This is the second year the Jewish People Policy Institute has led a structured Dialogue process in Jewish communities throughout the world on topics of significance and influence on all Jews. Last year, in the framework of an Israel Ministry of Justice process and several legislative proposals, the Dialogue was conducted on the Jewish and democratic character of the State of Israel. Professor Ruth Gavison, who prepared recommendations for the Justice Minister, asked the Institute to examine Diaspora Jews’ attitudes toward Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and the implications of the legislative initiatives on their lives abroad.
This year’s Dialogue was conducted under the broader umbrella of the Institute’s Pluralism and Democracy Project, supported by the William Davidson Foundation.1 Following Operation Protective Edge, and in parallel with a similar project requested by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we decided to focus in 2015 on one of the more sensitive subjects in the Jewish Diaspora discourse: Jewish Values and Israel’s Use of Force in Armed Conflicts.
As in the previous year, JPPI conducted more than 40 seminars in Jewish communities around the world – from Melbourne and Sydney in Australia; through Johannesburg in South Africa; Paris and London in Europe; from New York, Washington DC and Atlanta on the East coast of the US and through Dallas in the South and Los Angeles in the West; from Chicago and Cleveland in the Midwest; and Toronto, Canada to the North through Sao Paolo, Brazil in South America.
The State of Israel was established as the core state of the Jewish people. Unlike other countries, Israel carries the responsibility not just of its citizens without regard to differences in religion or race, but it also shoulders the heavy onus for the future and security of the entire Jewish people. The Jewish communities provide Israel not only a first line of support, they are a strategic asset. This is at the foundation of Israel’s raison d’etre, which is expressed in conferring citizenship to all Jews.
Most Diaspora Jews, who are loyal to their countries and local communities, feel a special closeness and common destiny with the Jewish state. They were involved in its establishment not only through political lobbying and financial support. Many volunteered or encouraged their children to volunteer for the IDF and assisted in its wars of defense and survival. A significant part of World Jewry feels that through the State of Israel they are partnering in the principle of Arevut Hadadit – Mutual Commitment among all Jews.
Over the years, there has been no small number of disagreements between Jews in Israel and throughout the world. Such differences have occurred with respect to religion and the recognition of various religious streams; the question “Who is a Jew?”; on ideological issues around the Jewish character of the state; on questions of the treatment of minorities; and on political decisions regarding the contours of its borders. The Six-Day War was a source of inspiration for many and led to a large increase in Jewish pride and Aliyah, but it has also led to some ideological distance regarding its rule over the lives of another people.
The eternal connection between Israel and all Jews demands constant dialogue. This dialogue has been hampered in real and ongoing ways due to ingrained differences between the communities. Israeli Jews live under a sovereign government based on a democratic majority and subject to political structure, while world Jewry is organized through voluntary frameworks in their countries or communities. At times, this gap has led to communication difficulties, as well as to each side patronizing the other.
JPPI took upon itself a heavy and vital mission: to assist in structuring a dialogue and encouraging better mutual understanding of the aspirations, constraints, challenges and opportunities that stand before the communities and before Israel. We try to contribute to deepening the connection and helping to bridge disagreements as they arise.
Many Diaspora Jews feel that Israeli decisions affect their lives in their own countries in many ways: from personal security, through issues of identity and religion, and their broader relations with the non-Jewish world. They understand that Israel must make decisions that affect its own future and destiny. And still they expect Israeli decision-makers to understand their points of view – to listen to them, to be sensitive to their needs and relate to their realities as part of the decision-making process.
One of JPPI’s first papers was dedicated to the need to gather advance intelligence regarding the possible ramifications of Israeli actions on the security of Jews and Jewish communities abroad. This recommendation was not meant to increase the burden of ensuring the existence of the Jewish state on Israeli decision-makers, but to relate to the effects on Diaspora Jews as part of a series of considerations to assist in their security as much as possible.
The current project expands this scope significantly. It allows an integration of Diaspora feelings with dilemmas – at times existential – with which the leadership of Israel must contend.
The 2015 Dialogue, led by Shmuel Rosner and Brig. Gen. (Res.) Mike Herzog – both senior fellows at the Institute – resulted in a clear conclusion: Jews in the Diaspora appreciate the IDF’s high ethical standards during wartime and its efforts to prevent harming innocent civilians. They understand the heavy dilemmas, but many are not convinced that the State of Israel is doing enough to prevent situations that lead to violent conflict. This cannot change Israel’s “Middle East Neighborhood,” but it affords a greater mutual understanding of the constraints on both Israel and the Diaspora. I would like to express my appreciation for the efforts they invested in the project and the impressive integration gained from the summaries of these meetings under their leadership.
JPPI’s Dialogue project is still in its early stages. The lessons will be internalized and implemented in the coming year. As always, your comments are more than welcome. I wish to thank the William Davidson Foundation for their confidence and trust, and the opportunity granted us to hold this dialogue in the wider Pluralism and Democracy framework.
Special thanks go out to the Institute’s leadership as well, chief among them Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat, Ambassador Dennis Ross and Mr. Leonid Nevzlin, for their guidance and support.