Natural Allies: American Jews And Progressive Israelis


Once again Israel is headed towards general elections, and once again our Jewish brothers and sisters in the United States can barely feign any interest in what our leaders are calling a critical choice for our country. A large part of this indifference can be directly connected to the fact that our current leadership has clearly allied itself with small segments of both the Jewish and general population while alienating the vast majority of Americans.  Thankfully, a new generation of Israeli politicians is on the cusp of entering our national leadership. With this coming change, we hope to strengthen the bond between the two most important Jewish communities in the world.

It is clear today that our current leadership has written off some of the most important segments of American society. Regarding his partners at home, not only has Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly called the parties representing nationalist settlers and the ultra-Orthodox his “natural partners,” he has also declared an electoral alliance with Yisrael Beitienu — a party whose ultra-conservative policies have helped push Israel into a near pariah state on the international stage.

In the U.S., Netanyahu’s preferred partners are the religious right-wing Jewish community, the Evangelicals that support a similar world view when it comes to Israel and its place in the world, and the “neocons” that had pushed President George W. Bush into an ill-advised war in Iraq while ignoring more pressing matters in Afghanistan and Iran. In perusing such a strategy, Netanyahu has alienated traditional allies of Israel — the progressive Jewish and general American communities. 

Looking at our respective backgrounds, you would think I, rather than Netanyahu would be the one who seems unable to connect at all with the values of mainstream Americans. It was Netanyahu who was born to an accomplished professor and it was he who spent the formative years of his childhood and young adulthood in the elite prep schools and universities of the East Coast. He is regularly lauded for his speeches at the United Nations and his erudite appearances in the American media.

I, on the other hand, grew up in a conservative home with immigrant parents from Georgia (the country, not the U.S. state), who instinctively mistrusted anything that had to do with Western culture. When I turned 18 and readied myself for enlistment into the Israel Defense Forces like most of my peers, my parents forbade my mobilization, arguing that the army was no place for a young woman. In the end, I left my parents’ home so I could join the army. Eventually, I pursued three academic degrees and became a young leader of social and entrepreneurial causes in Israel.

Despite his supposed understanding of the American psyche, Netanyahu has continued settlement growth and consistently rewarded the advocates of ultra-Orthodox and nationalist ideologies with increased budgets. Those increases continue even though many haredi schools do not teach their students basic subjects such as math, science and literature, and they are not requited to contribute equally in taxation and national service. 

Today, my peers and I are breathing new life into the Israeli progressive community and espousing views that sound familiar to our brothers and sisters in the U.S. Here at home, we are the ones who took to the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem demanding that we close the inexcusable gaps that have developed between the haves and have-nots in our country.

We take great pride in working to create a culture of true pluralism, end the Orthodox monopoly on our spiritual lives, and create a truly open society where everyone’s religious beliefs are respected without any regard to differences in gender. We are the ones advancing legislation that advocates equality in the workforce as well as in Israeli religious life. Just like our allies in the U.S., we do not accept a situation where we are forced to the back of a bus, or are forced to cede control of our bodies to anyone else.

Numerous studies have shown that the American Jewish community places Israel very low on its list of priorities when voting. With the change about to take place in our political leadership via the elections Jan. 22, it is my hope that we can close the gap and strengthen the historic relationships between both Israel and the Jewish community in the U.S., as well as with the American people as a whole.

Nurit Tsur, CEO of PresenTense Israel, is a member of the Labor Party and a social entrepreneur.