In recent weeks, we have repeatedly awoken to news of murderous antisemitic attacks in the United States. The extensive coverage of these attacks by the Israeli media gives the impression of Jewish unity and a sense of a common Jewish fate, but in reality it appears that many Israelis do not share this feeling. The Israel Democracy Institute’s 2019 Democracy Index reveals that only 51% of Israeli Jews feel that they share a common fate with Jews in the Diaspora.
This is a disappointing and troubling statistic, indicating that Jewish solidarity – which has been the unifying bond of the Jewish people for thousands of years – is gradually being eroded. The state, together with the national Jewish institutions and via the Israeli education system, must foster this sense of solidarity by including this subject in the core curriculum of Israeli schools and educating the general public.
The State of Israel is the state of the Jews and its Jewishness has enormous significance for its relations with the entire Jewish people. The Jewish state’s responsibility toward Diaspora Jewry was cited in the Declaration of Independence and was anchored in Israel’s constitutional law around a year ago, with the passing of the Nation-State Law. The law states that Israel bears responsibility for the welfare of Jews in the Diaspora and for nurturing the ties between the State of Israel and Diaspora Jewry.
But the relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry has another, essential, dimension. Israeli Jews must have a sense of a common Jewish fate, of being one people. The relationship between Israeli Jews and Diaspora Jewry cannot be limited to formal ties to the state; rather, there must be an emotional link between them based on Israelis’ awareness of the nature of Jewish life in the Diaspora, and on a real connection between “them” and “us.”
A series of recent surveys have found that Israelis have only limited knowledge about Diaspora Jews and only a narrow sense of the connection with and the responsibility toward them. Israelis are unfamiliar with the nature of Jewish life in the Diaspora, have little awareness of the centrality of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism in Diaspora Jewish communities, and feel little connection with Jews living outside of Israel.
This lack of awareness and lack of identification with Diaspora Jews has a very real price. In recent years, relations between Israel and Diaspora Jewry have reached an all-time low. A series of decisions taken by the government of Israel, particularly relating to issues of religion and state, have fueled immense anger towards the state, and today there are Jewish communities that find it hard to identify with Israel. Thus, while Israel’s constitutional law expresses solidarity with Diaspora Jewry and defines the strengthening of ties with Jewish communities abroad as a key value, in practice, all too often, the state acts with complete disregard for their feelings.
This policy toward Diaspora Jewry stems largely from a lack of awareness and overall apathy among the Israel public. Because of their lack of understanding of the impact of decisions taken here on the lives of Jews abroad and on their attitudes to the State of Israel, Israeli leaders and politicians completely disregard Jews in the Diaspora.
The limited sense of solidarity between Jews in Israel and abroad also contradicts a basic value. The continued existence of the Jewish people over thousands of generations was made possible by Jewish solidarity; the sense that we share a shatterproof bond and a common destiny has been the secret to the survival of the Jewish people. Maintaining this sense of a shared fate is a value in and of itself.
The fact that the Nation-State Law refers to nurturing the ties between the State of Israel and the Jewish people is important but it is clear that this requires increased awareness among Israeli Jews of what is going on in the Diaspora and of Jewish life there. In order to bolster this awareness, the government must partner with the national Jewish institutions – those in which the very essence of their role includes the strengthening of Jewish unity – and work within both educational and public frameworks to foster the understanding that we do indeed share a common Jewish destiny.
The article was published in the Jerusalem Post.