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Today I want to share with you a recent op-ed I wrote for Haaretz on the relationship between Israel and American Jewry—a topic of special interest to me and the Ruderman Family Foundation. I believe it’s particularly critical not to take this relationship for granted as we move toward elections later this month in Israel. As in any good relationship, we would only benefit from listening more and assuming less.
The U.S. Isn’t in Our Pocket, Haaretz, December 30, 2012
By Jay Ruderman
Over the years, we’ve grown accustomed to seeing our longtime best friend, the world’s greatest superpower, support Israel to the tune of billions of dollars every year via aid funds that are used to buy sophisticated planes and weaponry and finance important defense projects. Just recently, we discovered how critical America’s support was in developing the Iron Dome antimissile system and acquiring additional batteries, which are needed to provide a defensive envelope covering the entire State of Israel.
There are some who take this money for granted, acting as if it were given to us automatically. But that isn’t the case. American Jews are the most important players in the battle for Israel’s security. Yet their support for us isn’t as assured as it was in the past.
Let me explain to you how things really work, far from the media and the public: Members of Congress and candidates running for Congress are obliged to raise enormous sums of money in order to get elected. The people who raise this money for them have the ability to influence the candidates on issues dear to their hearts.
American Jews work together to raise substantial amounts of money for Congressional candidates whom they believe will support Israel. Pro-Israel members of Congress receive broad support from the Jewish community, and this assures Israel of support in Congress.
But the connection between American Jews and Israel has been weakening in recent years. This is one of the greatest threats facing Israel’s security. American Jewry is changing, and those who once felt a supreme commitment to the State of Israel see themselves today as less and less committed to it.
The Reform Movement is one of the most important branches of American Jewry. Last month, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who heads the Union for Reform Judaism, warned that internal disputes in Israel over issues of religion and state are causing American Jews to view Israel as a country that doesn’t reflect their values.
This statement ought to be keeping Israeli leaders awake at night. They must devote serious efforts to strengthening these fraying ties before we reach the point of no return – before it’s too late.
The state’s leaders must learn to view the American Jew from his own perspective. They must understand what significance Israel holds for him and how he connects to it, and even more, what he doesn’t connect to. Anyone who thinks American Jews will continue to work for Israel and contribute large sums of money to it just because it is the state of the Jewish people is making a grave mistake.
Israeli Knesset members don’t understand the complexity of American Jewry, and it’s not certain that those who will enter the Knesset after the upcoming election know or understand what Israel’s situation is with American Jews. The foundation I head, working in conjunction with Brandeis University, brought two delegations of Knesset members from various parties to the United States to expand their knowledge of the American Jewish community. We were stunned to discover just how vital and necessary this was.
If Knesset members aren’t wise enough to understand the changes taking place within American Jewry and in its connection to Israel, and if they don’t learn how to strengthen this connection, we will lose one of the most important factors ensuring Israel’s security – our common future, and our unconditional mutual solidarity.
Imagine for yourselves where we would be without it, if, heaven forbid, we should ever reach such a state.
The author is president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which works to strengthen the connection between Israel and American Jewry.