Beyond borders: Bridging the divide between Israel and the Diaspora

by Craig Nudelman

One of the frustrating things about writing a column a couple of weeks in advance is that I can’t actually focus on current affairs since these may be irrelevant by time of publication. As I am writing this, an extremely important global matter has arisen.

The European Championships have taken the global football world by storm. Italy and France are in a commanding position with Portugal, the defending champions, off to a promising start in their group of death. Will we see the Euro ‘come home’ to England, or will the world number 1 team, Belgium, finally get to hold a trophy?

No, I’m just joking. The actual issue I’m alluding to is the election of a new government in Israel, with Netanyahu being ousted from office after 12 years at the helm as Prime Minister. This will, hopefully, change how Israel is seen by the world. But perhaps, more importantly, it will shift people’s views of diaspora Jews.

The recent conflict in Gaza was ugly. While Israelis were being bombed by thousands of rockets (4300 rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza), Jews in the diaspora had to contend with other kinds of attacks. Regardless of where we stand on the political spectrum, we are seen as ambassadors of Israel. Whether one is right or left, or most difficult of all, centrist, there was nowhere to hide during the conflict. Anti-Israel sentiment was everywhere, and this led to an atmosphere where Jews could not share their views on Israel without being criticised.

From London to Washington, Chicago to Cape Town (in Sea Point, nogal), there were protests all over the world. The Cape Town protest was a peaceful protest, as far as protests go. But there were others which were just plain antisemitic, with protesters screaming “**** the Jews!” There were instances of placards displaying swastikas and references to Nazis. A rabbi was hospitalised in Essex after being assaulted, and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) collected 222 reports of antisemitic harassment, vandalism, and violence in the United States.

The recent conflict shows how Jews, not Israelis, are targeted in the diaspora. I believe that Israelis, vis a vis the Israeli government, underestimate (or don’t care) about how Israeli politics affects Jews living outside of Israel. The antisemitic atmosphere around the world was not ever taken into account by the Israeli government. And even though there is an Israeli Minister of Diaspora Affairs, their last post on Facebook (28 May) gave a very parev response to the attacks. This is not the only time we have seen this phenomenon of diaspora Jews being affected by the conflict in Israel and it will not be the last time. Every significant event in Israel affects global Jewry.

Therefore, when Naftali Bennet officially became the Prime Minister of Israel on Sunday 13 June, I was relieved. I don’t necessarily appreciate his stance on many of the core issues that face Israel, including his views on settlements and Palestinians within Israel. However, it is a change. The fact that the coalition is a hodge-podge of political parties across the political spectrum is only a slight concern. I mean, people say “two Jews, three opinions” in jest, imagine what a government with right, left, centrist, and Islamist representatives will be like! Who knows how long the government will last? But this could be just what global Jewry needs.

Jeremy Sharon, writing in The Jerusalem Post, states that there are people within the new government who care deeply about Jews in the diaspora. They understand that global Jewry is diverse, with Jews of all denominations caring about the welfare of Israel. This was largely ignored in the Netanyahu era, where his right-wing, conservative and ultra-Orthodox government passed legislation “banning Reform and Conservative converts from using state-funded mikvaot”, and suspending the egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall. Not only this, but his relationship with Donald Trump soured Israel’s relationship with many progressive Jews around the world.

With a wide variety of ministers from all different backgrounds, the incoming government would seem to be predisposed to having diaspora Jewry’s issues at heart. Hopefully the new government will see the importance of the diaspora and can mend some of the damage that was done over the last 12 years.

That being said, we in the diaspora also have to work at our relationship with Israel. We have to be mindful of the deep rifts in Israeli society that will take time to heal. It is not good enough to blindly criticise each other’s opinions or stay within our own echo-chambers. We need to create a space to engage with Israeli issues in a meaningful and educated way. We have to be uncomfortable to fully grasp what everyone says, even if it won’t change our opinions.

Israel affects how Jews in the diaspora engage with one another, and how others engage with Jews. In an ideal world we would communicate constructively and talk about these issues with open minds at our Shabbes tables. Will there ever be a situation where we don’t see trolling on social media? Probably not. But we can try to stop being so emotive and feeding the flames within this toxic environment.

18 July is Tisha B’Av, a day of Jewish mourning, where we commemorate the saddest day in Jewish history. Hopefully, we can see how these tragic events have baseless hatred at their core, and learn to communicate with each other as respectfully as possible. Let’s step away from hatred and step towards changing the narrative, both in Israel and the global diaspora.

• Published in the PDF edition of the July 2021 issue.

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