Presidential Conference: Expectations, Hopes and Dreams from World Jewry to Israel

Sunday, June 24, 2012 10:57 AM

Has the time come to exchange roles and listen to what world Jewry expects from Israel, with regard to its conduct and the way it supports Jewish communities in the diaspora?


Photo: Yoav Devir

For years, we have gotten used to the question—what does Israel expect from world Jewry? Many of the Jewish people in the diaspora have avoided voicing an opinion about what transpires in Israel, and only a few of the people in Israel have bothered paying attention to the feelings of Jewish people in the world. Has the time come to exchange roles and listen to what world Jewry expects from Israel, with regard to its conduct, the way it upholds its Jewish identity, they way it supports Jewish communities in the diaspora, the extent to which it listens to its brothers overseas?
It appears that the members of the panel all agreed about one thing. They all had an uneasy feeling about the way the question was presented. They did not want to speak about what is expected from Israel but about their connection to Israel, the dreams and hopes they have for Israel.
Abe Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) defined it like this. “Expectations indicate an equivalent situation. We are living comfortably in the USA, while the citizens of Israel are positioned on the frontlines. In all that pertains to the security of Israel and the peace process, I do not feel entitled to have expectations.”
As far as internal social issues in Israel, Foxman has more of a feeling of participation. “It is important for us to share the values of equality and tolerance that we believe in with Israelis. My hope is that Israel will be a model of Jewish and humanitarian values.”
He did allow himself to clearly express his expectations of Israel on two issues, “to keep its gates open to any Jew and to oppose anti-Semitism.”
The panel was chaired by journalist Shmuel Rosner, who opened the session  by presenting data from a survey taken in Israel, according to which 89% of the Jews in Israel expect world Jewry to visit Israel, 70% expect them to contribute money to Israel, and 69% expect them to immigrate to Israel.

Photo: Yoav Devir

Associate professor of journalism and political science at City University of New York Peter Beinart said that Jews in the diaspora have a right to have an opinion about issues in Israel but not to expect Israel to make its decisions in view of the positions or interests of Jews in the diaspora.
“The question is not what we expect from Israel, but what we think of it,” said Beinart. “The feeling is that the Zionist consensus is waning among the Jews of the USA, especially among the younger generation. This is not a result of what Israel is doing but of our failure to educate the young people to preserve their affiliation with Judaism and their connection to Israel.”
American journalist Alana Newhouse said that there is no consensus among the Jews of the diaspora. “We are creating a feeling of emergency that does not exist in reality. We are thus avoiding the real problems that we are facing.”
Pierre Besnainou, President of the Unified Jewish Social Fund (FSJU), recalled the murderous terror attack in Toulouse, which stunned Jews all over the world. “Jews in Europe are facing a difficult period. Our task is to promote education and encourage solidarity.”
As for making aliya and moving to Israel, Besnainou said, “Immigration to Israel of all diaspora Jewry is a Zionist dream, but our aim at present is to make it possible for Jews to live wherever they are. We can live outside of Israel, but we cannot live without Israel. We need Israel as a Jewish and Democratic state.”
“I hope we are not discussing our right to criticize Israel,” announced American writer and editor Leon Wieseltier as the discussion began. “Criticism derives, for the most part, from friendship,” he said, “and I expect Israel to pursue justice, just as I expect it from every Jew and from other countries in the world.”
Regarding the identity of American Jews, Wieseltier said, “We are responsible for forming our own identity. We cannot expect Israel to save us.”