A new study commissioned by the UJA-Federation of New York has concluded that a majority of Israelis believe the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should not take into account the views of U.S. Jewish leaders with regard to religious pluralism issues, such as prayer rights at the Kotel and the recognition of non-Orthodox conversions. A supermajority also says the Netanyahu government should ignore American Jewish attitudes on how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Looking solely at these two data points — 57 percent of respondents said that their government should regard American Jewish attitudes either “not much” or “hardly at all” when regulating the Kotel, while almost 70 percent answered the same way regarding Israel’s dealings with its Arab citizenry and the Palestinians — it would be easy to conclude that a vast chasm exists between the world’s two great Jewish communities. But, in fact, the study only confirms what we’ve known all along.
Despite all the talk about worldwide Jewish unity, Israeli Jews see the world very differently than American Jews. Their life experiences and the histories of their communities are, by and large, quintessentially different from the modern American experience. We have long admired the independence, perseverance and creativity, as well as the many accomplishments, of Israel and her people, and it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the same fierce independence applies to decisions about how Israelis want to live their religious and political lives.
American Jews rightfully feel fully invested in the Jewish state. We properly claim significant credit for much of the political, military and social service support that has benefited Israel over the past 70 years. And we genuinely view Israel as our homeland. But we all know that while we are entitled to an opinion about how things should be done, the ultimate decision isn’t ours. The study confirms those conclusion.
And yet, the study also provides evidence of Israeli Jews’ deep affinity for their American cousins. On the question of having a sense of “belonging to the Jewish people,” 89 percent of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed. A full 93 percent responded the same way when asked if Israel was the nation state of the Jewish people. Strong majorities also endorsed the ideas of a strong and thriving American Jewish community as important to Israel’s future, American Jewish support as essential to Israeli security and a shared responsibility among American and Israeli Jews for the other’s welfare.
Overall, despite diverging attitudes regarding specific security and denominational concerns, the study suggests Israelis still see themselves as partners with Americans in crafting and securing a shared Jewish future. Thus, while there are clearly deep emotional and philosophical differences on particularly sensitive and important issues, we should find comfort in the fact that our shared identity with our Israeli family is greater than the issues that divide us.