Jewish state, the impact of events on their lives… and more. Participants from Columbia focused on impact on their lives as a reason for consideration on the part of Israel. A participant at a seminar in Chicago said: “Israel should consider Diaspora Jewry, and the reverse, in order to benefit world Jewry in general. To see things as a nation. The fact that you don’t vote doesn’t mean you don’t have a voice.” In Brazil, the argument was made that Israel, as a Jewish state, represents all the Jews, and therefore should consult with world Jewry and see it as a source of support. In South Africa it was said that ‘Israel should be open to hearing the voice of Diaspora Jewry, not only because of the negative impact on their lives, but because they too want the good of Israel, and also because their fate is related to the State of Israel”. Participants at a seminar in St Louis said that ‘Israel should take into account the effect on Diaspora Jewry and on their attitudes. However, world Jewry can’t try to tie [Israel’s] hands.”
In this year’s Dialogue, dozens of Israelis of around conscription age participated. It was possible to gauge their degree of resistance to the suggestion that Diaspora Jews be involved in security issues. “This is a red line,” said one Israeli. “When someone starts to make comments to me about things about which they have no concept, I stop listening.” And in another conversation, a young Israeli woman said: “The fact that we are all Jews is good when we’re talking about matters of Judaism, the Western Wall, women in synagogue, things like that. But that’s it.”
In some of the discussions, participants were asked to try more precisely delineate the border between issues on which it is more appropriate or less appropriate to voice an opinion. For example, they were asked to decide whether the question of the settlements in Judea and Samaria is “security-related,” “political,” “ethical,” or “Jewish”? In most cases the tendency was conservative – that is, minimal involvement of Diaspora Jewry in Israeli issues that are not clearly “Jewish” (like the question of the Western Wall, or the status of the rabbinate, marriage, conversion, and so on). At the same time, in a number of the discussions there were participants who argued that the issue of control over the territories relates to the “survivability of the State of Israel as a Jewish state, and this is something in which I have a clear interest, and therefore I should make my voice heard,” as a participant in Minneapolis put it. A participant at Brown explained that “everything that relates to Jewish morality, like conquering another nation, also reflects on me as a Jew for whom Israel is part of my identity, and therefore I am not only permitted but I am obligated to express my position on it.”
A participant in Washington said that “the matter of the territories is a clear matter of survival of the Jewish state, and therefore obviously I have an interest in expressing my position. On the other hand, I understand that it will be harder for me to persuade Israelis that they need to listen to me on such an issue, and so my tendency is to be cautious, and not to try in places where it will produce strong resistance.”
In a large number of discussions, the argument was heard that Israel should make greater use “of what we have to offer it. It should take our Diaspora-ness seriously,” as one participant said. Another participant, in Chicago, said something similar: “There are things that we know how to do. We have acquired experience in them, in working with minorities, in creating a pluralist atmosphere, in human rights – Israel should learn these things from us and not invent everything itself.” As mentioned, only a minority of the participants had a very broad view of the right of Diaspora intervention, and this minority was even smaller among the Israeli participants.
LEADERSHIP AND INSPIRATION
Recognition of the increasing predominance of Israel in the Jewish world was accepted by many of the Dialogue participants, certainly in Israel, but also in the Diaspora. “Israel has a great impact on what happens to Jews throughout the world,” said a participant in New York. “How Israel is perceived also affects me, how Israel acts also affects me,” said another. “Whether I want it or not, when Israel does something people look at me,” said a participant in Boston. “Jews are identified with Israel in a way that cannot be denied even if you want to,” said a participant in St Louis.
Israel’s impact on the consciousness of Diaspora Jews, and on their status in their communities, is sometimes desirable and sometimes not, but only rarely denied. It was also observed in the Institute’s previous Dialogues, whether in the context of Israeli military action, where “in discussions… reasons were brought up for the need for Israel to consider the position of world Jewry, mainly because of the effect Israel’s actions have on Diaspora Jewry,” or in the context of Jewish identity, where we found that “there is recognition of Israel’s tangible impact on the way in which Jewishness is perceived and applied around the world.” This year, when we asked Dialogue participants whether Israel “should stop claiming that it is the leader of the Jewish people,” a majority of participants answered in the negative – with an absolute majority among the Israelis (over 80%), and a small negative response among Diaspora Jews (59%). In other words: Israelis have no doubt that Israel has the right to claim the status of leadership of the Jewish people, while for the Jews of the Diaspora it is hard to argue with a situation in which Israel is perceived as the leader of the Jewish people, although more than 40% of them would like Israel to stop presenting itself as its leader (10% “completely agree” that it should stop doing so).
The result of this recognition – sometimes willing and sometimes through necessity – is a longing for an Israeli leadership “that will give inspiration” to the rest of the Jewish world, a participant who is Jewish educator asserted. “It should set an example, it should be focused on pride and identification.” Something similar was heard in Chicago: “We don’t need anything material from Israel, just that it should give us reasons for pride, and be a force of attraction for young Jews.” This type of general statement, without specific detail on what exactly is expected of Israel, was prevalent in some discussions. “Israel should be a role model and an example of what a Jewish state should look like”; “I would like Israel to be a beacon of Jewish values”; “Israel represents all of us, and if it looks good, we looked good too”; “I know that it is an irrational demand, but I want Israel to be a special country, not like all the others.”
The expectation that Israel be a special country came up repeatedly in the Diaspora, but sometimes received an irritable response in Israel: “Let them worry about their countries, and not come to us with demands that their countries do not fulfill,” said one participant. Most of the Israelis did not agree with the participant survey statement:“World Jewry should require Israel to meet higher standards than other countries.” A very small percentage (8%) completely agreed with it, while a small majority (52%) responded “quite disagree” or “completely disagree.” However, 22% of Diaspora participants completely agreed with this position. (Incidentally, there was no significant difference between younger and older U.S. participants on this matter, but in other countries, younger participants tended to demand a higher standard while their older counterparts had reservations about this demand – 70% of them did not agree with it).
The survey also included the statement: “Diaspora Jews demand too much of Israel.” A clear majority of discussion participants did not accept this statement. In other words, most of them did not feel that the standards that they demand of Israel are too high. Among Diaspora participants, only 11% completely agreed that there this demand was excessive, another 25% somewhat agreed, 47% somewhat disagreed, and 20% completely disagreed (thus, a 67% majority did not agree that Diaspora Jewry demands too much of Israel).
The question of what is demanded of Israel also came up in previous JPPI Dialogues. It was presented in a focused manner with regard to Israel’s actions in times of armed conflict; a survey of the Dialogue participants showed that, at least on this matter, Diaspora Jewry did expect a more demanding code of behavior from Israel than other countries. As we reported in 2015: “In the survey of participants, respondents were given four possibilities to choose from for Israel: that it should be ‘like everyone’, ‘like Western countries’, that it should set the bar ‘as high as possible’, or that it should ‘balance between morals and the fact that it is facing cruel enemies that want to destroy it’… The participants expressed a desire to set a unique bar for Israel, unlike that set for the rest of the world – ‘any country’ or ‘Western countries.’ About half of the respondents said that Israel should make its own accounting, balancing between its aspiration to be moral and the security challenge that it faces, and another one third felt that Israel should set a bar high above all the others. All in all, only a little more than one-tenth of the participants chose one of the two options setting a standard bar for Israel that is similar to that of other countries.”
In other words, Diaspora Jewry’s expectation that Israel behave according to a higher standard than the political behavior of other countries emerged as a motif in Dialogue discussions. This expectation manifests not only during JPPI Dialogue discussions, but also in the everyday discourse between the Diaspora and Israel. Frequently, it is the cause of tension and insufficient understanding.
That is what happened this year, for example, when Israel decided to deport illegal migrants from its territory, which was met with considerable critical reaction in the Diaspora. Their objection was often explained by the fact that expulsion conflicts with “Jewish values,” as understood by Diaspora Jews, or against the behavior expected of the Jewish state, as Diaspora Jews understand it.
Daphne Mirkin expressed the inherent difficulty in such a position, when she wrote that “I agree… that the expulsion of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers contradicts basic Jewish values, and I also wonder, as I do frequently, why Israel is held to higher standards of equality and purity of intention, that are not required, for example, of Belgium. It is as if deep in our hearts, we have never given up the idea of Israel as unique – a light unto the nations – and at the same time we aspire to normality, to Israel being considered as just another imperfect nation among all the other nations.”
In Israeli society itself there is a fierce debate between those in favor and those against the deportation, but while it was clear in Israel that at least in numeric terms, those in favor of the government’s policy had the upper hand (69% among the Jewish public, according to the Peace Index), in the Diaspora the main voices heard were of those objecting to the deportation plan. When Israeli Jews were asked explicitly: “What is your opinion of the claim that Israel, as the country of the Jewish people who suffered throughout history from violence and persecution and sought refuge in different countries, should show greater generosity than other countries, and allow the asylum seekers to remain in Israel?,” a clear majority – almost 60% of them – did not agree with this claim.
Hence, we see a fundamental and recurrent problem in regulating the reciprocal expectations of Jews in Israel and in the Diaspora. In Israel, the aspiration is toward interest-driven policy, and resistance to external demands for a higher bar of “morality” or “ethical behavior,” generally seen as being a tool for reproaching Israel, or merely an attempt to manipulate its policy by rhetorical means. In the Diaspora, the aspiration, sometimes overt and sometimes covert, is to see Israel as a moral beacon that is more powerful than other countries. “The State of Israel is a historic opportunity to fulfill Jewish values of mutual respect, tolerance, human dignity, and well-being for all of society,” wrote Rabbi Tully Harcsztark, a Dialogue participant, in an essay on “Israel, Diaspora, and Religious Zionist Education in America.”
The roots of this gap in perception are deep and appear in various studies. For example, parallel Pew Research Center studies carried out in Israel and in the United States reveal the gap in identifying core values of Jewishness. “Upholding ethics and a moral life” was defined by 69% of American Jews as being fundamental to Jewishness, but only by 47% of Israeli Jews. “Working for justice and equality” was defined as a core value by 56% of American Jews, but only 27% of Israeli Jews. Naturally, when Israel is seen as not working for “justice” – for example in the case of the illegal migrants, many Diaspora Jews see the situation as Israel failing in its role as a Jewish state. By contrast, from the outset the Israelis have not seen the aspiration to justice a central component of their Judaism, and therefore many of them shy away from the argument that a breach of justice (and to preclude doubt: this document does not claim that Israel’s policy on the question of the illegal migrants is unjust) is a failure in Israel’s mission as a Jewish state.
Given these gaps, it is clear that there is a need for an appropriate interpretation of the demand by many Dialogue participants that Israel export a Jewish culture that will also be relevant to the rest of the Jewish world. The television series Fauda was mentioned by some participants. The actress Gal Gadot came up a few times. A large majority of the participants agreed that Israel should be “a center of Jewish learning and ideas” (77% of Israeli participants, and, similarly, 71%, of non-Israeli participants).
The participant survey shows that a large majority of Diaspora Dialogue participants felt that “Israeli culture” enables them to feel connected (39%) or very connected (41%) to Israel. On the other hand, the culture of Diaspora Jews appears a great deal less attractive to the Israeli participants in the Dialogue (perhaps because they are not aware that a considerable part of what they consume as Western culture is, in fact, the cultural production of Diaspora Jews). When a significant number of all Jews agree that Israel should serve as a center of “Jewish learning and ideas,” this is recognition of the centrality conferred on a country that claims leadership of the Jewish people. However, further clarifying research is required to understand the meanings of “learning” and “ideas” in this context – since it has already become clear that in the context of “values,” for example, there is an embedded gap in perception even when Israeli and Diaspora Jews employ similar language.
Either way, some Dialogue participants were of the opinion that Israel already has a certain Jewish cultural dominance in the Jewish world. This position was more prevalent among Orthodox participants. “The most exciting things in Torah study come from Israel,” said an Orthodox American participant. Among other participants there were those who disagreed with him. “Where are the great ideas that Israel is supposed to generate, why does it not serve as a significant force of Jewish renewal?,” asked one of them.
DUTY OF ACTION: A SAFE REFUGE
Israel was and still is a “safe refuge” for all the Jews of the world, at least in the view of the Dialogue participants, many of whom also said that this is its main role and obligation toward the rest of the Jewish world. “Israel should be loyal to Diaspora Jewry. Israel protects the Jews after the Holocaust. Israel is there for the Jews. Israel is the contingency plan for Jews in the Diaspora.” “We live in the knowledge that at some point we will get to Israel,” said a participant from Europe. “Israel is plan B for Jews around the world. In my opinion they should pay the Army so that this plan B will be secure,” said a young Israeli woman. “It’s not that everyone will be coming tomorrow, but it is certainly good for us to know that the possibility exists,” said a participant in St Louis. “It is important to me to have the ability to make Aliyah,” said a participant from Latin America. “[Israel should] safeguard itself for itself and safeguard itself to be a safe refuge for us,” wrote one of the participants at a Conference of Presidents event. Naturally, concerns over the personal safety of Jews were sharper with regard to Europe, and less so in the United States. But all in all, agreement over Israel’s purpose, and its obligation to serve as a refuge, is shared by a large majority of Jews in all countries. Israelis have internalized this obligation and do not repudiate it. Not even one Israeli Dialogue participant chose the option “completely disagree” with the survey statement: “Israel is a safe refuge for all Jews” (only 7% answered “don’t really agree”). And Jews around the world still rely upon it – at least those of them who took part in the Dialogue discussions. Fewer than one fifth of them rejected the claim that Israel is a safe refuge for all the Jews (among the young people, there was a certain hesitation with regard to this statement, more than among the older people, but they, too, decided in favor of the safe refuge, as can be seen in the graph below).
One interesting finding obtained with regard to the question of refuge: when we asked Diaspora participants whether they would consider living in Israel, around two-thirds (63%) responded affirmatively, even if it was clear that most of them would, in the end, remain in their Diaspora communities. This finding, naturally, reflects the composition and nature of the participants – Jews who, for the most part, are committed both to their Judaism and to the relationship with Israel. The majority of them visit Israel often (see appendix) – and the finding also reflects Israel’s power of attraction. These Jews also see no particular reason for Israel to stop calling for the immigration (Aliyah) of the rest of the world’s Jews. It may be assumed that the form of the appeal and the degree of aggressiveness could certainly change their opinion, but to the simple question of whether Israel “should stop calling on Jews to immigrate to Israel,” a decisive majority (85%) answered: no, it should not. Unsurprisingly, the Israeli participants, too, saw no reason to stop calling for immigration to Israel. Only 2% of them completely agreed with the notion that Israel “should stop.” A further 12% “somewhat agreed,” and the rest, 86%, did not agree. They didn’t express the belief or expectation that the rest of world Jewry was on the way to making Aliyah (from the discussions it was clear that they understand that this is the situation at present). But the Israeli call for immigration still seemed to them legitimate and necessary.
The safe haven is an obligation in itself. That is, Israel must organize itself so that it continues to be able to be a safe haven. But this is an obligation that, in the opinion of most Diaspora participants, also contains additional obligations within it. In order to be a safe haven Israel must, for example, keep the Law of Return in its broad form, as proposed in the Dialogue in New York. The idea that “my grandchildren may not be able to enjoy the same rights is very troubling to me” was raised in the Dialogue when participants were asked what would happen if the criteria of the Law of Return were restricted. It was also argued that in order to serve as a safe haven, Israel should “allow a range of religious expression,” otherwise it would only be a suitable refuge for Jews of a particular type, and not for Jews of other kinds. However, Jews throughout the world understand that Israel “has the right to determine who will enter the country,” as a Hungarian participant said. And yet, as his friend said, “it can’t simply cancel the Law of Return, because that would have an impact on the Jews of the Diaspora.”
The Law of Return figured prominently in the framework of the discussions because it is the sole concrete legal expression of the connection between Israel and the Diaspora, and because of its symbolism. It also held a place of importance because the criteria determining its application embody significant gaps between Israel and the Diaspora regarding the question of who is a Jew.
We had already dealt with a number of aspects of the Law of Return in previous Dialogues,. The Dialogue on Israel as Jewish and democratic brought up the fact that a considerable majority of Diaspora Jews feel that the law should remain as is, even though some participants were not completely comfortable with it (because it sets out an ethno-religious test for immigration to Israel). In the Dialogue report on the on the Jewish spectrum in an age of fluid identity (2016) an entire chapter was devoted to the Law of Return. “The fact that identity is becoming more flexible in Jewish communities around the world,” we reported, “does not cause all Jews to expect Israel to ease the Law of Return’s criteria. In practice, it is possible that the opposite is true. Participants in that Dialogue tended to argue that the Law of Return can remain quite inflexible in setting a threshold for Jewishness.” We also reported that “because the significance of Jewishness varies, and the boundaries of the Jewish people are being redrawn through the actions of Jews and non-Jews around the world, it may be necessary to consider making adjustments to the law in the future. If such a need arises (as a result of increasing demand for Aliyah to Israel or because of increasing pressure within Israel against the existing criteria), it is important to understand that Jews around the world will not necessarily resist any attempt to narrow the definition automatically, and as a result, the scope of entitlement under the Law of Return.”
This statement still holds true, but in view of this year’s Dialogue discussions it is worth adding a cautionary note: when a possible scenario of restricting the application criteria for the Law of Return was presented to Dialogue participants this year, putting forward an imaginary decision by Israel to narrow the degree of eligibility from grandchild of a Jew to child of a Jew – the reactions were generally negative. And in any event, the demand is that such a step should not be taken without Israel’s wide-scale consultation with the entire Jewish people, and some even felt that such a change could only be made with their consent (in other words, that Israel should give Diaspora Jews the right of veto with regard to changing the law). “It is obvious that in practical terms, Israel can do it. But this is a very dramatic step, from which there may perhaps be no turning back,” said a participant in one New York discussion. In another group in the same city, it was said that “restricting the Law of Return relates to the very basis of what Israel means for me – Israel must exist as a safe haven for the Jewish people, and when you compromise on the Law of Return, it has a direct impact on this position.”
The question of the obligation of consultation between Israel and the Diaspora came up at length in the discussion framework, and an attempt was made to understand in which cases it applies, and when it does not apply. The case of a change in the Law of Return and its derivatives – that is, changes on Israel’s part that are liable to affect the definition of “who is a Jew” in its broad sense – was at the top of the list of cases requiring consultation by Israel, and consideration of the position of Diaspora Jewry. This is an understandable expectation, but it is clear that as the years pass, and as the gap increases between the way Israeli and Diaspora Jews zunderstand the meaning of Jewishness and the manner of affiliation with it, Israel is likely to have difficulty with it.
As a possible example of disagreement, we can put forward a few of the recent studies of the Jewish communities in the Diaspora that have included a group of Jews called “Jews with multiple religions” (JMR). These Jews maintain a religion other than Judaism, but for various reasons see themselves as belonging to the Jewish people. As mentioned, a number of communities (as happened this year in San Francisco and Washington) count this group in the framework of the general Jewish community – in Washington this group represents 9% of the total community. But it is clear that, according to the rules in force in Israel, it will be difficult to accept the immigration eligibility of these Jews under the Law of Return (which does not recognize those holding another religion as Jews). In the discussions with Israeli participants, there was seen to be a degree of hesitation regarding the inclusion of Jews who do not even meet the broad criteria of the Law of Return – “non-Jewish Jews,” as one participant called them – in the Jewish tribe. This was in spite of the fact that the approach of many Jews in Israel with regard to marriage with non-Jews is not particularly rigid, as emerged in the JPPI’s pluralism survey carried out earlier this year.
At this stage, there is no direct conflict with regard to such a group of Jews. However, it is clear that the potential for disagreement exists if Diaspora communities see this group as an organizational part of the community, and at the same time the State of Israel refuses to confer immigration eligibility to members of the group under the Law of Return. This potential for conflict is what reinforces the need for broad consultation on significant issues relating to the essential nature of the definition of Jewish membership, and it is clear that such consultation is only feasible if both sides understand that each of them has the right to take whatever measures it wishes, but that some actions may affect the unity of the Jewish people and its ability to continue functioning as a defined and cohesive unit.
DUTY OF ACTION: MATERIAL INVESTMENT
Another issue with regard to the application of Israel’s duty of action relates to the financial support that Israel should/should not give to Diaspora communities. It is clear that the financially sound Israel of today can allocate resources it did not have in the past to support Jewish communities in the Diaspora. At the same time, both in public and in the Dialogue discussions, a disagreement can be seen with regard to application of this obligation. The habit that was formed in the first decades of the state’s existence was one of financial donation to Israel by Diaspora Jews, and quite a number of the participants in the Dialogue discussions have felt that this is the right direction for the flow of donations. At the same time, about half of the Diaspora participants agreed with the statement that Israel should “give material support” to communities in the Diaspora (57%). Among Israelis, there was a majority of almost 60% who did not agree that Israel should provide financial support to Jewish communities in the Diaspora. Only 2% “very much agree[d]” that Israel should provide financial support to the Diaspora.
These findings are somewhat in line with the findings of other surveys looking at the willingness of Israelis to invest resources in Diaspora Jewry. A broad survey by the Ministry of the Diaspora Affairs found that when Israelis are presented with the statement “the State of Israel should invest resources in supporting the Jewish identity of Diaspora communities just as it invests in Jewish culture and identity in Israel,” there was a high degree of objection (42%) and a low level of support (27%). At the same time, when the Israelis consider this support through the prism of security benefits – “investing in strengthening Jewish identity in the Diaspora is an investment in the robustness and security of the State of Israel” – the rate of agreement increases considerably (44%) and the rate of objection falls (27%). There are quite a few in Israel who do not feel that the country should invest in Jews who have sufficient resources of their own. “To put it simply, as an Israeli citizen I am not interested in a single shekel of my tax money going to Diaspora Jewry,” wrote Uri Misgav in Haaretz. “Not in the Diaspora in general, and certainly not to wealthy America. It is not because I am angry with American Jews. On the contrary, I have no complaint against them. I respect their decision to live in America… with some of them, I feel closeness and empathy. Some of them are members of my family.
It is their private business.” Similar positions were heard in Dialogue meetings, even if not with the same acerbity. “It seems to me that they have enough, and the question is not if we should, but if we want to invest. If they don’t want to, why should I?,” asked an Israeli participant. Another participant said: “my preference is for investment in development towns, not in Jews living abroad.”
It is worth noting that in the Dialogue meetings in the Diaspora there were also quite a number of reservations expressed regarding Israel’s activities to strengthen Jewish identity in the Diaspora, in the form of investment of resources. These reservations arose for two main, non-overlapping reasons:
a. Fear of clumsy involvement by a government that is not sufficiently aware of the sensitivities of Diaspora Jewry, and acts in a manner that causes more harm than benefit (as expected, apprehension about the currently-serving government also hangs on political and ideological gaps – and the fear that an Israeli government would try to impose its positions on Diaspora communities).
b. The assumption that communities in the Diaspora, indeed, have sufficient resources of their own, and that concern for the Jewish identity of Jews in these communities is the responsibility of the communities and should not be delegated, wholly or in part, to the Government of Israel.
In research carried out by the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, and in other research as well, it was found that the rate of Israeli agreement that Israel should provide support for strengthening Jewish identity in the Diaspora is higher among religious Israelis and lower among younger Israelis. In the nature of things, in a Dialogue session focusing on the positions of young Israelis we did not find particularly high support for allocating Israeli resources for strengthening Jewish identity in the Diaspora – with one clear exception: even the younger people agreed that the State of Israel should invest resources in Jewish communities in distress with meager resources of their own. “If it is necessary to invest in order to help Jews in Ethiopia, I am in favor of that, but it seems to me that Jews in wealthy places can manage for themselves,” said one of the participants. It should be mentioned that these positions are to some degree in contradiction with decisions by the Government of Israel, which has increased its activities to support Jewish identity in the Diaspora over the past decade, and with previous JPPI policy recommendations, mainly in the framework of the paper Arevut, Responsibility, and Partnership,” in which it was recommended, among other things, that “the Government of Israel should act to disseminate the knowledge and spiritual treasures of Jewish culture through the generations, including contemporary Israeli culture, teaching the Hebrew language, and assimilating the culture of learning as a Jewish value among Jews around the world, through a range of activities and partnerships.”
DUTY OF ACTION: ANTI-SEMITISM
The area in which there was the greatest degree of agreement over Israel’s duty to act on behalf of the Diaspora, and its responsibility to participate in shaping the future of Diaspora communities , was anti-Semitism. “A Jewish state should, first of all, fight anti-Semitism,” said a participant in St Louis. “With regard to anti-Semitism, we all suffer, and obviously it is a shared battle,” said an Israeli participant. At some of the meetings the claim was made that Israel had responsibility for the fight against anti-Semitism because it has increased, among other things, as a result of actions that Israel has taken. “We are all captives of Israeli foreign policy,” said a young person in Germany. Previous JPPI Dialogues have dealt at length with this not uncommon perception.
In the 2015 Dialogue report, which was published not long after the murderous attacks against Jews in France, we wrote: “If the use of force by Israel is the given rationale behind attacks against Jews throughout the world, it is completely natural for Jews around the world to be concerned over Israel’s policy toward its neighbors, and Israel’s image abroad. Jews around the world, whether or not they want a connection with Israel, are forced to bear part of the consequences of the way in which Israel is perceived in the world.” “European Jewry experiences the impact of Israel’s actions after every war,” we were told then by a young Dialogue participant. “Jewish institutions are forced to increase their security guards in the wake of a war,” it was said at a seminar in London. “Israel’s wars have an immediate, and usually negative, effect on Jews in the Diaspora in the media and at the universities,” it was agreed at a Dialogue in Brazil. “We are all held responsible for Israel’s actions,” said a Pittsburgh participant.
In any event, some of this year’s participants also claimed that one of the reasons for the demand for Israeli involvement in the fight against anti-Semitism is its responsibility for the phenomenon. But this is not the main reason for such a demand – the main argument is that as the state of the Jewish people, established for the purpose, among other things, of doing away with anti-Semitism, Israel has a basic and fundamental duty to resist every appearance of anti-Semitism. Added to this argument is the practical determination that Israel is the strongest Jewish force in the world, and therefore it has a greater ability to act against anti-Semitism than most of the other communities, whether by the allocation of resources, expertise, exertion of political pressure, and so on.
At the same time, it should be noted that in certain communities, especially in America, reservations were heard against Israeli action on the grounds that “with regard to anti-Semitism in America, we don’t need Israel to intervene – we know how to handle it better.” In some discussions, the fear was even expressed that Israeli intervention “could only hamper and complicate matters.” In any event, in most of the communities it was claimed that Israel should intervene while respecting the position of the local Jewish community, and only in consultation with it. “I prefer them to do nothing rather than coming and talking nonsense,” said one of the participants in Minnesota. In some of the discussions, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s call for the Jews of France to emigrate to Israel was mentioned in a negative light. Opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog’s statement from a year ago that Israel should prepare “for a massive wave of immigration from the U.S.” as a result of increasing anti-Semitism was also roundly criticized.
Opinions were not quite fully formed as to the exact nature of Israel’s obligation to act against anti-Semitism. However, it was generally agreed that it should involve a combination of state and political pressure, and, as necessary, also assistance to communities with advice and preparation of a defense (JPPI’s recommendations on this subject can be found in a 2004 report by Prof. Yehezkel Dror). The opinion that the only thing that Israel had to offer against anti-Semitism was the option to immigrate to Israel was sometimes expressed by Israeli participants. In other words, in their view Israel as a safe haven is its most important response to anti-Semitism. “If they decide to stay there despite the fact that there is anti-Semitism, it is no longer our problem,” said one participant. “Israel invests a great deal in the world, and that is its contribution to battling anti-Semitism. Obviously if we are in favor of Aliyah, we have nothing to look for in communities where the Jews don’t want to make Aliyah, even if there are attacks against them,” said another.
DUTY OF CONSULTATION, DUTY OF ACTION
The table below provides a brief summary of the fields examined for consultation and action, it includes the main subjects where there was significant agreement on Israel’s obligation to consult with the Diaspora communities, and the subjects where there was significant agreement on Israel’s obligation to act arising from its commitment to the Jews of the rest of the world:
THE DIASPORA’S OBLIGATIONS TOWARD ISRAEL
From the outset it should be said that in this year’s Dialogue, it was much easier to obtain clear statements from the participants with regard to Israel’s obligations toward Diaspora Jewry, and harder to understand what they feel the obligations of Diaspora Jewry toward Israel to be. This asymmetry is based on three primary factors (also expressed in statements made by Dialogue participants):
1. The increasing dominance of Israel in the Jewish world, carrying with it an expectation of its increased responsibility, as against the decreasing responsibility of other communities (whose dominance, according to this view, is becoming weaker). This subject did not engender full agreement, in Israel nor, even more so, in the Diaspora. And yet, it can be said that in a significant part of the conversations the final conclusion was that Israel did indeed have greater obligations than Diaspora Jewry – regarding both consultation and action (on behalf of all the Jews of the world).
2. Israel’s organizational advantage, enabling it to act with well established mechanisms, based on decisions of the general public. In a considerable number of the discussions in the Diaspora, participants had difficulty defining the duty of “Diaspora Jewry” because of the difficulty in determining who represents the Jews of the Diaspora, and therefore the obligations of this representative(s). In many of discussions it was determined that because there is no representative, there is no general obligation on “Diaspora Jewry,” but rather, each community defines its obligations for itself. The expectation of participants was that even if there were to be broad consensus among the Jewish people on a list of subjects that were the obligation of Diaspora Jewry, there would be many communities that would choose to deviate from it, both for practical reasons and on principle. On the other hand, the participants assumed that it was possible to demand from the Government of Israel – a single body that represents the citizens of Israel – to bring its policy in line with such an agreed list.
3.The ideological and geographic split of Diaspora Jewry. Unlike Israelis who, even if they do not agree on the interests of their country, can at least agree that the country has certain interests relating to all its citizens – in the case of Diaspora Jews, the interests of the French Jews are not the same as the interests of the British, Australian, or Argentinian Jews. In addition, Jewish communities in the Diaspora are split not only geographically, but also ideologically, in the absence of an umbrella organization bringing together Haredi Jews with Reform Jews, and atheist Jews. A large number of Dialogue participants had no interest in creating such a body, because they saw significant benefit in the split of the Diaspora, and therefore did not aspire in any way to achieve a unitary representation from which it would be possible to derive general obligations shared by all Diaspora Jews.
Given these reservations, the Dialogue discussions nonetheless brought up a series of issues on which there was consensus or near consensus with regard to certain obligations of Diaspora Jews toward Israel, and the way in which these obligations should be met. In the following sections we attempt to describe these along general lines.
THE DUTY OF SUPPORT
Nine out of ten Diaspora Dialogue participants agreed that “concern for Israel is a substantive part of my being Jewish.” A great many of them – over two-thirds (71%) felt that Israel “will not survive without the Jews of the Diaspora.” In these circumstances, it must be assumed that Diaspora Jews must support Israel. And indeed, when Dialogue participants were asked to say whether Jews should “generally support Israel,” a large majority replied in the affirmative, whether in full agreement or with reservations. Only a negligible percentage (6%) “certainly did not agree” – in other words, did not think that Diaspora Jews should generally support Israel.
Age gaps with regard to the strength of the obligation to support Israel “generally” can be seen in the results. Fewer young Jews were of the opinion that such support is required, and when the breakdown is examined in detail, it emerges that among young people only 37% “strongly agree” with the obligation of general support, while a larger group of 42% “somewhat agree” with it. On the other hand, among the older participants a decisive majority – 66% – “strongly agree” with the obligation (among older non-American Jews the percentage is even higher, around 70%). Only 4% of the older Jews “strongly disagree” with it, as against twice as many (8%) among the younger people.
The expectation of Israeli Jews is clear: they expect that Diaspora Jewry will give its uncategorical support. 44% of Israeli Dialogue participants in the “very much agreed” with the statement regarding the need for such support, and a further 46% of them “somewhat agreed.” Only 2% of the Israelis “strongly disagreed” with the statement that Jews in the Diaspora should generally support Israel. And, of course, this expectation as expressed in the discussions is not necessarily in line with the Diaspora agreement over support. In other words, it is not certain that when Israelis talk about “support” and when non-Israelis talk about “support” they are talking about exactly the same thing. But at least in principle, there is not much disagreement on the question of support. If there is disagreement, it is to be found in the details.
With regard to details, a distinction can be made between the weighty and the trivial. The weighty being situations in which Israel finds itself at war, or under attack by one of its enemies. In such a situation, a considerable majority of the Dialogue participants felt that Diaspora Jewry is obligated to provide support. In many discussion groups it was made clear that even if there are reservations about Israel’s policy, “when there is blood in the streets we automatically identify with Israel,” as a participant in New York emphasized. “If Israel is attacked, most of us do not stop to ask why, but first of all feel that we have to support it,” said a participant in Minneapolis. These participants continued to insist on their position even when asked what would happen if it turned out that Israel had no small degree of responsibility for the flare-up, and perhaps even bore part of the blame for the outbreak of violence. “I know that it is not completely just, but there are things I don’t want to know, I do what I have to do,” said a participant in Texas.
Nonetheless, here and there the opposite was also heard, such as: “If Hezbollah attacks Israel, I want to know the reason before I can give my full support,” a participant in the young people’s group in Oregon said. Or put slightly differently: “I think that among the young people, there will be quite a few who demand to know what exactly happened before they decide to give Israel their support,” as stated in Minneapolis. In some of the groups, there were young people who drew a distinction between violence that breaks out “against Hezbollah, which is clearly a dangerous terrorist group that has no justification for its actions,” and “the case of the Palestinians, which is harder for me because I think that Israel is acting very irresponsibly with regard to them.” And even in the case of violence in the Palestinian arena, there were those who made a distinction between Hamas in Gaza, and the outbreak of violence in Judea and Samaria. “Generally speaking, I always want to support Israel, but there are cases where I am not sure that I can,” said one participant. His position reflected that of other, mainly young, participants – but certainly not the majority of Dialogue participants, even among young people.
Even more complex questions regarding the duty of support are those relating to the political sphere, and the political behavior of Israel in the Middle East arena. For example, the question of assistance to Israel in the fight against BDS, in which most Jews participate, but where many more participant voices were heard who are not convinced that it is their obligation to support anti-BDS efforts. “You have to understand that a large number of our young people are in support – even if not wholly, at least partially – of punishing Israel for the occupation,” said one participant. “You cannot oblige these young people to enlist on behalf of something that they are not certain they believe in.” But there were discussions in which there was broad consensus on the matter: “Anyone who is not able to fight against BDS, for my part is crossing a very significant line, and perhaps is no longer part of my community,” noted an Australian participant. Others said similar things: “The boycott is an expression of anti-Semitism, anyone who agrees with it – either doesn’t understand what he is doing, or has already really decided to go over to the other side”; “Jews who do not agree with Israel can criticize it sharply, and I have no problem with that, but when they join the elements that are the most hostile to Israel, that is already a problem”; “I know that there are Jews in favor of the boycott, and I don’t know how to stop it – but it is clear that these are Jews who care less about Israel”; “What does it mean that Jews ‘must’ support Israel? First of all, it means not supporting Israel’s enemies, and the boycott people are enemies of Israel, and certainly not its friends.” An Australian participant staying in Israel (Tiberias Dialogue) said: “We are fighting against Israel’s bad reputation in the world. In my opinion, this is the duty of all the Jews in the world.”
It was clear from the discussions that the question of “support” in principle –
is support necessary? – has one answer, which is affirmative in almost all the communities. On the other hand, the individual question – what does support mean? – has more than one answer, and there is no consensus about it. For the most part, there are reservations when it seemed to participants that “support” meant completely refraining from criticism. At one of the discussions, an Israeli participant suggested that “Jews in the Diaspora should support what the Israeli government does, because that is who represents us.” There were those, even in the Diaspora, who agreed with him, but there were more who disagreed. “As long as I support a position that Israelis also support, it is a legitimate position. I don’t have to agree with the government in order to support Israel, I can also support the opposition.” At one of the discussions a barbed dialogue developed between two participants. One of them said that support of “any position where there are Israelis who also believe in it is a pro-Israeli position.” The other one asked “does that mean that even if you support the position of the Arab parties (in the original) it is a pro-Israeli position?” The first replied: “Obviously, if there are Israelis that think that way, that means that there are Israelis who think it is the right thing for Israel.” The second one insisted: “But there are legislators who are against the State of Israel as a Jewish state, and this means that in your view, support for Israel is also support for Israel as a non-Jewish country.”
The participants did not reach an unequivocal stance in this specific argument, nor was there sweeping agreement over other issues. But in general, it can be said that most of them thought that criticism of Israel is a legitimate act that does not deviate from support for Israel, while, on the other hand, joining up with those taking steps to constrain and impose measures the country does not want through punitive measures is liable to appear as an act that is not “support for Israel.” Among the Israelis, there was far less disagreement on these questions. In almost all matters relating to security issues, in the broadest sense, they expressed their expectation of unconditional support. With regard to the political argument over the future of the territories, some of them said that criticism from the Diaspora was desirable – but even among them, there was a tendency to prefer criticism through discreet channels. “I admit that even things that I agree with sound different when someone in Canada or America says them. There are things that are legitimate to say here, when tomorrow you are going into the army, that it is not legitimate to say from your comfortable villa outside Israel,” said one of the Israeli discussants.
DUTY OF CONSULTATION AND CONSIDERATION
Dialogue participants frequently had difficulty formulating when, in their opinion, Jewish communities in the Diaspora had a duty to consider and consult with Israel. They usually agreed that with regard to an action on behalf of Israel in their country – a political lobby, or action against the boycott – there was some point to a certain degree of coordination with Israel. Although even here there were differences of opinion as to whether it was necessary to coordinate with “Israel,” (the Government of Israel), or whether it was necessary to coordinate with someone “in Israel,” that is, some other Israeli entity. In the discussions, there was resistance to Israel’s attempts to dictate or even influence the way Jewish communities in the Diaspora act. And basically speaking, there was a prevailing opinion that Diaspora Jews can act as they see fit with regard to their communities, without needing to check how Israel would respond, or what its position would be with regard to their actions. At the same time, when we asked in the participant survey about the need to take Israel’s position into account when formulating a policy of Diaspora Jewry, there was broad agreement (approximately 3 out of every 4 Diaspora participants) that such consideration was desirable. In other words, there was a general wish to see a degree of reciprocal consideration, even coordination, but the precise cases to which this coordination would apply, and how it would be implemented, were not always clear.
Doubts with regard to deep coordination with Israel on Diaspora policy (the question being, of course, whether Israel is the “Government of Israel” or a “parallel Israeli organization,” as proposed by a participant in Washington) were expresses with regard to Diaspora actions – for example, whether Diaspora Jews are obliged to consult with Israel in determining local criteria on the question of who is a Jew. It was also expressed with regard to actions by Diaspora Jews in Israel – for example, do Diaspora Jews have a duty to consult and coordinate with Israel when they try to influence Israeli policy, mainly with respect to religion and state issues. In practice, it emerged that with regard to quite a few matters Diaspora Jews are not interested in taking Israel’s position into consideration, as expressed in government policy, and show active resistance to these positions. This refers mainly to subjects relating to the relationship between religion and state in Israel – marriage and divorce, attitudes toward progressive streams, Western Wall policy, kashrut, conversion, and so on. “What is the point in consulting with Israel on a subject where the purpose is to change Israel?” asked a participant in Chicago. A New York participant felt that “in many cases, our aim is to oppose Israel, even to annoy it, in order to challenge the status quo. Obviously, in these cases we will not coordinate or consult, or the result will be that we do nothing.”
At some discussions, the question came up as to whether there is an asymmetry in the demand that Israel check the position of Diaspora Jews on various matters, while Diaspora Jews are under no obligation to check their positions on these same matters with Israel. For example, a question was raised on the 1983 decision by the Reform Movement to recognize patrilineal descent (according to certain criteria) taken without consultation with Israel. It was interesting to see that at discussions in the Diaspora, but also at a considerable number of discussions in Israel, participants saw no need for required symmetry. Most of them related to decisions by Diaspora Jews as local decisions relating to the community or stream, and not to the entire Jewish people. This was not the case with regard to Israel’s decisions, interpreted as decisions of a higher order, therefore requiring a broader process of clarification.
In the view of Israeli participants too, demanding that Diaspora Jews consult with the government on matters of religion and state would miss the point of their activity, since it is indeed in line with the positions of many Israelis. “Taking Israel into consideration is not taking the government into consideration,” said one of them. “Let them consider me and help me to organize less religious coercion here [in Israel], and that will only be a good thing.” Another one said: “If there would be civil marriage here thanks to them, I would not complain.” But there were meetings at which a more cautious position was expressed even with regard to those matters. “I understand that there are Israelis who want civil marriage here. That is what the Knesset is for. It is not a matter for Diaspora Jewry, and if they intervene in it, then at least for me, it will lead to the conclusion that it is better to keep them a little further away,” said a participant in Migdal Oz. Another participant remarked: “This is a matter of principle, those who are here decide what happens here, even when I don’t like it. I don’t want some Jew coming from abroad and telling us what to do, even if by chance it is similar to my own position.”
In general, it was clear among Israeli participants that what tipped the balance for most of them was not the question of government policy – that is, whether Diaspora Jews take into consideration a specific position of a specific government – but the question of consent among the majority in Israel. The more scenarios were presented of actions by Diaspora Jews on subjects that involve deeper disagreement in Israel, the less the Israeli participants were willing to accept such involvement. In practice, consideration as seen by the Israeli Dialogue participants was not consideration of policy, but consideration of social tensions in Israel, and a preference not to see Diaspora Jews acting to exacerbate them. “I am in favor of them coming as much as possible, and taking them into consideration as much as possible, but don’t let them come and create chaos here,” as one Israeli participant put it. “We have enough quarrels of our own, and I am not sure that more quarrels are what Diaspora Jewry should be bringing here,” said another.
DUTY OF ACTION
Over many years of Israel-Diaspora relations, the strength of the relationship was measured in terms of the Diaspora’s financial support of the State of Israel. The impoverished Israel of the early days was in urgent need of assistance, and Jews around the world who wanted to support the Zionist project without making Aliyah used their purse to demonstrate their commitment to Israel.
The pattern of donations to Israel by Diaspora Jews changed over the years, especially in recent decades, as documented by a number of studies. At the same time, the fact of financial giving to Israel was, and still is, a central channel for expressing Diaspora Jewry’s support for Israel – whether for Israel as a state, by donating to state projects, or by donations intended to promote specific issues in Israel, some the subject of general agreement (hospitals, sports institutions), and others a matter of social and political contention (the Progressive movements, associations for refugees, associations in favor and against the settlements, and so forth). Financial support for Israel serves not only as a channel for expressing solidarity, but also as a certain measure of the state of relations between the communities. In times of emergency, concern increases and with it the amount of money donated; in times of controversy, voices are increasingly heard calling for a reduction or even cancelation of economic contributions (as seen recently during the Western Wall crisis).
In the past decade there has also been a significant change in the extent of Israel’s contribution to Jewish communities around the world, and to projects intended to strengthen them. The Government of Israel has allocated increasingly large budgets to finance initiatives like Taglit-Birthright, and recently also to fund activities to strengthen Jewish identity in the Diaspora (mainly through the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs). According to various indices, although the willingness of Israelis to support this kind of funding is not very high, it does exist. In the New York Federation survey, a significant majority of Israeli Jews expressed clear support for mutual responsibility among Jews (93%). Israeli participation in funding the Birthright program enjoyed 90% support among the Jewish Israeli public. 53% agreed that Israel should fund sending young Israelis to Diaspora communities, and 56% supported Israeli funding for Jewish education in the Diaspora.
Other surveys, expressing the questions in different formulations, found less support. A survey by the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs itself found: “The majority of the Jewish public does not enthusiastically support investing in Diaspora Jewry; most support for this investment comes when the political and state benefit of the existence of strong Jewish communities in the Diaspora is presented.” As can be seen in the graph below, when investment in the Diaspora is mentioned in comparison to parallel investment in Israel (a locality in the Galilee), or when it is argued that it is of equal importance to investment in Israel, support for it declined significantly. In other words: Israeli Jews are prepared to invest in the Diaspora when it is shown to them as directly and clearly supporting the interests of the State of Israel – and less so when it is shown in the broader context of the Jewish people.
One of the interesting findings from this year’s Dialogue participant survey relates to the question of financial contributions from the Diaspora to Israel, and from Israel to the Diaspora. In both cases, it seems that public support for financial donations is declining – in both the responses of the Jewish-Israeli participants and of Diaspora Jews (among young people in the Diaspora, support was even lower than the data shown on the table below). In fact, it turns out that among Israelis committed to a relationship with the Diaspora, support for Israel’s financial contributions to Jewish communities is greater than their support for financial contributions from Diaspora Jewry to Israel. This position apparently expresses the sense of responsibility these young Israelis feel toward Diaspora Jews, as well as the sense of power that accompanies Israel’s growing status in the Jewish world. 48% of them agree that the Diaspora should support Israel financially – in comparison to 60% who feel that Israel should provide financial support to Diaspora Jewry.
Among Diaspora Jews, a more “classical” view of the financial dynamics can be seen: support for Diaspora contributions to Israel is higher than support for Israeli contributions to the Diaspora. At the same time, it is interesting to see that among Diaspora Jews too, a majority feels that Israel should provide financial support to Jews in the Diaspora – this is a recognition of Israel’s financial capability and its increasing responsibility for the Jewish people writ large. It is particularly worth noting the significant gap between the number of older Diaspora Jews who strongly agred with the statement that Diaspora Jews should send money to Israel (49%), and the number of young people who felt this way (23%). More than a third of young Diaspora Jews (38%) do not feel that Jews should continue providing financial support to Israel.
When participants were presented with various scenarios and then asked which action Diaspora Jewry should take in response, it was possible to identify three main patterns of desired Diaspora action against or in favor of Israel:
1.Supportive action during an Israeli emergency: in the event of an attack against Israel, military or political (political – not on all matters), it is the duty of Diaspora Jewry to stand by Israel in the accepted ways, and to use the means available to them – political lobbying and pressure on their governments, transferring resources and material aid if needed, expressing a decisive position, among other things in order to demonstrate that Israel is not standing alone in the fight. This duty of action the broadest possible agreement among Diaspora Jewry and was also seen as the Diaspora’s central obligation by Israeli Dialogue participants.
2.Action to improve Israel’s situation: this kind of action is not crisis dependent, and here too there is broad agreement. This action is seen as a way of maintaining partnership in building the national home of the entire Jewish people, and it includes both financial assistance – for the construction of hospitals and schools, as well as support for Project Renewal – and also contributions of knowledge, experience, and additional human resources. Some participants indicated the partnerships between Diaspora communities and local Israeli authorities as a successful model for realizing this duty of action.
3. Action to change Israel’s situation: unlike “improvement” action –
which is action intended to support mutually agreeable objectives (no one objects to optimizing hospitals), action to “change” Israel is active intervention to bring Israel closer to the intervener’s desired ideal (whether a private donor, federation, a large organization, or synagogue). With regard to such actions it emerges, as could be expected, that there is disagreement among Jews, both in the Diaspora and in Israel. There are those who regard it as a natural measure of involvement on the part of committed partners (“When I fight for social justice in Israel, I contribute to it no less than when I fight against the boycott,” said a participant in Boston), and on the other hand there are those who see it as heavy-handed interference that could result in distancing between Jews.
THE QUESTION OF RECIPROCAL CRITICISM
Is it “permitted” for Diaspora Jews to criticize Israel? Is it “permitted” for Israel to criticize Diaspora Jews? These questions have been discussed at length in recent years in many forums of the Jewish world, where the context was usually a demand for making the rules of the Israel-Diaspora discourse more flexible, so that Israel would no longer be immune to criticism by Diaspora Jews troubled by its policies, in tandem with the argument that criticism is not a mark of distancing, but in fact one of caring engagement and attachment. As formulated by Alon Friedman, of the Masa program, in a Knesset hearing a few years ago: “Our problem has always been – I say this both as a returned emissary who worked for three years on campuses across the United States, and from experience with the programs in Israel – the biggest problem is apathy, not the enthusiastic supporters, who are also sometimes a problem, and not the enthusiastic objectors, whom in any case we will not be able to convince, but the ones who are apathetic, and indifference is, in fact, the biggest challenge that we can set ourselves in order to strengthen this identity.”
In many JPPI studies it has already been determined that the question of criticism is a regular landmine in Israel-Diaspora relations. For example, in the conclusions of the 2015 Dialogue on Jewish values and the use of force in armed conflict, we wrote: “For young people [Jews in the Diaspora] there is less belief in Israel and its policy, a greater tendency to recoil from its actions, more criticism of its actions and their outcome, more demands for consideration of the positions of Diaspora Jewry.” Statements of this kind have also appeared in other publications. Waxman determines, in his book, that “young American Jews are more critical than their parents and their grandparents.” A document of the Reut Institute states: “Today, it is important to recognize the existence of a third way of relating to Israel, which is prevalent among the younger generation in Jewish communities around the world and tries to influence the character of the State of Israel in different ways, including criticism. For the most part this criticism is due to a sense of personal connection and responsibility for the Jewish state, and therefore Israeli society should learn to accept and work with this criticism, and not reject this third form of relationship as ‘anti-Israeli’.”
The subject of criticism of Israel also came up frequently in this year’s Dialogue discussions. Jews around the world wanted to emphasize their right to express criticism of Israel and sharpened the argument that not every expression of criticism means distancing from Israel or erosion of support for it. At the same time, in many discussions it was also argued that the strength of criticism of Israel has become exaggerated, and that the attempt to allow criticism – which was perhaps justified 20 years ago “when it was really not so usual,” as a participant in Washington said – has become “a flood, where it is not always clear whether it helps or damages relations.” And in fact, in recent years it has not been difficult to detect Jewish criticism of Israel, and impossible to say that Diaspora Jews avoid expressing criticism of it. Both in individual personal expressions by leaders, columnists, prominent Jews and others, and in community frameworks, such as organizations, synagogues, and federations, criticism of Israel is frequently heard.
This is certainly the case when Israel acts in a way that sparks disagreement from Jewish leaders on matters that relate directly to Diaspora Jewry. A notable example is the consternation over the Western Wall plaza, which led to an extensive wave of criticism against Israel, some of it harsh. The same is true when Israel acts on matters with an indirect connection to Diaspora Jewry. One recent example is Israeli policy with regard to illegal migrants, which elicited profound criticism from some Diaspora Jews. This subject came up at a number of Dialogue seminars, in connection with discussions on criticism and the standards Diaspora Jewry should or may demand of Israel. “I cannot keep silent when Israel expels asylum seekers,” said a participant in Austin.
“If you ask me not to speak, you are in fact telling me that I’m not part of the game,” remarked a participant in New York.
As also seen in previous Dialogues and studies, the question of criticism of Israel corresponds to the political identity of the participants, and this was demonstrated again this year – both with regard to Diaspora and Israeli participants. The more left leaning participants were, the more they wanted to see Israel exposed to criticism. In other words, it is hard to separate positions relating to the right (or duty) of Diaspora Jews to criticize Israeli policy from political orientation. In this context, Israelis also say that they are willing to hear criticism, as already mentioned in the Institute’s previous studies. According to a number of studies, there is a high level of acceptance and agreement in Israel with world Jewry’s right to level criticism at Israel, and this is a mark of the fact that Israelis are not blind to the expectations of Diaspora Jews. “62% [of Israelis] say that an American Jew has the right to express free and public criticism of Israel and its policy; this rate is double or more the number of Israelis who do not think so.” But beyond the basic matter – the political context creates difficulty because the Jewish population in the Diaspora tends to lean left far more than Jewish Israelis. This means the Israeli public is often inclined to reject the Diaspora criticism – not in principle but practically. Conversely, non-Israeli Jews public have a greater tendency to demand the right of Jewish criticism, both in principle and practice.
Below is a breakdown by political orientation to level of agreement with the notion that Diaspora Jews should demand a higher standard of Israel than that demanded of other countries. It clearly shows that agreement is higher in Israel among the left. The same is true for the Diaspora.
As noted, inherent in this political breakdown is the potential for disagreement: among Diaspora Jews there will be a majority wishing that Israel adhere to a higher standard, while a majority of Israeli Jews do not. This difficulty requires a degree of caution: if Israelis do not allow a reasonable space for criticism without responding as if it is illegitimate, it will be very hard for Diaspora Jews to maintain a real dialogue with Israel – and will result in accusations that Israel and its supporters are limiting the freedom of Diaspora to express a dissenting opinion. On the other hand, if the critical dialogue against Israel expands considerably among Diaspora Jewry and takes up a significant part of the discussion on Israel and the arena of relations with it, it will provoke irritation and even anger among many Israelis – Israelis who are not interested in yet more criticism of their country. “There is enough criticism of Israel, so why do the Jews also have to be critical? What, do they feel there is a lack?” asked an Israeli participant, sarcastically.
In parallel to the discussion on criticism of Israel by Diaspora Jews, in some discussions claims were also made with regard to Israeli criticism of Diaspora Jews. This mainly involves sharp or dismissive expressions by state entities, rabbis, or politicians against the non-Orthodox religious streams. These expressions are not seen as constructive criticism, but rather as insults – and it must be said that the style does indeed sometimes tend to be offensive. At the same time, it seems that Diaspora Jews also have difficulty accepting Israeli criticism expressed with relative courtesy, especially when it comes to sweeping statements about their future, their beliefs, or their culture. “I do not want to hear all kinds of Israelis explaining that soon there will be no Jews in the Diaspora, because we are here to stay,” said one American participant. “You have an obsession with assimilation,” said another, referring to the Israelis. “But we will not suddenly start telling our young people who they should marry, and we will not use the criteria of Orthodox rabbis who understand nothing about life in the Diaspora for acceptance into our communities,” said yet another.
An attempt to set clear lines of “permissible” and “prohibited” criticism raises many difficulties – first of all for the fundamental reason that many Jews are not interested in any entity setting such boundaries. At the same time, in the Dialogue discussions there was general agreement that the use of criticism should itself be controlled, and that the results of criticism are not always positive. “The purpose in my view is not to blame Israel, but to be effective in influencing it. If that means criticism – let there be criticism. But if the criticism doesn’t work – it may be worthwhile trying something else,” said a participant in St Louis. A young participant from Australia noted
(in a discussion in Israel) that she understood “why Israelis sometimes get angry when all kinds of arguments are made. You have to think how to reach their heart, and not how to annoy them.”
DUTY OF CONSULTATION, DUTY OF ACTION
The table below summarizes some of the main issues over which there was broad consensus on the Diaspora’s duty of consultation with Israel, and the subjects where there was broad consensus over Diaspora Jews’ duty of action due to its commitment to Israel.
CULTURAL AND PERSONAL RELATIONS BETWEEN JEWS
The last (and essential) section in this discussion of Israel-Diaspora relations concerns relations that are neither orderly nor institutional: people-to-people relations between Diaspora and Israeli Jews. In recent decades the ability to create such encounters has improved considerably, both physically and in cyberspace. According to many parameters available to researchers, these meetings generate greater attention, reinforce the desire for cooperation, and contribute to a feeling of shared fate.
Relationships between Jews are reinforced through initiated activities, such as various Israel travel programs, sending Israeli emissaries to the Diaspora, domestic and external tourism, and so on. A considerable number of Dialogue participants agreed that such relationships have a greater and more significant influence than institutional activities.
“It is enough to have a few days’ acquaintance with Jews from other places to understand that Israel is not the only option for Judaism,” said a young Israeli at one of the mechinot (which brings together Israelis and non-Israelis). “When I am here I understand much better how Israelis think and what they are dealing with. When I was abroad I was living in La-la land,” said a young Diaspora participant. “I have family members in Israel, so with all due respect to ideology, when missiles rain down on them my heart is with them,” said a participant in Minneapolis. “I believe that, in the final analysis, personal relations are the key. The more we bring Israelis and American Jews to meet each other, the fewer problems there will be,” said a leader of one of the large U.S. communities.
Personal encounter initiatives are sometimes made possible through programmatic activities by Israel or by Diaspora communities, but in quite a few cases it is the result of unmediated personal encounters sought and experienced by individual Jews. Diaspora Jews come to Israel and “feel at home,” as an absolute majority of Diaspora participants in the Dialogue agreed (82% of all Diaspora participants, slightly more than 70% of the young Diaspora participants). So much so, that 63% of them “would consider living in Israel.” Among Israelis, almost all of them young, 69% said that they “feel at home” when visiting a Jewish community in the Diaspora. 86% of them said that if they lived in the Diaspora “I would be a member of the Jewish community.” (The actual figures with regard to the Israelis living in the Diaspora are considerably lower. It is only in recent years that there has been a certain awakening that has led a more significant number of them to consider being involved in a Jewish community).
So mainly, as a mentioned, the impression is that “the Jews themselves” are what brings Israel and the Diaspora closer. When we examine the relative strength of the forces of attraction and distancing, it emerges that the Jews are the least distancing, and also the most attracting. This is true with regard to both bringing Diaspora Jews closer to Israel, and bringing Israeli Jews closer to the Diaspora. The table below shows that “The Jews” got the highest score (on a scale of 1 – 4) as an “attracting” factor, and the lowest score as a “distancing” factor.