A Wide, Wide River To Cross


A Jewish island in an Arab sea, Israel has always been a country on the edge. That edge appears to have gotten even more razor thin in the last year. The Jewish state’s ties with its main ally, the United States, have become severely frayed. The relationship between the Israeli prime minister and the American president is strained, to say the least, with Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before Congress criticizing President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal adding to the mistrust between the two. Israel, for the first time in memory, has become a partisan wedge issue in the U.S. Congress. Israel’s commitment to democracy and pluralism are being questioned by a wide swath of American Jews, and Jerusalem’s new, tissue-thin right-wing government is only complicating the matter.

With all that as a backdrop, we offer our annual Israel Now section. As we try to capture this particular moment in Israel’s story, with a focus on the debates surrounding a changing Israel-diaspora relationship, we turn to some seasoned writers and thinkers.

Author and journalist Yossi Klein Halevi considers two of the central threats facing Israel today — the Iran nuclear deal and the idea of a Palestinian state — and how an existential divide separates the way American Jews and the Israeli mainstream view them. Yehuda Kurtzer, president of The Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, looks at liberal Zionism and the politics of loyalty when it comes to Israel; the left and the right are both wrong, he argues, in the way they frame the issue. Gidi Grinstein, who founded a leading Israeli think tank, suggests that even as new distance is opening between Israel and diaspora Jewry, it would be a mistake to read that negatively; history shows that the push and pull between the two is a fact to be embraced.

American ex-pat journalist Stuart Schoffman looks at the current moment and finds, as with so much of life in Israel, a measure of tragedy and a measure of farce. The Jewish Week’s Israel correspondent, Michele Chabin, gets reaction from a wide range of analysts on how Israel’s new ruling coalition might play when it comes to American Jews and the issues they hold dear. And closer to home, author Nessa Rapoport looks at the contributions of Israelis here and suggests that they might be a kind of human bridge between American Jews and the Jewish state.

These days, such a thing would be like a balm in Gilead.