News & Media Articles

Executive Director Message

28 May 2010 By New Israel Fund

This week, journalist Peter Beinart wrote a seminal article about Israel and its relationship with the American Jewish community.  His argument is important and timely, but it is not new. Thoughtful observers have long warned about the growing gap not only between American Jews and Israel, but also between American Jews and the establishment organizations that purport to speak for their interests. What Beinart captures so well is the changing state of the American Jewish communal landscape.

We are at a tipping point. For all the reasons Beinart describes, the paradigm that has long characterized the relationship between American Jews and Israel is shattering. For a long time now, the liberal majority of American Jews has been moving away from an Israel with which they feel they have less and less in common. This is especially the case with young people. The Jewish establishment leadership is aware of this vector of drift and disaffiliation, but attributes it to intermarriage, assimilation and to an insufficient number of spaces on Birthright programs.

The real issue, however, is values, and why American Jews are being asked to compromise them in connection with Israel. They don't buy the "Israel right or wrong" message that emanates from the halls of Jewish power any more than they buy the "Israel is always wrong" line that characterizes some on the political left. And so they are walking away, both from Israel and from the American Jewish establishment that defends its every policy and action. The current Israeli government's enmity towards Israel's human and civil rights sector, its embrace of the hard-religious right, and its pursuit of the settlement enterprise, even at the expense of the US-Israeli relationship, only accelerates this process.

It doesn't have to be that way. The values upon which Israel was founded still resonate deeply with American Jews. And, as the election demonstrated, young Americans are hungry for causes worth fighting for. Give American Jews the truth and the tools, introduce to them to the real Israel with all of its flaws and promise, show them that they can make a difference, and they'll want to go out and help save the dream in partnership with Israelis who still believe in the ideals upon which their country was founded.

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