Religious Zionism’s focus on rebranding Israeli society could test the Jewish state’s already fragile relationship with more liberal Diaspora Jewish communities
Israeli politicians Avi Maoz, Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir ran together on a campaign platform of restoring the country’s Jewish identity.
While the trio’s ‘return to Jewish values’ message resonated with a large segment of the Israeli public – the Nov. 1 vote made Religious Zionism, their united party list, the third largest political faction in the Knesset and a critical cog in Netanyahu’s return to power – their focus on rebranding Israeli society could very well test the Jewish state’s already fragile relationship with more liberal Diaspora Jewish communities — even if that is not their intent.
“Their goal is not to enrage Diaspora Jews, they’re looking mostly at Israel,” Shmuel Rosner, a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute, told Jewish Insider. “They want Israel to be a Jewish state and their understanding of a Jewish state is a state in which the Orthodox interpretation of Jewishness is the main character.”
“It’s not as if they want all Jews in Israel to become observant – well, they do want that, but they are not striving to make all of us more religious or more observant – they want both observant and non-observant Jews to accept Orthodox Judaism as the legitimate interpretation of Jewishness,” he continued. “That is why staunchly religious Reform Judaism is more of a threat than a secular Orthodox interpretation.”
Rosner, who co-authored #IsraeliJudaism: Portrait of a Cultural Revolution, said, however, he did not think the two communities were heading for a total breakdown anytime soon.
“There have been many breaking points between Israel and Diaspora Jews, but ultimately Israeli Jews don’t have other Jews to rely on apart from Diaspora Jews, and Diaspora Jews don’t have any other countries they can identify with other than this one Jewish state,” he said. “So, both, with all of their flaws, are still the only alternative.”
“Can Israel survive without the support of American Jews? I assume it can, but why would Israel want to survive without the support of American Jews?” Rosner added. “Israel should strive to have the support of American Jews and the same is true for Americans, why would they want to disengage from the most exciting and most dramatic Jewish enterprise in 2,000 years?”
He added, “Do we need each other less than we did in the past in the material sense, yes, but we need each other because if you recognize that the Jews are a people – and we are a very small people – then you understand that splitting a small people in half, is not a healthy recipe for either community.”
To read the article published By Ruth Marks Eglash on ‘Jewish Insider’, click here.