Monday, January 24th | 22 Shevat 5782

May 23, 2019 6:51 am

Jewish Diversity Is Cherished, But American Jews and Israelis Must Respect Each Other

avatar by Martin Oliner


A general view shows thousands of Jewish worshippers attending the priestly blessing on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City September 26, 2018. Photo: REUTERS/Ammar Awad.

Every year around the time of Israel’s Independence Day, the Pew Research Center conducts a survey that reveals good news for Israel.

The annual survey asks Americans what they think about the people of Israel. As in years past, this year’s poll of 10,523 American adults had very positive results.

Sixty-four percent of Americans view the Israeli people favorably, and only 28 percent view them unfavorably. This would be a cause for celebration were it not for the survey’s follow-up question about the Israeli government.

With that question, the positive views go down from 64 percent to 41 percent, and the negative goes up from 28 percent to 51 percent. More than half of Americans have a negative opinion of the government that the people of Israel chose in the April 9 election.

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These numbers have caused alarm among some Jewish organizations in America. They have turned to Israelis and warned them to stop making choices that turn off Americans in general and young, “progressive” US Jews in particular.

However well-meaning, it is time for those alarm bells to stop.

As in any democracy, the people of Israel have a right to be governed by whomever they choose. They have repeatedly elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Right, and it is not the place of people who do not live among Israelis to scold them.

Israelis have endured conventional warfare, hijackings, kidnappings, suicide bombings, shootings, stabbings, rockets, mortars, terror tunnels, and now incendiary kites and balloons. After all that, no one can blame them for not expecting white doves to be the next thing they see flying through the air.

The prospects for peace with the Palestinians have never been less of a priority than when Israelis went to vote. The politicians did not even talk about the issue, and journalists did not ask them about it.

It might be a top priority among left-wing American Jews in New York and California, but they have no right to impose their interests on the people of Israel in Sderot and Kiryat Shmona.

Those same left-wing American Jews care about the Western Wall deal, the advancement of non-Orthodox streams in Israel, the Women of the Wall, and the increased power of the haredim (ultra-Orthodox).

That is not what Israelis care about, and that is not a problem.

Israelis care about their security, about housing, about making ends meet, and about the makeup of their society. They can vote for whatever party they believe will best alleviate their concerns.

The overwhelming majority of Israelis who are not Orthodox do not define themselves as secular, and very few of them align with one of the American non-Orthodox streams. They define themselves as traditional and are very respectful of their Jewish traditions, whatever their current level of religious observance.

While Israelis are moving more to the Right, non-Orthodox American Jews vote more to the Left. That is also not a problem. American Jews across the political and religious spectra have a right to their opinions, and to vote for whichever candidates they choose.

It is only natural that people living in different places with different concerns will move in different directions. This bifurcation is healthy, not problematic.

The problems begin when Jews on one side of the Atlantic try to dictate to Jews on the other side what to think, how to feel and who to cast their ballots for.

They have a right to worry about each other. After all, that is what we Jews do. As the Talmud states, Kol Yisrael arevim ze lazeh, “All Jews are responsible for one another.”

But neither side should try to take the upper hand over the other. Instead, both sides should embrace the other in their arms, despite their many differences.

Martin Oliner is co-president of the Religious Zionists of America, chairman of the Center for Righteousness and Integrity, and a committee of the Jewish Agency. He can be reached at [email protected]

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