(October 23, 2018 / JNS)
Permit me to open this column by expressing my distress that for the first time, the Jewish Federations of North America are holding their General Assembly in Tel Aviv rather than Jerusalem. I doubt that this was a coincidence. Israelis are delighted with the U.S. government’s relocation of its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. I hope the diversion of the GA from Jerusalem does not reflect an anti-Trump paranoia.
The Federations’ representatives at the GA are, no doubt, better informed than the average American Jew. They are surely concerned with the loss of Jewish identity among increasing numbers of young American Jews who were not even provided with an elementary Jewish education. Lacking any foundation, many young American Jews are alienated from both their own Jewish identity and Israel, and intermarriage rates are climbing.
Some leading American Jews falsely accuse Israel of not supporting them and of conducting an extremist policy in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. In addition, they accuse Israel of discriminating against non-Orthodox Jews, as exemplified by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s retraction of an agreement to allocate an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall. Perhaps he should have ignored haredi extortion and dissolved the government. But, rightly or wrongly, he gave precedence to the urgent security issues of the day.
Besides, American Jewish progressives, few of whom visit the Western Wall, would have been nonplussed had their rabbis not whipped up hysteria over the issue.
My message to American Jewish leaders is not to blame Israel for your shortcomings. Take responsibility, prioritize Jewish education and overcome Jewish illiteracy. That should be your overriding concern.
You should also realize that the establishment of Israel following the Shoah was supported by all Jews and was a key component in fostering a healthy Jewish identity among the entire people.
Unfortunately, today, this is not the case. I lay the responsibility primarily on Jewish leaders, especially since the election of U.S. President Donald Trump.
In the past, mainstream Jewish organizations strove to be nonpartisan. But no longer, with the majority of the non-Orthodox strongly opposed to their president.
This would not be so bad if they did so as Americans, but to do so as an expression of their supposed Jewish identity, or in their capacity as Jewish leaders, is incomprehensible.
But what is utterly outrageous is the attitude displayed by Jews towards Trump’s Israel policies.
Trump is your president; as Americans, you can love him or hate him. But as Jews, you should appreciate what he has done for us.
He transferred the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. His predecessors promised to do so, but always backed out.
He merged the Jerusalem consulate with the embassy to ensure that there is one clear message directed towards the Palestinians.
He closed the PLO’s Washington mission when it refused to negotiate towards peace.
He warned the P.A. that he would not tolerate payments of hundreds of millions of dollars to terrorists and their families.
He exposed the sham of the “5 million” Palestinian refugees and curtailed funds to UNRWA, an organization that perpetuates the refugee problem.
He applied sanctions on Iran and warned that he would not tolerate Iranian nuclear weapons, unlike former President Barack Obama, who appeased the Islamic republic.
His diplomats spoke uninhibitedly for Israel at the United Nations and other international bodies. He even orchestrated a joint statement with Russian President Vladimir Putin supporting Israel’s security.
That is why Trump has a 69 percent approval rating in Israel and almost 80 percent of Israeli Jews approve of his handling of U.S.-Israel relations.
Finally, while you may not like Netanyahu (that, too, is your right), Israelis would undoubtedly re-elect him today. And as Americans, you should respect the will of the majority in our democratic Jewish state—a beacon of light in a region that has returned to the Dark Ages.
You should likewise respect our security requirements, which are endorsed by the clear majority of the nation. A two-state solution was our preference, but today we fear that it would lead to the emergence of a terrorist state, which could become a launching pad for Iran, a country committed to our destruction. This view unites the government and opposition and has the greatest consensus of any issue since the failed Oslo Accords.
Israel is not perfect, and I have frequently penned criticisms of aspects of our policies. You, too, may feel free to criticize us, but you should hesitate before condemning our security policies. It is we and our children—not you—who will live or not with the consequences.
But differing on individual policies should not deter you from supporting our one and only Jewish state.
These are your challenges. Give your children a Jewish education and provide them with a Jewish identity. Teach them the history of the Jewish people and explain to them how powerless we were until the establishment of a Jewish state, just 70 years ago.
Isi Leibler’s website can be viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.