A Call to GA Participants
First, permit me to open this column by expressing my distress that for the first time, the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) are holding their General Assembly (GA) in Tel Aviv rather than Jerusalem. I doubt this was a coincidence. Israelis are delighted with the US government’s relocation of its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. I hope JFNA’s diversion of the GA from Jerusalem does not reflect an anti-Trump paranoia.
One should assume that the representatives of the Federations are more conscious of their Jewish identity and better informed than the average American Jew. They are surely concerned with the loss of Jewish identity among increasing numbers of young Americans of Jewish ethnic origin who were not even provided with an elementary Jewish education. Lacking any foundation of Jewish identity, many are alienated from Israel and seek to distance themselves from Zionism and the Jewish state.
Some leading American Jews falsely accuse Israel of not supporting them and of conducting an extremist policy in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip. In addition, they accuse Israel of discriminating against non-Orthodox Jews as exemplified by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s retraction of an agreement to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall. One might argue that he should have ignored haredi extortion and dissolved the government. But, rightly or wrongly, he gave precedence to the urgent security issues of the day.
Besides, American Jewish progressives, few of whom visit the Western Wall, would have been nonplussed had their rabbis not whipped up hysteria over the issue.
So, my message to American Jewish leaders is not to blame Israel for your shortcomings and the escalating intermarriage rates.
Take responsibility, prioritize Jewish education, and overcome Jewish illiteracy. That should be your overriding concern and objective. You should also realize that the creation of a Jewish state following the Shoah was supported by all Jews and was a key component in fostering a healthy Jewish identity among the entire Jewish people.
Unfortunately, today this is not the case and I lay the responsibility primarily on Jewish leaders — especially since the election of President Donald Trump. In the past, mainstream Jewish organizations strove to be nonpartisan. But alas, no longer, with the majority of the non-Orthodox strongly opposed to their president. This would not be so bad if they did so as Americans, but to do so as an expression of their supposed Jewish identity, or in their capacity as Jewish leaders, is incomprehensible.
What is utterly outrageous is the attitude displayed by Jews toward Trump’s Israel policies. Trump is your president and as Americans you can hate him or love him. But as Jews you should appreciate what he has done for us by being the first American president to openly ally himself with Israel and avoid moral equivalency by telling the truth about Palestinian duplicity and terror.
He transferred the United States Embassy to Jerusalem, which may mean little to you but overjoyed Israelis. His predecessors promised to do so but always backed out. He merged the Jerusalem consulate with the embassy to ensure that there is one clear message directed toward the Palestinians. He told the Palestinians that he would take punitive steps if they refused to negotiate peace, and closed their Washington mission. He warned them that he would not tolerate hundreds of millions of dollars being paid as an inducement for killers and their families. He exposed the sham of the “5 million” Palestinian refugees and curtailed funds to UNRWA, an organization that perpetuates the refugee problem.
Unlike former President Barack Obama, who appeased the Iranians who have pledged to destroy us, Trump applied sanctions and warned that he would not tolerate Iranian nuclear weapons. For the first time, the United States has spoken up uninhibitedly for Israel at the United Nations and other international bodies. Trump even orchestrated a joint statement with Russian President Vladimir Putin supporting Israel’s security.
That is why Trump has a 69% approval rating in Israel and almost 80% of Israeli Jews approve of his handling of US-Israel relations. As committed members of the American Jewish community, even the liberals among you who clearly dislike Trump (as is your right) should recognize and appreciate what he has done for Israel.
Finally, while you may not like Netanyahu (that, too, is your right), Israelis would undoubtedly re-elect him today. As residents of a country on the other side of the world, you should display respect for the will of the majority of a democratic Jewish state — a beacon of light in a region that has returned to the Dark Ages.
You should respect our security requirements, which are endorsed by the clear majority of the nation. A two-state solution remains the long-term goal, but today that would lead to the emergence of a terrorist state that could become a launching pad for Iran, a country committed to our destruction. This view unites the government and opposition and has the greatest consensus of any issue since the failed Oslo Accords.
Israel is not perfect, and I have frequently penned criticisms of aspects of our policies. You, too, may feel free to criticize us, but you should hesitate before condemning our security policies. It is we and our children — not you — who will live or not with the consequences. And differing on individual policies should not deter you from supporting our one and only Jewish state.
These are your challenges. Give your children a Jewish education and provide them with a Jewish identity. Teach them the history of the Jewish people and explain to them how powerless we were until the establishment of a Jewish state, just 70 years ago.
Isi Leibler is a veteran international Jewish leader with a distinguished record of contributions to the Jewish world and the cause of human rights. The writer’s website can be viewed at wordfromjerusalem.com. He may be contacted at [email protected].