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Israeli and American Jews – The Struggle for Consensus and Current Tensions

by Rabbi John Rosove

April 4, 2014 | 6:48 am

In recent weeks Israeli and American Jewish activists, writers and thinkers have been discussing political and ideological trends within both the American Jewish community and Israeli society vis a vis the nature of pro-Israel activism and what Israel would need to compromise should the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, now seriously threatened, ever advance.

There are, at the very least, two truths that seem to permeate much of our two societies these days. The first is the most consequential for the future security, Jewish and democratic character of the state of Israel; the distrust of Israelis towards Palestinians and Palestinians towards Israelis resulting in political/ideological recalcitrance of each side’s negotiating positions. The second is the growing ideological and emotional divide in the American Jewish community between left and right especially concerning the meaning of pro-Israel activism.

In the Middle East, it is unclear in the short-term whether American supported peace negotiations will continue. In the American Jewish community, conservative pro-Israel activists have undertaken a new campaign to discredit the pro-Israel legitimacy of J Street most recently reflected in a film called “The J Street Challenge” that is producing a great deal of ink.

J Street is the largest pro-Israel Political Action Committee in Washington, D.C. and over the nearly six years of its existence has attracted growing support among an increasingly large segment of the American Jewish community’s liberal pro-Israel community. The film “The J Street Challenge” reflects the American Jewish community’s right-wing disagreement with J Street’s policy positions (www.jstreet.org) and is fueled by strong animus towards the organization’s leadership.

[Note: I serve as a co-chair of the national Rabbinic Cabinet of J Street representing nearly 800 rabbis from all the American Jewish religious streams, and my son has served as a member of the J Street national staff almost since the founding of J Street six years ago. However, I appreciate and respect the long history of support in the nation’s capital for the state of Israel by AIPAC, though I am sad and continually disheartened to say that so many in AIPAC do not hold similar appreciation and respect for J Street].

I offer the following two articles that address American Jewish internal tensions and the concerns of the broad majority of Israeli citizens that make up the Israeli political center.

As events unfold it is important to understand the short-term and long-term implications of what is occurring within the American Jewish community and Israel alike especially relative to the following themes: The future of Israeli democracy and the Jewish character of the State of Israel; The lack of agreement that will bring about a two-states for two peoples resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; The meaning of pro-Israel activism in the United States; and the state of civility within the American Jewish community today.

The first article was written by Yossi Klein Halevi, a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and a contributing editor to The New Republic. His piece “The Quiet Rise of the Israeli Center” (Times of Israel, March 23) is an insightful look at the dreams, concerns and worries of the largest bloc of Israeli citizens, the political moderate center - http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-quiet-rise-of-the-israeli-center/

The second is written by Larry Gellman, one of America’s top money managers and financial advisers, who has been active as a lay American Jewish leader for thirty years with Jewish Federations, State of Israel Bonds, AIPAC, J Street, CLAL, and Hillel. He has helped to create and fund Jewish Day Schools in two American cities. Gellman lectures widely in the United States and Israel on Judaism and business ethics. His op-ed that follows is therefore significant because of his standing as a mainstream leader in the American Jewish community - “Donor Slams Federation for Divisive ‘Political Attack Ad’ Aimed at J Street” (The Jewish Daily Forward, April 3) http://forward.com/articles/195784/donor-slams-federation-for-divisive-political-atta/?p=all

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Rabbi John L. Rosove assumed his duties as Senior Rabbi of Temple Israel of Hollywood in November 1988. A native of Los Angeles, he earned a BA in Art History from UC Berkeley...

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