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Israelis to U.S. Jews: Stay Out of Peace Process

Poll reveals Israelis don’t want leaders considering American Jews’ positions

Romy Zipken
June 21, 2013
Israel's separation barrier.(AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images)
Israel's separation barrier.(AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images)

A new poll reveals that Israelis would prefer American Jews mind their own business. In the Jerusalem Post, Lahav Harkov reports:

Of the Israelis polled, 31.9 percent think Israeli leaders should not take into account the positions of American Jews on the peace process at all, and 33.6 percent said U.S, Jewry’s views should be considered to a small extent. Only 21.6 percent called for those views to be taken into account to a great extent, and 9.4 to a very great extent.

At the same time, however, 66.3 percent of Israelis think American Jews have a “somewhat or positive” influence on Israel’s national security. American Jews can rally behind laws that promote Israel’s safety, but when it comes to matters of policy, it seems that some of those polled would rather not hear from them at all.

A poll is just a poll. It’s never been a hard and fast characterization of anything, let alone of every Israeli’s feelings toward Jews in the United States. But it’s still interesting to consider—and if Israelis actually don’t want us involved, we’re acting a lot like the ex who doesn’t realize they’ve been dumped. A study by Brandeis University looked into how much money Diaspora Jews actually give to Israel:

For the peak year of 2007, we tabulated $2.059 billion in donations contributed to causes in Israel through American Jewish organizations and foundations.

And, in additional to donations given, volunteers regularly travel to Israel to participate in medical aid programs like Magen David Adom, which depends on support from the American Friends of Magen David Adom. Taglit-Birthright, co-founded by Diaspora Jews Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt, has sent 340,000 Jews from around the world to Israel, with over $500 million spent on trips.

Even though millions of Jews do not live in Israel, many—often it feels like most—have something to say about the country’s policies. While the Jewish State is the Jewish State, it’s easy to see why that might be annoying for Israeli citizens. It’s like when your sibling from out of town comes to visit and immediately points out all the things you’re doing wrong. Yes, that’s frustrating. But your sibling has a vested interest in you. She loves you, she cares about you, and she thinks about your well being more often than you may realize. American Jews, and Jews all over the world, have a similar relationship with Israel. A recent op-ed in the Times of Israel laments this hardship—wanting to be a part of Israel, but, for various reasons, not being able to. American Jews might not share soil with Israeli Jews, but they certainly share a common interest.

So when Israel’s Economic Minister Naftali Bennett shot down the viability of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine earlier this week, calling it “hopeless,” the American Jewish Committee had a thing or two to say:

“Bennett contravenes the outlook of Prime Minister Netanyahu and contradicts the vision presented earlier this month to the AJC Global Forum by Minister Tzipi Livni, chief Israeli negotiator with the Palestinians,” Harris said. “Livni stated clearly that a negotiated two-state settlement is the only way to assure that the State of Israel will remain both Jewish and democratic. That is a view we at AJC have long supported.

In an email, AJC Executive Director David Harris told me he wasn’t surprised by the poll results. While American Jewish support is imperative to Israel’s well-being, he explained, that doesn’t translate into “involvement on life-and-death issues in the decision-making structure of a sovereign, democratic country.”

“We are not Israeli citizens, though we have the choice to move to Israel tomorrow and become fully involved in the country’s life, including serving in the military, paying taxes, voting in elections, and raising our children,” Harris continued. “We have to recognize these fundamental differences in the reality of Israelis and American Jews.

At the same time, given our profound engagement with Israel, and with Israel-related issues in Washington and scores of capitals around the world, we have an outlook on pressing issues that needs to be shared and, at times — yes, with appropriate sensitivity — aired.”

Still, to us, Israel is ours too—even if we don’t live there. With care comes interest, which can show itself in frustrating ways. Just like with family, we worry because we care.

Romy Zipken is a writer and editor at Jewcy. Her Twitter feed is @RomyZipken.