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Today I write to share with you my recent op-ed in The Jerusalem Post.
Do you think Knesset members fully appreciate the importance of understanding the diverse perspectives of American Jews on Israel? If not, why not?
New MKs – the importance of your American cousins
By JAY RUDERMAN
The Jerusalem Post , 1/28/2013
As the American Jewish community’s connection to Israel evolves and changes, the people who will be our future leaders must understand these changes because Israel continues to rely on this most important community for our security.
The votes have been counted.
It appears that almost half the members of our new Knesset will be serving in the Knesset for the first time, and that there will be several new ministers in Israel’s next government. The faces of Israel’s elected officials are changing, and with that comes the prospect – and hope – that there will be broader understanding on the Israeli government’s part of the American Jewish community’s role in ensuring Israel’s security.
Much of the recent election campaign was focused on the significant social problems facing Israel.
Both new and returning MKs may confidently assume that the United States will continue to send Israel $3 billion every year in military aid.
Trends in the United States, however, lead to real concern about potential challenges to American support for Israel. Moreover, Knesset members – both new and returning – tend take the support of the American Jewish community for granted and do not fully understand the vital role this community plays in ensuring the US government’s continued support for Israel.
Many MKs both travel to the United States and meet American Jews visiting Israel, but the discussion is always a one-way conversation focused on Israel’s external threats and internal challenges.
Very rarely are Israel’s leaders presented with an opportunity to learn about the nature and concerns of the American Jewish community and how its connection to Israel is evolving.
DURING THE previous Knesset, Israel’s current homeland security minister, Avi Dichter, along with 10 other MKs from five different parties, visited the US as part of our Ruderman Family Foundation’s Ruderman Fellows Program. Minister Dichter remarked that, “After all of my years representing the State of Israel in key positions, this is the first time that I was truly exposed to the richness and complexity of American Jewry, its organizations, leaders and [the] challenges facing the community.”
He was shocked to find out that there is a debate in the US on the size of the Jewish population, with one organization claiming there are 5 million Jews and another stating the number is 6.2 million – a 25 percent difference.
There will be challenges to the US-Israel relationship in the near future. United States Senator Rand Paul, who recently visited Israel and has been talked about as a presidential candidate in 2016, advocates for a reduction in American foreign aid. While Senator Paul would like to see all foreign aid reduced, this action would have an outsized effect on Israel, which receives so much aid in relation to other countries.
In addition, Senator Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s new nominee for secretary of defense, has in the past been critical of the role of the “Jewish lobby.”
President Obama’s second-term team and Israel’s new administration may see Israel’s challenges very differently and these differing world views may be the cause for new stresses in the vital relationship between the United States and Israel. It seems clear that Israel will face challenges in the US political system, and must be prepared to deal with these challenges.
WHAT OUR new MKs need to understand is that America’s military aid to Israel, the $3b. that has been provided year after year, cannot be taken for granted and that the best way to ensure that this vital aid continues is through the political work of the American Jewish community. Despite senators Paul and Hagel, the vast majority of Members of Congress are strongly supportive of Israel and foreign aid.
These strong supporters of Israel in Congress have been educated and supported by the American Jewish community.
The Knesset must internalize the vital role that the American Jewish community plays in ensuring Israel’s security and spend time understanding how this important community connects to Israel.
Knesset members must understand how the assimilation of the American Jewish community will impact Israel and what they can do to speak to and strengthen Israel’s ties to this growing part of the Jewish community in the United States.
They also need to understand how American Reform, Conservative and even modern Orthodox Jewish communities relate to Israel and understand that when Israel decides issues such as “who is a Jew” it impacts these important relationships.
American Jews and their Israeli counterparts differ in many ways and live in different realities, but the two communities are interconnected and interdependent, and this cannot be overlooked.
As the American Jewish community’s connection to Israel evolves and changes, the people who will be our future leaders must understand these changes because Israel continues to rely on this most important community for our security. We need our American Jewish cousins because we cannot face our future challenges alone.
The writer is the president of the Ruderman Family Foundation.
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