The new leadership in Israel must act according to three clear principles in order to restore the trust of the Democratic Party and the Jewish community. Also, this likely will be the determining factor on the Iranian issue. The government of change offers a real opportunity to turn this page.
The Jewish people are blooming and flourishing in the modern era. The strength and status of Israel and the Jews of the United States are prominent manifestations of this. The future of the Jewish people as a whole in the long-term will be formed first and foremost by the two centers of the Jewish community in Israel and the United States, and that future will depend primarily on the success of the two competing Jewish communities, each of them separately and both of them together as they face separate and joint challenges. These include, of course, external challenges such as security threats to Israel and the rise of anti-Semitism in the United States alongside the growing weight of significant domestic challenges including issues of identity, relevance, cohesion and continuity.
A joint study by the Institute of National Security Studies and the Ruderman Family Foundation published in 2018 extensively examined tripartite relations between Israel, the United States and the Jews of the United States and the strategic importance of relations between Israel and American Jews. The study demonstrated how these relationships represent a powerful source of strength and a vital asset for the national security of Israel; for example, through the influence that U.S. Jews have on their country’s support for Israel, its security and the national security of the Jewish people as a whole. Specifically, this is possible because of relations and cooperation between Israel and the American Jewish people. Even though more than 80% of American Jews make concern for Israel an important part of their Jewish identity (according to a recent Pew Research Center poll), our study showed a widening and concerning gap between the two communities in relation to joint values, issues of religion and state, and political issues.
In the past four years, Israel received wide backing and support for most of its positions and interests by a friendly American administration, but also paid a price, primarily in the form of two significant assets: bipartisan support for Israel, and relations with American Jews. Now, we are at the start of a new period that, in fact, presents complex challenges, but also brings with it new opportunities for change and agreement that will allow us to successfully deal with the challenges.
After more than a year of multidimensional global crisis involving COVID-19, the United States and Israel are recovering economically, trying to nurse domestic social tensions, and reorganizing their governments, as the Biden era begins after a stormy, year-long presidential campaign, and the Naftali Bennett-Yair Lapid government begins after two years of political instability in Israel. This, of course, is also the time to renew and restructure relations between the countries by establishing relations with Joe Biden and his administration and returning to an approach that centers on strengthening bipartisan support for Israel. This should be done through dialogue and rebuilding trust with Democratic Party representatives and supporters, including those from among the majority of American Jews, while maintaining close relations with the Republican Party and its supporters.
American Jews have significantly helped, and continue to help, establish relations between the two countries and their two societies while they are influenced by these relationships at the same time. Operation “Guardian of the Walls” was the first significant and successful test for relations between the Biden administration and Israel.* The administration demonstrated its unequivocal support for Israel to defend its citizens. However, it did this under heavy constraints and pressure at home, primarily from the progressive circles that are growing stronger in the Democratic Party. As a result, an absolute majority of American Jews supported Israel during the operation, but also found themselves under a surprisingly powerful attack by opponents and critics of Israel whose influence in politics and among the American public is more significant than in the past.
Israel-U.S. relations face additional tests down the road, for example, with regard to the Iranian nuclear arena, where the two countries share a joint strategic goal of keeping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, yet are divided on how to achieve this. In any case, the key to withstanding the various tests is to strengthen relations, and to pursue discrete discourse and coordination between the countries, with American Jews in the middle. Therefore, one of the most important missions facing the new Israeli government is to direct its attention and appropriate resources to restoring trust and shared values with the Democratic Party and significantly change the direction of relations with American Jews. The new government will also get help from newly elected President Isaac Herzog, who comes to his position after years of advancing Israel’s relations with the diaspora as chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel.
The new leadership in Israel must work according to three guiding principles:
First, it must make the issue of global Jewry, led by American Jews, an additional consideration in the context of policy development and decision-making on select, core issues by establishing a qualified, professional staff and setting up updated and appropriate systems of discourse with global Jewry.
Second, it must make the issue of Israel’s relations with the diaspora a high-priority national mission by developing appropriate education programs, promoting initiatives for meeting and dialogue between Israelis and Jews from throughout the world, and developing joint activities between them.
Third, Israel must show concern, be attentive and very much involved in the various challenges Jewish communities face globally, specifically in relation to the challenge of continuity, which is at the center of developing Jewish identity, relevance, communal strength and connection to Israel. This concern must also address security challenges facing Jews globally, the leading challenges being the struggle against antisemitism and the delegitimization of Israel.
*Editor’s note: Operation Guardian of the Walls refers to an 11-day campaign last May by the Israeli Defense Force in Gaza pertaining to violence between Hamas and Israel.