The Jerusalem Post has an editorial Friday voicing skepticism over reports that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is set to “commit Israel to a much more intensive engagement with the Jewish communities of the Diaspora.”
Nothing that has leaked out of the first discussion on the issue, held at the Prime Minister’s Office on Wednesday, and nothing in the record of this government or its predecessors, suggests that Israel understands the complexity and immensity of the challenge posed by the Israel-Diaspora relationship. Thus, while Olmert’s initiative deserves praise, it also needs urgent direction.
The first important step, the Post’s editors argue, is to understand the difference between Jewish existence in America and Israel.
Like other Americans, America’s Jews are passionately individualistic. Like other Americans, they have no patience or understanding for government intervention in their private lives, including the religious sphere, and they intuitively understand their Jewish identity as a choice that their society challenges them to make. In Israel, meanwhile few of us are asked to choose to be Jewish. Our identity is not a religious choice, but a natural, organic and innate sense of communal identification. This is the gap that a new Israel-Diaspora relationship must bridge – not one of communication, but of understanding.
The new initiative will only succeed if it is the beginning of a generation-long project that engages American Jews in building a shared transnational Jewish culture. The initially suggested ideas – “rebranding” Israel, establishing Israeli cultural centers and unifying Israeli resources overseas that deal with Jewish identity – sound worryingly like a recap of old, arrogant attempts to impose Israeli cultural understandings on the American Jewish reality….
The prime minister is right to turn up the heat on a discussion of this issue. If we do not develop this shared culture, the centrifugal forces at work in the Jewish world will drive us farther apart. Without both communities committed to building together, the Jewish people as a whole are immeasurably weakened in facing the challenges of the 21st century, which are turning out to be as profound and complex as those of the 20th.