Israel's consul-general in New England, Nadav Tamir, has been is serious hot water over the last few weeks for a memo he authored that criticized the current Netanyahu led government’s confrontational stance towards the Obama administration (see FM fumes over Boston Consul's remarks).
He warned that "The atmosphere of confrontation between the Israeli government and the Obama administration puts the American-Jewish community, which is so important to us, in a difficult position. Many of them are distancing themselves from the State of Israel because of this conflict."
Having spent a fair amount of time recently in the United States, I think sadly Tamir is dead right. It is time Israel and the rest of the Jewish world wakes up to the fragile nature of American Jewish support, particularly among the youth.
In general meeting young American Jews, particularly the non-Orthodox variety, has been a profoundly disturbing experience for me. For many, being Jewish is as significant as being left handed or having brown hair and perhaps eating Gefilte fish. Their knowledge of and connection to the Jewish people, its traditions and culture is pathetic. So often I get the question, “are there really Jews in South Africa”? And this is from tertiary educated people.
They do not feel anti-Semitism and threats to Jewish identify in the same way many other Diaspora Jews do. There are no guards outside synagogues. When one explains that many communities are forced to establish security organizations to protect themselves and their institutions they seem shocked at the thought. This lack of any real anti-Semitism coupled with their poor Jewish identity leads many to question the need for a Jewish state. One person recently put it to me that it would have been far better if all the Jewish refugees that have found safe haven in Israel over the decades had just come to America. When I tried to explain the desire for national self determination and the benefits of being a free people in your own land like having Jewish holidays as national holidays, I got a strange look. If you know how many young Americans Jews go to university on Yom Kippur, you would understand how out of touch my example was.
Support for the Democratic Party, and particularly for Obama, is for many equivalent to Judaism. I sometimes have to pinch myself when people speak of enshrining their Jewish values through their work in pro-choice, anti-gun, pro affirmative action or anti-climate change activism. And if one looks closely at the history of Reform and Conservative Judaism in America this makes a lot of sense. The laws and traditions were quite literally rewritten and recreated to comply with modern Liberal thinking. They owe much more allegiance to these principals than some piece of land thousands of miles away.
Nadav Tamir gets this. I have had the good fortune to hear him speak to a large group of young Jews in Boston and was thoroughly impressed. His message is not the rah rah type of Zionism that we in the rest of the Jewish world may be used to. He understands his audience and connects with them and connects them to Israel through their ‘Jewish values’.
Rather than scold Nadav, the new government in Israel should listen to his warnings. The old style blanket American Jewish support for Israel will not continue indefinitely. As more and more of the next generation take on roles in the Jewish community and the broader American society, Israel will have to change its message and its actions if it wishes to maintain its special relationship with American Jewry. People like Nadav are key to bridging this potential and dangerous divide.