The year 2017 was another rocky one in the relationship between Israel and many American Jews, punctuated by conflict over matters once considered common ground. Some controversies--including a backlash over comments about American Jews' military service by Israeli deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely--suggest a level of misunderstanding that could end up harming both sides, especially in a world where Israel continues to rely on its deep emotional, political and financial ties to the United States.
The Israeli think tank Reut Institute describes "a consistent decline in the connection between the two major centers of the Jewish people--the State of Israel and the large Jewish communities in the United States." This decline, according to a recent Reut Institute report, "The Future of the Nation State of the Jewish People: Consolidation or Rupture?" is fueled by "an increasingly complex relationship between Israel and the younger generation of American Jews," among other things. The report attributes the chasm to the diminishing prospects of a two-state solution and differences over the status of progressive Judaism in Israel, including the Israeli government's failure to make good on promises for egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall.
Some educators think the divide runs deeper. While the American Jewish community has actively developed fresh and innovative ways to educate the next generation about Jewish peoplehood and Israel, Israel has not met it halfway, says Gil Troy, a professor of history at McGill University who resides in Israel. "The educational system here does not prepare its students to be part of the Jewish world," says Troy. "It does not help Israeli children to understand what they, as individuals and as a community, can learn from the richness, diversity, history and culture of diaspora Jewry." As a result, he says, "Israeli Jews, from the leadership to the average citizen, know less than nothing about the American Jewish community. And their ignorance is combined with the arrogance that they think they know."
Although Israeli soldiers meet with students or ride the buses with Birthright participants, and Israeli teenagers spend summers as Jewish camp counselors, they are there to teach, not learn. This attitude has its roots in history, says Troy. "As far as Israeli leaders have been concerned, the State of Israel served as the vessel for the Jewish people to realize its national historic mission. In return, the Jewish people existed to serve the State of Israel and provide it with financial and political support." The result, he says, is that understanding the Jewish diaspora--of which American Jews make up the majority--has been regarded as an...