Israel boasts that it is the Jewish Homeland. A home for all Jews. It declares solidarity and inclusion that in reality it fails to deliver. A perfect example of this gap was demonstrated in the cabinet meeting on June 25th 2017. The topic of the meeting was Israel-Diaspora Relations, and Natan Sharansky, the Chairman of the Jewish Agency, was invited in order to emphasize the importance of this relationship. And then, in a shocking move, two blows were dealt to World Jews: the Kotel Agreement was reneged and the recognition of Conversion by Reform rabbis was denied. Wham, Bam! There is the rhetoric and there is reality, and in between them is a gap as wide as the Atlantic that separates us. It’s time we all mind the gap.
While World Jews are extremely interested in and sensitive to Israel, members of the Israeli government often ignores and disrespects them. While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promises equality at the Western Wall in a speech in Washington, he later cowers before the ultra-Orthodox in Jerusalem and reneges on his promise. While Jewish media outlets all over the United States, be it in New York, LA or Oshkosh, Wisconsin, constantly cover Israel, Israeli media does not reciprocate. World Jews are not often mentioned here, and when they are, it’s frequently in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way. A famous such news item involved a Reform rabbi who allowed dogs in the synagogue for a one-time “Bark-Mitzvah.” The rabbi‘s intention was to attract kids to the synagogue, but this story created the urban legend “the Reform Jews marry cats and dogs.”
For “official Israel,” the relationship with World Jews is similar to the relationship one has with an ATM machine. You only need to approach and hit the right buttons, and you get something. But this is not the relationship for which we should aim. Many Jews around the world deal with this dissonance by turning their backs on Israel and saying “when you get your act together, call me.” This is a luxury both sides cannot afford. Israel is the most important Jewish project of our lifetime. Zionism is not a spectator sport. Diaspora Jews must get in the ring. Like me, there are millions of Israelis who are committed to making Israel live up to its own. We are reaching out to you — not as ATMs, but as real partners who share our values and our aspirations.
There’s a way: Instead of inviting Netanyahu to speak, of insisting on a selfie with him as reward, let him face the consequences of his actions in Israel. We have power. We have numbers. Just like the ultra-Orthodox, we too can exert pressure. Let every Jewish organization invite the “Unofficial Israel”: Knesset Members from the opposition, leaders of NGO’s, anyone who’s not a part of “Official Israel.” We can create a new reality; we just have wean ourselves off of selfies with Netanyahu.
Cancelling the Kotel Agreement is Hutzpah. It brought Israel’s government’s complete disregard for World Jewry into the light. Instead of lamenting it, let’s view it as a call to action. The ABCs of crisis management suggest taking responsibility and creating a new normal. This crisis is an opportunity to create a more solid, truthful base for the relationship between Israel and Jews around the world, and an opportunity to demand more reciprocation: the New Normal.