Swords of Iron

Thank you, American Jewish community

One of the crises roiling Israel in recent years is the chasm that has gradually opened up between it and American Jewry – the world’s largest Diaspora community.

There are a number of factors underlying this crisis, only some of which have to do with Israel, but there is no question that it has the potential to undermine Jewish unity, as well as American support for Israel.

A JPPI-Voice of the Jewish People survey conducted over the past few days shows that despite the gravity of the crisis, support for Israel in this most difficult time is tremendous across all denominational streams of US Jewry, and American Jews identify emotionally with Israel. Israel has a duty to keep that support. It must hold American Jewry, writ large, close to its heart, even once the war is over, and place its relations with the US communities on a path of renewal and reinforcement.

Over the past few years, Israel and the American Jewish community have drifted apart. The are many reasons for this. Some have to do with an ongoing erosion of Jewish identity among large swaths of the community, especially among its younger generation. But the nature of Israeli society and Israeli policy have also had an impact on the relationship. Most American Jews, 75%, belong to the left-progressive wing of American politics. In recent years, younger American Jews in particular have been radicalizing. At the same time, Israel has become more right-wing and traditional. It is therefore not surprising that the two main issues are at the heart of the dispute between Israel and most American Jews Israeli control over Judea and Samaria, which most US Jews oppose, and religion-state relations in Israel, especially regarding Israeli recognition of the non-Orthodox streams.

In light of this, it comes as no shock that surveys of American Jews over the past decade have shown a steady erosion of their identification with, and support for, the State of Israel.

Faced with this reality, the overwhelming support of American Jews since the outbreak of the Hamas war is heartwarming – deeply moving. As soon as our October 7 Black Sabbath ended, I received numerous messages from worried friends in the United States. The news from Israel and the horrific scenes of the Nazi-style massacre carried out by Hamas in the south motivated many Jews to mobilize for assistance. It is difficult to know the exact amount donated so far on Israel’s behalf, but it has been estimated that the sum exceeds 500 million dollars, and possibly much more. A wave of support, from prayer gatherings to pro-Israel demonstrations, has washed over the American Jewish community.

This American-Jewish support for Israel has also reflected in the JPPI-Voice of the Jewish People survey conducted earlier this week. The survey found that 80% of US Jews actively support Israel, including Jews “unaffiliated” with any stream, whose level of support for Israel is usually much lower. The vast majority of American Jews are closely following what is happening in Israel. The war has also affected the sentiments of American Jews; the scenes of the war have sparked anger and anxiety among 60% of them. In contrast to the findings of many other surveys, American Jews now believe that Israel behaves more ethically than other countries. Incidentally, they feel that the war is also affecting them at the personal level. About 80% of American Jews who feel some connection to Israel are sensing a certain decrease in their personal security.

The relationship between Israel and the US Jewish community is a strategic asset for Israel. American support for Israel over the years, and the wonderful show of solidarity we are currently seeing, are motivated by interests, but also based largely on the political and economic power of American Jewry. In these trying times, it is clear to all Israelis that its strategic value, and its importance for Israel’s ability to defend itself, cannot be exaggerated. The relationship also has its own intrinsic value – the Jewish value of mutual responsibility. Indeed, the American Jewish heart beats with Israel.

Israel will win the war. The day after, Israelis will have to acknowledge the great importance of American Jewish support for Israel and for its wartime efforts. They will have to remember to return the affection and think together with their overseas brothers and sisters about how to turn the war and the closeness it created into a tipping point, so that we can rebuild a solid bridge between the world’s two largest Jewish communities.

Dr. Shuki Friedman is the vice president of the Jewish People Policy Institute and a lecturer of law at the Peres Academic Center. His book, ‘Being a Nation-State in the Twenty-First Century: Between State and “Synagogue” in Modern Israel’ was recently published by Academic Studies Press.