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August 16, 2018 7:55 am

Ron Lauder’s New York Times Op-Ed Misrepresents World Jewry

avatar by Gabriel Groisman

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The Western Wall and Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Ronald Lauder saw it fit to publish an opinion piece in The New York Times about what he believes is wrong with Israel today, and how he believes Diaspora Jewry is being affected by what amounts to internal Israeli policy decisions. Lauder’s position, however, is stale, irrelevant, and not reflective of today’s reality.

Despite his position as head of the World Jewish Congress, Lauder’s opinion reflects — at best — that of the old American Jewish guard. In my view, modern Jews of the Diaspora, under the age of 40, for the most part do not agree with his positions. Instead, Diaspora Jewry is either entirely disconnected, apathetic, or anti-Israel and Judaism on the one hand; or highly-connected, motivated, energized, and full of love and respect for Judaism and the modern-day Zionist movement on the other. The future of Diaspora Jewry lies with the latter category.

Jews of the Diaspora do not need a further watered-down Judaism. This was the theory of Reform Judaism: make it easier to follow Jewish laws by changing all the “hard” ones and Jewish life would flourish. The proof is in the pudding. Modern Orthodox, Chabad, and Conservative synagogues and communities are thriving, while the Reform Judaism that was once seen as “the future” is almost nowhere to be found.

Lauder goes through a laundry list of excuses as to why he sees Diaspora Jewry growing disconnected from Israel. This is, however, simply a list of excuses — not reasons.

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For instance, Lauder’s claims that the failed expansion of the “egalitarian section” of the Western Wall is damaging US Jews’ connection with Israel is nonsense. An open and mixed section of the Western Wall already exists. The Jews of the Diaspora largely don’t care if that section is expanded or not.

Next, Lauder attacks Israel’s Nation-State Law. I’m starting to believe that no one who comments on it ever took the time to read it. I urge you to. The Nation-State Law basically reiterates Israel’s Declaration of Independence. It does nothing to diminish anyone’s rights. It is a political response to those who want to change the nature of the State of Israel as the Jewish homeland.

Israel already has laws on the books about equal rights. This law is not Israel’s constitution: Israel doesn’t have one. This is only one piece of the puzzle. Israel’s Declaration of Independence already states that Israel shall “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions.”

Should the Nation-State Law have included this as well? In retrospect, probably. But, does the passage of this law — which takes away no one’s rights, but reaffirms Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people — do anything to negatively impact Diaspora Jewry’s connection with Israel? The only intellectually honest response is no.

Jews who proclaim to now suddenly question their connection to the State of Israel or their religion as a result of either of these supposed issues, or any of those that Lauder lists, are simply looking for excuses to disconnect. They already form part of the large number of American Jews who don’t care about Israel or Judaism. They may have been the Zionist movement that Lauder knew decades ago, but it is not what makes up the Zionist movement today.

The idea that Israel and the Jewish people need to dilute who we are and what we are to conform to the winds of change is misguided and simply wrong. Our people have outlasted all empires, cultures, and eras. Our North Star remains the same and must continue to do so.

Fortunately, Lauder’s opinion does not reflect that of today’s world Jewry. The number of Jews who love and support Israel, the Jewish people, the Jewish religion, and Jewish traditions continues to grow every day. Jewish leadership needs to focus on giving world Jewry something positive, strong, and everlasting to stand behind. Rather than writing op-eds criticizing Israel, let’s focus our energies on showing disconnected and apathetic Jews all the reasons why they should stand tall, proud, and unified behind our homeland.

Gabe Groisman is the mayor of Bal Harbour, Florida and an attorney at Groisman Law, PLLC.

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