You’re an American Jew. What to Do About Israel?

Philadelphia-area protesters targeted their actions toward Arthur Dantchik, the billionaire donor to the Kohelet Policy Forum, a think tank that had supported the judicial overhaul proposals. (Photo by Rotem Elinav)

It’s the now-75-year-old question for American Jews: What can you do to support Israel even though you don’t live there?

With a judicial overhaul debate sparking protest and inspiring warnings about “civil war,” that question has perhaps never been more pressing.

Israel’s government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has already passed a law ending the “reasonableness” power of the Supreme Court to strike down government actions. Netanyahu said his Knesset wants to go further. The conservative coalition’s efforts have galvanized hundreds of thousands of Israelis into the streets for months of protest.

The Jewish state’s president, Isaac Herzog, has warned that the division could lead to “civil war.” So, what’s an American Jew to do?

Jill Zipin, the chair of Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania, has one answer: “Speak up.” Zipin offers this advice to elected officials, like members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation, and to voting citizens.

“It’s important for American politicians to stand behind the pro-democracy protesters in a democratic Israel because our relationship is one based on shared values,” she said. “The most important shared value is that of democracy.”

Sam Markstein, the national political director for the Republican Jewish Coalition, which has a chapter in Pennsylvania, said the opposite: Respect Israel’s sovereignty.

“Like other Jewish Americans, Jewish Republicans have varying views about Israel’s difficult judicial reform debate. But we’ve been consistent in saying that Americans should respect Israel’s sovereign right to set its own course through its own democratic institutions,” Markstein said.

Between 100 and 200 people protested outside the workplace of Arthur Dantchik, the billionaire donor to the Kohelet Policy Forum, a think tank behind the judicial overhaul proposals. (Photo by Rotem Elinav)

Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, you can try to understand what’s going on, according to Rabbi Geri Newburge of Main Line Reform Temple-Beth Elohim in Wynnewood.

Read from a variety of perspectives. Find news outlets you trust.

“Before you take a side, you have to be educated,” the rabbi said.

It’s also important to understand that Israel’s democracy is not America’s, according to Newburge. Israel has no constitution. Its president is the head of state, not the head of government. Before the passage of that recent law, its Supreme Court could overturn decisions for being “unreasonable.”

“How Israel understands checks and balances in its legal system is not directly comparable to ours,” Newburge said.

Some local Jews find it valuable to do more than understand, too. A group called UnXeptable Philly has organized protests outside the home and workplace of Arthur Dantchik, a billionaire who lives in Lower Merion and donates to the Kohelet Policy Forum, the think tank behind the judicial overhaul proposals.

During the first week of August, between 100 and 200 people gathered in the Bala Cynwyd parking lot of the Susquehanna International Group, Dantchik’s global investment company. They came from across the Philadelphia area and from Princeton and New York City. The group waved Israeli flags and held up signs with messages like, “Protect Israeli democracy.”

On Aug. 4, Dantchik announced that he would divest from the Kohelet Forum to help preserve democracy in Israel.

“People came fired up. Gave speeches. We were really upset,” said Yair Lev, a Merion Station resident who immigrated to the United States from Israel 15 years ago. “We’re worried about the state of Israel right now. The nation is torn. I want to believe that he heard us.”

Shani Amram, an Ambler resident and Israeli immigrant who helped organize the protests, said she understood that many suburbanites were uncomfortable with such a targeted action. But she appreciated that they did it anyway.

“We felt, what else can we do?” she said.

But Lev, a doctor, and Amram, a real estate investor, want to go deeper than protest.
The Israelis-turned-Americans believe there’s a disconnect between these two groups. American Jews were raised to support Israel, Amram explained. But Israeli politicians can take advantage of that, according to Lev. It can be an awkward relationship.

“The Israeli politicians are telling Jews we need the support. Give us money. Come visit. But do not tell us what to do,” Lev said.

Lev and Amram think that Israeli and American Jews need to talk more. They have organized conversations at local synagogues like Main Line Reform Temple. Over the past few weeks, between 40 and 60 people have attended.

“If we want success in this journey, we need to be together. If Israel is not going to be as successful a story as it’s been in the past 75 years, it’s going to have a bad impact on Jews across the world,” Amram said. “Before Israel was reestablished in 1948, Jews lived all over the world. But our situation was not the best. Once we don’t have it, we’re going back to survivors.”

[email protected]


  1. If Diaspora American Jews want to have a say in Israel’s day-to-day affairs, then they will have to make aliyah. Otherwise, they will have little, if any, influence on Israel’s domestic affairs.

  2. How about an article that begins, “It’s the now-75-year-old question for American Jews: What can you do to support {American Jewry, since} you {in fact, live here)?” Our synagogues are being abandoned, forced to merge or die, Jewish Day Schools; withering and dying. JCCs, Jewish summer camps and Jewish safety on campus; suffering terribly. (When we elect our officials based on Israel, well, you see what happened with anti-semitism at home.) I want Israel to be safe and treated fairly, but let’s save our communities here.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here