February 20, 2012
‘Israeli lawmakers should care about the agenda of the American Jewish community’
Kadima MK Ronit Tirosh, the chair of a new Knesset caucus on the relationship between Israel and American Jewry, discusses the ties between the two communities.
Why is it important to raise “awareness” with Israeli lawmakers about the agenda of the American Jewish community? Why should they care about the agenda of the residents of another country?
American Jews are not simply residents of another country, but are the second largest Jewish community in the world, after Israel. They make up the pro-Israel voice of that country, which contributes to the political support for the substantial foreign aid Israel receives each year from the United States. A recent Teleseker poll commissioned by the Ruderman Foundation revealed that 70.8 percent of the Israeli public believes that the Knesset should consider Diaspora Jews when legislating laws such as “Who is a Jew.” Israeli lawmakers should care about the agenda of the American Jewish community because in today’s world, this kind of support and special relationship should be a two-way street of understanding, whereby each side is respectful and knowledgeable about the other’s concerns, issues and priorities.
In what areas should the views of American Jewry influence Israeli policy? Would you take into consideration their views on Israel’s security-related policies, and would you change Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians because of the reservations of American Jews?
In a respectful relationship that is as deep and special as the Israel-American Jewish relationship, views should always be taken into consideration as part of the larger pluralistic conversation. But, clearly, as American Jews do not pay taxes in Israel or serve in the IDF, they have no real political bearing on internal Israeli decisions. Nonetheless, the special nature of the relationship demands respectful attention to views, even if it does not translate into adoption of those views.
Do we still want all American Jews to come to Israel as immigrants?
For many years, aliyah from North America has been very limited, and it seems quite certain that will not change in years to come. While it is part of the traditional Zionist view that Israel should be the homeland of all Jews, the ingathering of all Jews, the reality of our generation is that this is not likely. Therefore, it is incumbent upon Israelis to learn about the nature of American Jewish life, the internal workings of the community, the new forms of cultural expression, where the next generation is headed and so on in order to maintain the close and special relationship with this important community. Just as American Jews must be well informed about Israel, we in turn should be well informed about them.
What can Israel teach American Jews, and what should Israel learn from American Jews?
The list is too long to cover everything here, but Israel has much to teach about innovation, spirit of volunteerism, the deep commitment of our young people to give back to their country through army or national service, love of the land, pride in the rebirth of this country, revitalization of Hebrew culture and much more. We have a great deal to learn from American Jews, especially the values of their long tradition of democracy and pluralism, of coexistence among religious streams, of the role they pioneered in civil rights and other leading social movements, the vast diversity of Jewish expression through creative religious and cultural channels and their enormous contributions through philanthropic activity.
When the caucus was launched, you stated that you “came back from the Ruderman Fellows Program in the U.S. last year with the understanding that Israel is in danger of losing one of its most critical strategic allies.” How do you know we’re losing our ally, and why are we losing it?
There is a growing gap between the leaders of the organized community and the vast majority of American Jews, for whom Israel may no longer be their top priority. After participating in the Ruderman Fellows Program, I understood that this may be especially true among the next generation, who do not hold the same emotional and traditional links to Israel as their grandparents and parents.
Given that the community represents 40 percent of the Jewish people, given that U.S. aid and diplomatic support of Israel is in part a reflection of American Jewish political engagement and lobbying — it is critical to the future of Israel and Jewish unity that we grow closer and enhance understanding, rather than allow the unique bonds to be loosened. In my conversations with young Jews in the United States, I discovered that in their list of priorities, they place human rights, social change and even animal rights before the issue of loyalty to the State of Israel.