Israel: Unifying Or Divisive?
By Daniel Odrezin,
BJF Asst. Executive Director
Supporting the state of Israel is one of the pillars that form the core of the Birmingham Jewish Federation’s mission. For this reason, we believe it is very important that the American Jewish community maintain a meaningful connection to the Jewish state, and we work diligently to enhance this bond.
Unfortunately, a study released recently by the Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies at the University of Haifa suggests that this relationship may be fraying. The report, entitled “Israel — a Unifying or a Divisive Issue among American Jews?” includes an array of findings, key among them that American Jews and Israeli Jews are growing apart in many important ways. The study’s author is Ambassador Alon Pinkas, a former Consul General of Israel in New York and an advisor to four former Israeli Foreign Ministers.
Pinkas points to what he calls “recurrent friction and unresolved issues,” among which are lack of a prominent non-Orthodox Jewish presence in Israel and some Israeli actions in regard to its ongoing conflict with the Palestinians. He writes the following in the closing paragraphs of his study:
“The American and Israeli Jewish societies are growing apart for a variety of intrinsic and natural reasons… The disconnection grows wider because Israelis and American Jews ultimately fail — or are unwilling — to conduct a genuine and ongoing dialogue. Israelis fail to understand and appreciate the American Jewish religious diversity, while American Jews do not really understand the Israelis’ insecurity and sense of vulnerability, regardless of how strong they are.”
According to the study, this trend is especially evident among American Jews under the age of 50, who do not remember the monumental struggles – most notably the Six-Day War in 1967 — that faced the fledgling Jewish state. While Israel undoubtedly faces security challenges today, younger Jews have only known a vibrant Israel with a strong military. In addition to the historical divides among American Jews, Pinkas notes historical, cultural and religious differences as well.
One concerning result of this disconnect is that Israel is no longer among the top five issues considered by American Jewish voters. “Israel-related and pro-Israel activities, organizations, projects, and rallies proliferate, but American Jews tend to cast their ballots on the basis of other considerations,” Pinkas writes. “Their concerns are specifically American; their lively involvement and participation in American politics is not usually motivated by Israel-driven causes.”
Despite these daunting challenges, the BJF remains committed to enhancing the special bond between Israel and the American Jewish community through the local and global organizations we fund as well as through our continued Israel advocacy and education work.
Among other things, this work includes a new initiative in partnership with the Birmingham Jewish Foundation that provides opportunities for young people in our community to engage in pro-Israel activism. We strongly believe that helping to establish a new generation of Israel advocates is one of our most important responsibilities.
The Ruderman study is a comprehensive assessment of the challenges facing organizations, such as the Federation system, dedicated to strengthening the connection between American Jews and Israel, and we strongly encourage Update readers to view the report in full by clicking on the link below.
Click for more on the Ruderman study.