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Jerusalem and the Jewish People: Unity and Division

Jerusalem is currently under Israeli jurisdiction, not under the jurisdiction of the Jewish people writ large. Thus, one could certainly debate how beneficial it is to Israel to have policy input from Jews who do not live there, most of whom have no intention of ever becoming Israeli citizens. Clearly, given that Jerusalem is a part of Israel, it is fair to argue that the opinions of Israelis on the issues in question have more merit than those of people who live in other countries and who are not generally exposed to many of the challenges with which Israelis have to cope.

Still, the clear underlying assumption of this Dialogue (and all previous JPPI Dialogues) is that Israel ought to consider the views of world Jewry on various subjects. Dialogue participants have strongly seconded this underlying assumption. They believe that as the political and the cultural future of Jerusalem is shaped, whether by the government of Israel or by the mayor of Jerusalem, world Jewry’s concerns should be taken into consideration. There is more than one reason to justify such a notion, as JPPI argued in its firs Dialogue report on Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, an investigation of the perspectives of all Jews on the matter at hand is necessary for the following reasons:

  1. Israel claims to be a state in which all Jews have a stake. It frequently calls Jerusalem “the capital of the Jewish people,”[1] and, therefore, ought to consult with world Jewry on matters pertaining to Jerusalem.
  2. Jewish communities around the world have contributed significantly to developing Jerusalem and are asked to keep contributing to its success. As active partners, it would be wise for Israel to consult them as it ponders matters related to the city that stands at the core of Jewish identity.
  3. Jerusalem’s profile as a world phenomenon, a holy city of three world religions, makes it possible that its future may influence the image of Jews all around the world.
  4. Jerusalem’s character has the potential to impact the way Israel relates to Jews around the world. It can also impact the way Diaspora Jews relate to Israel.

Even if one accepts the premise that all Jews should have a say in planning for Israel’s future,[2] the question of their exact role, and the areas in which they could expect to influence Israeli policies and decisions, still stands. In previous JPPI Dialogues many participants differentiated between policies concerning political-security issues (such as the specific arrangements of a possible peace agreement with the Palestinians) and policies relating to cultural-religious questions (such as the arrangements governing how progressive Jews can practice near the Kotel). When it comes to Jerusalem, these questions do not always easily disentangle (is the future of the Temple Mount a political or a cultural-religious question?). But participants still seem to differentiate between these two areas as we will show later.

As we’ve shown in a previous chapter, Jews who live outside of Israel perceive Jerusalem as a “home.”  They see it as home not only in the sense of feeling at home in the city, but also in the sense that it is their home too, and hence they ought to have a say as its political and cultural future is shaped. Only 18 percent of Dialogue participants believe that Israel ought to determine Jerusalem’s political future without regard to the views of world Jewry (graph 28). Only 11 percent expressed the belief that Israel ought to determine Jerusalem’s political future without consulting with Diaspora Jewry.

In both cases, JPPI outlined three possible arguments for Diaspora influence on the future of the city. 1. Because it might affect their lives in the Diaspora; 2. Because Jerusalem is holy to all Jews; 3. Because Israel wants to keep the support of world Jewry. In essence, these are three types of argument: one builds on the self-interest of Diaspora Jews, one on the self-interest of Israel, and one on the partnership between Israeli and Diaspora Jews. Both when it comes to Jerusalem’s political future and its cultural future, the partnership argument held most sway with a plurality of participants.

Jerusalem is not the first topic on which JPPI has tried to assess the extent to which non-Israeli Jews wish to be consulted, or involved, in decisions made by Israel. Two years ago, participants in the Dialogue Jewish Values and the Use of Force by Israel in Armed Conflict were asked a similar question. Last year, too, we asked this question in the context of the Dialogue The Jewish Spectrum in Time of Fluid Identity.

Of course, the questions were different as were the topics discussed at each of these Dialogues. But the concept was similar. In 2016, JPPI asked if “Thinking about Israel-Diaspora relations, Israel should consider views of non-Israeli Jews when determining who is considered Jewish in Israel.” In 2015, JPPI asked if “Thinking about Israel-Diaspora relations, Israel should consider views of non-Israeli Jews when conducting armed conflicts… .” This year we asked two questions, one about political decisions and one about cultural decisions: Thinking about Israel-Diaspora relations, do you generally believe that… Israel should decide how the political\cultural future of Jerusalem ought to look without regard to the views of Jews living outside of Israel / consider the views of non-Israeli Jews mostly because its decisions may affect their lives in the Diaspora / consider the views of non-Israeli Jews, mostly because Jerusalem is the Holy City of all Jews / consider the views of non-Israeli Jews, mostly because it wants to keep the support of world Jewry.

The table below compares the answers to all four (one in 2015, one in 2016, two in 2017) questions: First, it clearly shows that Diaspora Jews want to be considered in decisions made by Israel. Second, it also shows that the more a participant considers questions of “Jewishness,” the more inclined s/he is to want Israel to consider Diaspora views. Thus, the demand for consideration of Diaspora viewpoints is higher when determining who is considered Jewish in Israel, than it is on Israel’s going to war. It is higher on the cultural future of Jerusalem, than it is in the political future of Jerusalem.

Then again, JPPI’s survey this year might hint that even the political future of Jerusalem has a “Jewish” meaning beyond Israeli considerations, and therefore, according to Dialogue participants, the political future of Jerusalem is not up to Israel to decide on its own.


When conducting armed conflict When determining who is considered Jewish in Israel when deciding the political future of Jerusalem When deciding the cultural future of Jerusalem Ave.
Israel should have no regard to the views of Jews living outside of Israel 31% 6% 18% 14% 17%
Israel should consider the views of non-Israeli Jews mostly because its decisions may affect lives in the Diaspora 38% 18% 21% 19% 24%
Israel should consider…  because Jerusalem is City of all Jews / all Jews define Jewish values / all Jews define Jewishness 11% 54% 44% 51% 40%
Israel should consider… to keep the support of other Jews 21% 22% 17% 17% 19%

Three years of asking a very similar question also provides us with an opportunity to conclude with confidence that Diaspora Jews expect Israel to be considerate of their views, less because of pragmatic concerns and more because of a sense of partnership. Two of the options we had on the menu in all three years were pragmatic concerns: Israel’s decisions could impact Diaspora Jews, and Israel’s decisions could have impact on Jewish support for Israel. One option tends to focus on the notion of partnership. All Jews have the city, all Jews define Jewish values, all Jews define Jewishness – and, hence, all Jews should be taken into account as Israel makes its decisions.

As you can see in the table above, when it comes to armed conflict – the issue least instinctively associated with Jewishness – Dialogue participants opted for the practical reasoning for consideration (and about a third of them did not think that Israel ought to consider their views). But the more the issue feels “Jewish,” the clearer the tilt toward an assumed partnership. Fifty-one percent for deciding the cultural future of Jerusalem, 54 percent for determining who is considered Jewish in Israel.

As we consider the events of recent months, and the sense of crisis in Israel-Diaspora relations following the Israeli cabinet decision to freeze the Kotel compromise and to support a change in the laws governing conversion in Israel, this finding can explain a lot. Most of the many Jews who protested the Kotel decision do not come to the Kotel very often, surely not on a daily or a weekly basis. All Diaspora Jews protesting against changing the laws governing conversion had no immediate personal or communal stake in this legislation.[3] Still, these Jews felt betrayed by the government of Israel. Diaspora Jewish leadership “feels betrayed, and with good reason,” wrote columnist Gary Rosenblatt.[4] Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, stated: “The decision cannot be seen as anything other than a betrayal.” Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner (Reform) and Rabbi Danny Rich (Liberal Judaism) stated on behalf of Britain’s Alliance for Progressive Judaism that the decision is a “betrayal of Israeli and Diaspora Jewry.”[5]

“Betrayal” is the expression one expects when a sense of partnership is suddenly shattered. This sense has clearly presented itself in the last three JPPI Dialogues.

[1] See: Netanyahu: Jerusalem Is the Capital of the Jewish People Alone, Haaretz, May 17, 2015.

[2] Some Jews do not wait to get Israel’s permission when it comes to trying to influence the future of Jerusalem. This was visible at certain points of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. See: Whose Jerusalem Is It, Anyway?, Shmuel Rosner, Slate, February 28, 2008.

[3] The proposed law was aimed to govern the conversion of non-Jews residing in Israel. For more on it see: 24 short and sober comments on the sudden resurgence of a conversion bill, Shmuel Rosner, Jewish Journal, June 29, 2017.

[4] Betrayed By Bibi: One Wall, Two Peoples, Gary Rosenblatt, The New York Jewish Week, June 27, 2017.

[5] Reversal on egalitarian prayer at Kotel a ‘betrayal’, say UK progressive Jews, The Jewish News and JTA, June 26, 2017.