Special Newsletter for the Launch of the Knesset Caucus for Israel-US Relations
The Knesset Caucus for Israel-US relations held its inaugural session on June 18, 2013, with former ambassador to Israel, Professor Dan Kurtzer, and former ambassador to the US and Minister of Defense Professor Moshe Arens. Chaired by MK Dr. Nachman Shai, the new caucus is expected to play an important role in the ongoing conversation between Israeli political leaders and the American Jewish community. "I am sorely aware of the lack of familiarity many of my colleagues have with the American Jewish community, its communal agenda and its role in securing the critical US-Israel relationship," Shai explained. "Getting to know this community better, understanding its issues and concerns, should be mandatory study for Members of Knesset. It will also fill the void in the absence of a formal Parliamentary Friendship Association."
The creation of the caucus was inspired by The Ruderman Family Foundation, through their Ruderman Fellows Program that brings Members of Knesset to the US to study the diversity and vibrancy of the American Jewish community. Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation, applauded the initiative and leadership of MK Shai and encouraged "using this caucus to help educate Members of Knesset on the strategic importance of the American Jewish community to Israel’s future and how changes in that community may affect that relationship. Additionally, it is important for Knesset members to examine priorities and points of mutual interest between Israel and the U.S. on a wide variety of issues."
In the opening session, Professor Dan Kurtzer noted that the Israel-US relationship had found ways to intensify and broaden itself. He suggested that Israel-U.S. relations would be influenced by issues such as the financial crisis in the US and its affect on foreign aid; where the two countries diverge on the “red line” of Iran’s nuclear capabilities and US policies in regard to Asia. He suggested devoting special attention in the caucus to the younger generation of American Jews, who are not automatically supportive of Israel, and do not hesitate to question some of the policies of the Israeli government.
Professor Arens outlined both the common values and differences in the Israel-US relationship. He pointed out that the Israel-US relationship is one that is based on shared values and ideals which make for common strategic interests and allow a common destination. It is not a one-sided relationship, and Israel's role is substantial. In questions of vital importance to one of the partners in the alliance, the other partner will defer. Even in the face of cuts in foreign aid, the relationship would stay strong.
MK Shai outlined the reasons behind the establishment of the new caucus and its goals in a On June 18th post in ejewishphilanthropy.com. To access the article, please go to http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/the-starting-line/
Following is a selection of recent news items that exemplifies some of the complexities of the Israel-US relationship, and highlights a few of the burning issues which concern American Jewry at this time.
Recent Teleseker poll on Israeli attitudes on American Jewry:
In November 2012, a poll was commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation, in cooperation with the Israel Democracy Institute to explore Israeli public perceptions of the American Jewish community. Conducted by Teleseker, the poll revealed that:
- 66.3% of the Israeli public believes that the Jewish community in the US has a positive influence on the security of the State of Israel.
- 54.6 % of the respondents do not think in the matter of conversion or Israel's relations with the Conservative and Reform movements, Israeli leaders should take into account the positions of American Jews
- 75.8% of Israelis believe that the relationship between Israel and the US will become stronger or stay the same in the future.
- 81.8% Israelis believe that half or more of American Jewish community feels a meaningful connection to Israel.
- 65.5% of Israelis do not believe that Israeli leaders should take into account the positions of American Jews on issues related to the peace process.
Professor Steven M. Cohen, Research Professor of Jewish Social Policy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, commented on the poll results: "Based upon both these results and other evidence, we can say that Israeli Jews' views on their society's relationship with American Jews are diverse, but not polarized. The Israeli public displays a wide variety of opinions regarding the advisability of taking American Jews' positions into account, the strength of connection of US Jews with Israel, and the sustainability of that connection." Cohen concluded, "Policy-makers concerned with connecting Israeli Jewry to American Jewry, then, have a free hand: No strong pressure from the Israeli public is calling for attention to a looming or growing problem, but at the same time, no strong blocking majority would resist efforts to tend to or improve the relationship."
- Kotel Clashes Unsettle Diaspora Jews
Clashes between Women of the Wall and Kotel authorities and police have rallied many in the American Jewish community. This has become a flash point of concern given the strong sense of American Jewry that inclusion, religious and cultural tolerance, and pluralism are the pillars of any democracy.
Two recent examples in which American Jews have voiced their harsh criticism and distress in face of this controversy:
- We know there are different ways to be a Jew: Demonstrating the power of mutual respect and interdependent communal commitment, members of a Task Force on Jewish Unity of the Los Angeles Jewish Community, comprised of Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Progressive and Reconstructionist leaders, jointly endorsed the plan presented by Natan Sharansky for solving the controversy of shared space at the Kotel. In early June they stated:
"We are American rabbis from different denominations; we know there are different ways to be a Jew. We know that the ability to disagree civilly does not grow spontaneously. It takes many years of cultivating relationships and building trust through meeting, listening, sharing, and working together. This is a process that Diaspora rabbis and Jews have been engaged in for decades, one which has begun to bear real fruit in recent years… Here in Los Angeles many of us are reaching across our divisions to model a relationship of respect and dignity. Despite our deep differences, we all equally love the Jewish people and the State of Israel. We dare not demonize or dehumanize one another. In conclusion they wrote that the Sharansky plan embodies "the key Jewish and democratic values of mutual respect, inclusion and tolerance. Sharansky and the Government of Israel should be commended for engaging in this ambitious effort to resolve such a difficult problem."
Read more in the full article: http://www.timesofisrael.com/the-wall-that-must-not-divide-us/#.UbRiWq4BpWw.
- Don't tell me I am not Jewish: In an op-ed published in Y-net, Erica Shapps, a young American Jewish student, recounts her encounter with Israeli MK's who visited Boston in 2011 as part of the Ruderman Fellows Program. She explains how the Israeli leaders she met were confused by sentiments expressed by the students at the meeting who claimed that they could not feel a strong connection to Israel if they could practice Judaism in a way that is "correct for them." She applauds the Sharansky proposal for the solution of the Kotel conflict as the first step in addressing this problem:
"Religious pluralism in Israel is the biggest wedge between Israel and Diaspora Jews… I understand that as an American it is not my place to dictate Israeli domestic politics. However, the Kotel is not a 'private home', or even a national monument: It is a symbol of thousands of years of Jewish longing and a place of pilgrimage belonging to Jews everywhere. It is holy to all Jews, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, and Reform or secular."
To read more: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-380488,00.html
- Jewish poverty is a painful reality in the New York community
A decade ago, the “Jewish Community Study of New York: 2001” reported that one in six Jewish households in New York was considered poor. *In comparison, the “Jewish Community Study of New York: 2011 Special Report on Poverty,” released this month, reveals that the number has increased to one in five — 360,000 people in Jewish households live in poverty, and 45 percent of the children live in poor or near-poor households.
Read the "Jewish Community Study of New York: 2011 Special Report on Poverty"
John Ruskay, CEO of the UJA Federation of New York, shared his thoughts on these disturbing statistics: "We don't want to see Jewish poverty because it challenges our shared narrative. We are children of immigrants who came to the goldene medina with very little, worked hard, and 'made it.' Ours is the success story of a people who today enjoy unprecedented affluence, influence, and acceptance. It's an extraordinary narrative that is true for large segments of the Jewish population in America — but not for all."
Read full statement: http://www.ujafedny.org/news/the-reality-of-jewish-poverty-in-new-york/
- Israel on the rise, Diaspora on the decline:
Yair Sheleg's piece in NRG (June 4, 2013) provides an overview of changes and developments in the Israel-Diaspora relationship. Demographically speaking, America's 5.5 million Jews no longer make up the largest Jewish community in the world; Israel, with a population of 6 million Jews, is now the uncontested center of the Jewish world. Assimilation and a low birth rate have resulted in a decrease of 50,000 Diaspora Jews a year, in contrast, in Israel the birth rate among the Jewish populations is close to 3.0.
The high birth rates in the Orthodox communities of the Diaspora are changing the balance between secular and religious Jews. Recent studies found that a third of the Jews in the Greater New York area are from the Orthodox stream, and a similar increase of the Orthodox has been noted among London's Jewish population. These statistics reinforce the forecasts that the Jewish global community will in the future be comprised solely of Israelis (with a strong national identity) and Orthodox Jews (with a strong religious identity).
Other trends in American Jewry include an increasing legitimization of mixed marriages, and at the same time, a reinforcement of Jewish identity which is demonstrated by a rise in pupils learning in Jewish schools, Hebrew Instruction and Jewish practice such as keeping the Sabbath.
However, researchers point out that this strengthening of Jewish identity is more personal in nature and less an ethnic- tribal trend. Jewish identity does not necessarily express community or national identity; it is rather grasped as a fascinating culture with interesting music, ethos and food. So extreme is this trend, that in a recent poll it was revealed that 5% of those defining themselves as Jews do not even have a Jewish parent, and did not undergo conversion of any kind.
Sheleg also notes the Jewish Renaissance that is taking place in Israel over the last two decades, in which the Jewish component of the Israeli-Jewish identity is becoming stronger than the Israeli component.
To read more: http://www.nrg.co.il/online/11/ART2/476/945.html#.Ua4pHbqKXVg.facebook
- American Jews need to overcome their insecurities about Zionism: In an op-ed published in Haaretz on May 28, 2013, Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, former president of the Union for Reform Judaism, notes American Jewry's complex with the word “Zionism,” and their avoidance of the Zionist label.
Yoffie calls on American Jews to come "to grips with their own insecurities…and help reassert the essence of Zionism and recapture it for Jewish life." The essence," he posits, is that "Zionism means supporting a Jewish state in the Land of Israel." Moreover, "Zionism is a movement that was created by the entire Jewish people, is sustained by the entire Jewish people, and that belongs to the entire Jewish people."
These things, Yoffie goes on to explain, "Tell us that one need not live in Israel to be a Zionist; one can support a Jewish state from elsewhere in the Jewish world. They tell us that without the Law of Return, there is no Zionism," and that "every Diaspora Jew is invited to engage in Israel’s affairs and participate in its debates, whether in the form of generating support for its policies or offering criticisms of its actions. Final decisions will be made by the citizens of Israel—Jewish and non-Jewish, but [the right of an American Jew] to have his or her say about Israel is inherent in the Zionist mission."
Yoffie's defines Zionism as "the belief that the establishment of a Jewish and democratic state in the Land of Israel is essential for the creative survival of the Jewish people."
To read more: http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/american-jews-need-to-overcome-their-insecurities-about-zionism.premium-1.526424