FORUM "DOUBLE MESSAGE"
By: Gad Nahshon
"To try to undermine the policy of a democratically elected government, to pressure members of Congress is unprecedented in the relationship between Israel and the great, generous prosperous Jewish community in the United States," said Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a victim of the peace process. On October 2, 1995, in his last visit to New York, Rabin advised Jews to stick to Aliyah and absorption as well as fund raising.
Recently, the Israeli government did frustrate many Jews by declaring any support for the idea of transferring U.S.A.'s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to be detrimental to the application of the peace process.
Many Jews hold views antithetical, even antagonistic to official Israeli policy of accrediting Mr. Yasser Arafat. They continue to regard him in a negative manner.
Speaking out at the Conference of Presidents in New York, some Israeli ministers indicated that Israel is not searching for external consultation concerning its security policies. Some have suggested that the American Jews, simply, should not function, also, as a pressure group in the realm of American foreign policy, i.e., dismantling its lobby in Washington, D.C.
In the last decade many Israelis have been critical of Israel's fund raising machine in this country. Those critics have ignored the fact that so many institutions, universities, parties or movements, such as "Peace Now" are channeling dollars to Israel. The Israeli left or "The New Israel Fund" is soliciting money in North America as well as in Israel's Yeshivas. One can see the double message which has radiated from Israel; furthermore, if Jews will not give, America will not give.
To me the above mentioned situation means more and more confrontations, crises and conflicts between Israel and the American Jewish community. Of course, there are many ramifications of relations between Israel and the American super power in the era of "Fax Americana" on the global scene.
The confrontations or "revolts" have always originated in the everlasting communication blocks between the two close sisters, i.e., the image of Jews in America is distorted. Israelis have been victimized by their own wishful thinking, unrealistic expectations and half-truths about American Jewry. This distorted image must be refocused.
American Jews are safely secured in Israel's back pocket, a sort of a puppet whose strings can be pulled at will, according to Israel's needs. It is a "reflection syndrome". Jews are not likely to be perceived as "soldiers" or marionettes and, of course, did express objection to Israeli policies, for example, in October, 1956 against the Kadesh campaign or against an attempt to rewrite the "Law of Return" during Yitzhak Shamir's premiership.
Often Israelis tend to develop a high degree of expectations concerning the capacity of American Jewry (which they view as monolithic) to influence the Congress or the White House. Jews are perceived as a timid Goliath. And that his "boundless Jewish power" ought to be diverted only one way, namely, to serve Israel's vital interests. Israelis tend to de-Americanize and Israelize Jews at the same time. Henry Kissinger, for example, was scolded by Golda Meir for ignoring, as a Jew, the lesson of the Holocaust. Israel lost its centrality inside the American Jewish community for many reasons, and much to her chagrin, the distorted image is still alive and well. It should be noted that often one can read in the Israeli press about the assimilation of the Jews in America.
Although the encounter between Israel and American Jewry is relatively new, the Six Days War syndrome, one should expect to find in Israeli a high degree of knowledge of American subjects. The American-Israeli honeymoon as well as the deep Americanization of the Israeli society should condition a quest for understanding America and its Jewry. But, surprisingly, this subject inspires only marginal interest. Israelis are not impelled to study these subjects in a systematic and scientific way. Israel is still a very European-oriented country. Its political culture is European. The educational system is, also, East-European-oriented. There is a vacuum of knowledge of the American aspects of Diaspora Jewry. The ignorance, also, stems from the lack of research centers and university departments dedicated to American and Jewish American studies. Therefore, it is not easy for Israel or its emissaries to cope with the American dimension. And one should not be surprised to find the existence of so many communication blocks between Israelis and Jews. The Israeli media has "contributed" its share to the creation of the distorted image, reinforcing myths, fallacies and wishful thinking. Furthermore, Israeli television and radio do not provide Israeli viewers or listeners even one program per month with discussion of the Diaspora and American Jewish issues.
Israel should liberate itself from the distorted image of American Jewry. Israel must also adjust its expectations in accordance with realities and its own dynamics. It must develop understanding of the American Jewish struggle for ethnic survival and recognition of its pluralistic nature. Jews should not be pictured as a guilt-ridden group of people, eager to buy Israel's forgiveness through contributions to the U.J.A. Jews should not be conceived of as a monolith. Israel needs professional pragmatic policies, rather than shooting decisions from the hip.
Israelis must stop deluding themselves with wishful thinking. Who does reflect, today, the conviction of the Jewish silent majority? The Jewish establishment? In New York, for example, most Jews are unaffiliated. Even with a plethora of organizations, is the majority willing to support Israel's peace process? Can Israel, indeed, assess the answer? The wishful thinkers would answer positively, but on December 9, 1991, for example, David Harris, the then Executive Vice President of the American Jewish Committee wrote in the New York Times: "Our 1991 study... showed that since the Persian Gulf War, American Jews have hardened their views on the Arab-Israeli conflict to become more, rather than less, hawkish." Israeli's urgent need to liberate itself from the distorted image of American Jewry has manifested, recently, in the Israeli reaction to Yitzhak Rabin's assassination. America was depicted only as a source of extremists, fanatic- religious Jews who made Aliyah in order to destroy the peace process or murder Arabs and Jews alike. And synagogues, suddenly, were described as anti-Israeli institutions in America.
Only by dismantling of the crude ignorance in Israel will we be able to explore the reality and the route to a more balanced approach to Jews in America. We need to build more bridges between the two sister communities. Israel must, also, attune itself to the new dynamics in America developing more sophisticated policies toward Diaspora Jews.
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