Article Library / Structured Jewish World Dialogue

Jerusalem and the Jewish People: Unity and Division

The extent to which Israelis are willing to accept Diaspora involvement in Israeli affairs is hard to measure. On some issues, Israelis seem more willing to be receptive to requests or ideas from Diaspora Jews, on others they seem less so.[1] Relations between non-Israeli Jews and Israel have changed over the years since its establishment. If the idea of Diaspora Jews having real impact on Israel’s policies once seemed strange, in recent years the expectation of Jews in many communities have changed,[2] and they now expect to have such influence.[3]

Many Israelis understand the essential importance of relations with Diaspora Jewry, and are beginning to understand that a change in the nature of these relations is underway. A broad Israeli acceptance of Diaspora criticism of Israel – at least in theory – has been shown by several polls, and is a sign that Israelis are not blind to Diaspora expectations: “62 percent say that American Jews have a right to freely and publicly criticize Israel and Israeli policies; which is more than double the number of Israelis who feel otherwise.”[4]

But there is also evidence that a significant number of Israelis exhibit resistance to the idea of Diaspora involvement in Israeli affairs. Israeli columnist Irit Linur protested the decision to have two representatives of the Diaspora light torches as part Israel’s 2017 Independence Day ceremony.[5] “On the day of the celebration of the one miracle of which there is no second, the proper place for anyone who’s not an Israeli is in the visitors’ gallery,” she argued. Ran Baratz, former adviser to Prime Minister Netanyahu, argued in a Facebook post, following the Kotel crisis, that the Reform demand “Israel’s consideration,” but show “zero respect for the fact that the vast majority of Israeli Jews” are Orthodox. The fight over the Kotel, he wrote, is against “most of the Israeli public.” The editor of the right-leaning newspaper Makor Rishon, Hagai Segal, wrote an article in which he argued that “the government did not betray Reform Jews because it owes them nothing.”[6]

Ultra-Orthodox leaders, supporters of the government, and other Israelis who disliked the threat of disengagement following the government’s decision over the Kotel – all made statements rejecting the right of Diaspora Jews to dictate Israeli policies. “Don’t threaten us!” a well-known Israeli radio host dared the leaders of the Reform and Conservative Movements. “I do not really care what they think,” he said about the Jews of America.[7]

Differences exist between various groups of Israelis over the level of attachment to world Jewry, and, therefore, also over the acceptance level of possible Diaspora involvement in Israel’s policy making. But these differences do not always present themselves in the same way. Israelis, in general, seem more willing to accept efforts by Diaspora Jews to influence Israel on matters related to Judaism than on matters directly related to foreign affairs and security. In a Ruderman Foundation survey,[8] more than 70 percent of Israelis agreed that the Knesset should “consider the Diaspora when deliberating on legislation like ‘who is a Jew’.” Feelings of “belonging” to a larger Jewish world are stronger for traditional and Orthodox Israelis than for secular Israelis.[9]

But these Israelis with stronger feelings of “belonging” do not always have a higher propensity to consider the views of Diaspora Jews. An internal survey by Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Ministry found that 16 percent of Israeli Jews want Israel to completely disregard the views of Diaspora Jews on state-religion matters, 39 percent are willing to accept a low level of consideration, 33 percent accept a lot of consideration, and 11 percent would agree to an even higher level of consideration. As one might expect, religiosity level highly impacted the views of Israelis on this question. The more religious they were (Orthodox) the less they accepted the notion that Israel ought to be considerate of Diaspora views on these matters. More than a third of each Orthodox (34 percent) and ultra-Orthodox (35 percent) Israelis rejected all Diaspora input on matters of state-religion in Israel.[10] In Jerusalem, there is high concentration of Jewish Israelis whose willingness to consider the views of world Jewry is relatively low.

[1] See: Israelis’ Interest in the Views and Perspectives of World Jewry, In: Jewish and Democratic: Perspectives from World Jewry, Shmuel Rosner, Avi Gil, JPPI, 2014.

[2] Wertheimer, Jack, and Manfred Gerstenfeld, (2008), Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA).

[3] You can find a discussion of this topic at: Mirsky, Yehudah, (2010), “Peoplehood – thin and strong: Rethinking Israel-Diaspora relations for a new century,” JPPI.

[4] A poll by ADL and the Begin Sadat Center (http://archive.adl.org/presrele/ islme_62/5055_62.html#.Uuok6WQW0sY)

[5]  U.S. Jews Have No Place in Israel’s Independence Day Ceremony, Irit Linur, Haaretz, April 30, 2017.

[6] The Kotel belongs to everyone, but especially to Israeli Jews (Hebrew), Hagai Segal, Makor Rishon, July 1, 2017.

[7]  Fight or flee? A post-Kotel Jewish American dilemma, Shmuel Rosner, Jewish Journal, 27 June 2017.

[8]  Press release with poll findings: http://rudermanfoundation.org/news_and_events/ pr/2012-1-23.shtml.

[9] See: A Portrait of Israeli Jews, Beliefs, Observance, and Values of Israeli Jews, 2009. Research Team Leader: Asher Arian, Report: Keissar-Sugarmen, Ayala, (2012), “A Portrait of Israeli Jews Beliefs, Observance, and Values of Israeli Jews, 2009,” Survey conducted by the Guttman Center for Surveys of the Israel Democracy Institute for !e AVI CHAI–Israel Foundation (http://en.idi.org.il/media/1351622/GuttmanAviChaiReport2012_EngFinal.pdf).

[10]  Interestingly, even the first media report on this internal survey, by right-tilting newspaper Makor Rishon, showed the expected ideological bias toward the data. The headline that was given to the report said that a “majority” of Israeli Jews do not want to consider diaspora views – including both the “not at all” and the “only a little” under a category of rejection. A different take would argue that a vast majority of 83% of Jewish Israelis support consideration of Diaspora Jews, and only 16% completely reject such consideration. The report in Hebrew is here: http://www.nrg.co.il/online/1/ART2/884/546.html

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