NEW YORK (Jun. 14)
American Jewish communal leader Abraham Foxman and Israeli academic Shlomo Avineri agreed at an academic forum Monday night that while diaspora Jewry and Israel need to develop a more sophisticated relationship, such sophistication shouldn’t lead to public criticism by American Jews toward Israel’s policy in the administered territories.
The forum between Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, and Avineri, professor of political science at Hebrew University, was billed as a rematch of the contentious debate they held in Jerusalem one year ago, at the height of the Jonathan Pollard spy affair.
But those expecting a grudge match over American and Israeli ways of thinking were probably disappointed. Foxman and Avineri found more to agree on than not at the opening of Bnai Zion’s 80th anniversary convention.
In his call for a more “honest and realistic” relationship between Israeli and American Jewry, Foxman described the “maturation process” that occurred as a result of the Yom Kippur and Lebanon wars, the “embarrassment” over the Pollard affair, Israel’s involvement in the Iran-contra scandal and, most recently, Israel’s handling of the Palestinian uprising.
As a result of the maturation process, said Foxman, diaspora Jewry has begun to strike “dissonant chords” with once-inviolate Israel — taking an active role in resisting changes in the Law of Return, for example, or demanding more control over the way in which Jewish Agency funds are spent.
Among other steps American Jews should take, he said, is to demand that Israeli political parties fully disclose the contributions they get from American Jews.
While acknowledging that the “dissonant chords” are a “product of reality rather than infidelity,” Foxman had harsh words for those leaders of American Jewish organizations who have criticized Israeli policy in recent months, and “publicly aligned themselves against” the Likud bloc of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.
A critical article by Reform leader Albert Vorspan was “irresponsible ego-searching rather than soul-searching,” he said.
“How sad, how wasteful, how counterproductive” is how he termed a scheduled satellite broadcast Tuesday featuring four former Israeli generals who support a withdrawal from the territories. The broadcast is being sponsored by the American Jewish Congress.
Avineri seemed to agree, in one of his few direct references to the recent debate over the propriety of criticism, that American Jewish criticism of Israel is inappropriate.
Despite a brief discussion of Israel’s political choices concerning the territories, in which the left-leaning professor contended any choice is better than the current disunity, he returned to themes he expounded on six months ago, on the same stage.
American Jews should “take up the challenge of aliyah” and otherwise spend more time in Israel, he repeated, and as a result, “end up by refreshing and mutually enriching the cycle of Israel-diaspora relations.”
But what should American Jews do concerning the current political debate? “They should do very little. But if they meet an Israeli, they should say to him, ‘You have to make up your mind.’”
On the other hand, Avineri added later, Israel has to consider the impact of whatever actions it takes on the rest of world Jewry.
“If Israel is doing things that make the world’s Jews uncomfortable, (Israelis) should think about it,” he said.