I spent six whirlwind days in Israel a few weeks ago. My trip began with my participation in the 6th Global Forum for Combatting Anti-Semitism, hosted by the Israeli government in Jerusalem. I was the only woman invited to speak on a panel provocatively titled "Anti-Semitism in the Far Left: Intersectionality as a Cover for Hate Speech in Current Progressive Activism." I decided to attend the conference to ensure that a woman's voice would be part of a discussion that would include the Women's March and Black Lives Matter movements in the United States.
I arrived just in time for the opening plenary session with Naftali Bennett, Israel's minister of both education and diaspora; World Jewish Congress chair and American philanthropist Ronald Lauder, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. About 1,200 Holocaust and anti-Semitism scholars and experts, as well as diplomats and visitors from 83 countries, were in the audience. Bennett set the tone when he defined his role as diaspora minister as "the minister of the Jews." At first I thought he was joking, but I realized that he was serious when he explained that Israel would now help Jews facing persecution outside of Israel, just as the diaspora had once helped those within Israel. He then assessed American Jewry as "the weakest link" in the Jewish chain and the group most susceptible to being swayed by the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS).
Bennett also chastised Lauder, whom he was introducing, for writing in a New York Times op-ed published that day that Israel's policies regarding religious pluralism and its receding interest in pursuing a two-state solution are alienating American Jews, particularly millennials. Bennett, a Religious Zionist, said the problem doesn't lie with Israel's policies but with non-Orthodox American Jews, who, he said, are increasingly assimilated and soon will not be Jewish at all.
This is a common refrain in official and non-official circles in Israel these days, and one that always makes me sigh. As editor-in-chief of a publication that is "a magazine for American Jews," I interact with American Jews across the spectrum every day. I see the incredible vitality of Jewish-American life: Jewish commitment, culture and creativity are flourishing. I couldn't disagree more with statements such as Bennett's. At that moment, I realized I was staring directly into the deepening chasm between Israel and many American Jews.
That chasm also separates...