Many American Jews do not feel as connected to Israel as they once did, or as Jews living in many other parts of the world do.
Israel is far away, perceived as scary, and speaks a language–Hebrew–which is, sadly, Greek to most American Jews. Despite the important work of programs such as Birthright Israel, our historic homeland seems to be drifting ever further toward the twin perils of irrelevance and nostalgia.
There is, of course, one additional factor to this trend, and that is the common portrayal over the past 15 years in particular of Israel as a bully, an occupier, and oppressor of the Palestinian people and perhaps its own Arab population as well. This portrayal is rooted far more in anti-Israel and anti-Jewish bias than in fact, and yet there are facts and policies and decisions that many American Jews legitimately find disturbing.
Perhaps this phenomenon is exacerbated because so many American Jews were raised with a picture of an Israel that has done and can do no wrong. The relentlessly pro-Israel position of nearly all mainstream American-Jewish institutions threatened to whitewash Israel’s actions. And it has created cognitive dissonance for many of the younger generation by describing a country and society that sounded very different from the articles they read in the media and the pictures they saw on the Internet.
And there’s a reason for that. Guess what? Israel isn’t perfect.
The American Jewish community needs to come to grips with this fact, instead of insisting on the usual idealized, black-and-white version that was long since rendered obsolete by the disturbing technicolor images that fill our TV and computer screens. The sooner we can recognize these facts, the sooner we can raise a generation of American Jews who love Israel and are committed to Israel in a way that honestly assesses and recognizes Israel’s shortcomings, rather than creating a more fragile and vulnerable commitment based on myopia.
Israel is our historic homeland, the place where our people and our religion were born. It is still the place where Jews most connect to our heritage and can most fully live in the Jewish civilization.
These points cannot be made and articulated enough. Yet we must do so in a way that honors both the imperfect reality of Israel and the integrity of Jewish life in the Diaspora, in a way that doesn’t ring false to those who hear us. Then we can hope to build a solid foundation of love and support for Israel that is organic because it genuinely reflects the experience of American Jews.