Geographical Circumstances Reason for Divide Between U.S. Jewry and Israelis

Yossi Cohen Halevi

The growing divide between American Jews and the State of Israel is a challenge to be tackled on both sides of the ocean by defining common goals, according to Middle East expert Yossi Klein Halevi.

“One of the main problems we face in our relationship between Israelis and American Jews is that our two communities have diametrically opposing challenges and goals,” Halevi, a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, explained during a conversation held a Columbia University last Thursday. “The goal of Israelis in the Middle East is to survive in one of the world’s most brutal and inhospitable regions. The goal of American Jews is to find their place as Jews in the most hospitable atmosphere that Jews have ever had and that leads to very different strategies. Our (Israelis) strategy is to be as tough as possible and your strategy is to be as quiet and pleasant as possible.”

“The question we face is whether our geographical circumstances are going to define the essence of what kind of Jewish community we are. Is Israel going to be a brutal society? Are we going to take up the brutality around us? And the question for American Jews is whether the naivete of America is going to define an American Jewish politics of culture? And there are signs of this coming through as we’ve seen with the Iran deal, and the blind support that a majority of American Jews has given to this president,” Halevi asserted. “And that risks some worrisome trends. If we become defined by brutality from one hand and naivete on the other, then we have no common language.”

Halevi spoke to over 100 students at a discussion over the recent wave of terror, the future of Israeli democracy and the relationship between Israelis and U.S. Jewry at Columbia University. Jordan Hirsch, visiting fellow at the Institute for Israel and Jewish studies, was the moderator.

During the hourlong event, Halevi related to the present security situation in Israel as the “intifada of lies.” He blamed the “Al-Aqsa is in danger” rallying call on the “destructive” role of the Arab-Israeli political leadership, who’re acting “in a way of treason.” But he also put the blame on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “who played an enormous destructive role” during the March Knesset election by creating a further gap between the Arab minority and the Israeli-Jewish majority.”Israel will never be a just society if the minority doesn’t feel part of the mainstream society, ” Halevi stressed.

Describing the situation in Israel, Halevi said, the reason Israelis are reacting in a hysterical and unease manner in this round of violence is the intimacy – terrorism of neighbors. “The intimacy of this terrorism – a teenager crossing the street and stabbing his neighbors – creates not only fear but rage, precisely because it is so personal.

Halevi also addressed the danger of the Religious Zionist community’s campaign for Israeli presence on the Temple Mount as playing with fire, which might not have been the cause of the recent wave of violence but pretense.


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