BALTIMORE—Despite being in the midst of a “golden age,” global Jewry is tasked with overcoming divisiveness stemming from Israel being seen “as an issue, as a society either to be idealized, demonized, or ignored” rather than “a real country,” Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren told the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) General Assembly on Tuesday.
Oren—who said he has “the best job in the world”—explained that the American and Israeli Jewish communities should be asking themselves not how they can coexist, but instead how they can “co-flourish.”
Israel’s battle for survival is not only being waged militarily, but also in college campuses, the media and supermarkets where Israeli products are boycotted, the diplomat said. He said that instead of tanks Israel can see, the Jewish state is faced with an Iranian nuclear program it cannot see. Regarding the Arab-Israeli peace process, Oren said even moderate Palestinian Arab leaders glorify terrorists, deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem, and attempt to unilaterally establish a state.
Given what Israel is facing, Oren said that when some Americans are critical of Israel, he is “startled sometimes when the criticism is ill informed”—for example, when that criticism ignores Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s endorsement of a two-state solution. The ambassador lamented that he once had to speak with an incoming class of rabbinical students who were opposed to spending a year studying abroad in Israel.
In terms of how polarized American Jewry is politically, Oren recalled the time he once I tried to arrange a meeting between American Jewish Republican activists and American Jewish Democratic activists.
“Once, I tried,” he said. “Never again.”
Oren said that before criticizing each other, American and Israeli Jews “must pause to clarify.” He said, “To succeed we must reexamine some of our most basic assumptions.” Israelis should acknowledge the American-Jewish experience as a source of enrichment for Israeli Jewry, while American Jews should respect Israel as a polity of human beings who must make life-and-death decisions and bear the consequence of those decisions, according to the ambassador.
“The future of the Jewish people is ours alone to forge,” Oren said.