The country that had no trouble absorbing billions of dollars from Diaspora Jews does not see fit to devote even a single hour of class time to teach its citizens about the existence of those Jews and the problems troubling them.
Members of the American Jewish Committee, who identify with Israel and care about its welfare, were astounded and offended to the depths of their souls this week when they heard author A.B. Yehoshua say he feels no sense of identification with them and their fate. Yehoshua's "I have no brother" speech is doubtless harsh-sounding and infuriating to anyone for whom belonging to the Jewish collective means something. But rather than attack Yehoshua, those "good Jews" should direct complaints at themselves, for having done almost nothing to find out how they are perceived by their brethren in Israel.
Had the American Jewish Committee people displayed an interest in the intellectual discourse that has been taking place in Israel for some time, they would have known that Yehoshua's words express a widespread and accepted way of thinking. They would have learned that prominent intellectuals in Israel view relations with them as a harmful anachronism that undermines the efforts of Israeli society to grant its non-Jewish citizens a sense of belonging. They would have discovered that the philosopher Menachem Brinker, for example, thinks the Arabs of Umm al-Fahm and Lod are part of his nation much more so than the Jews of Manhattan or Chicago - the connection with whom, in his eyes, is a thing of the past. They would perhaps have been surprised to know that journalist Yaron London views foreign workers who wish to settle in Israel more worthy than themselves to be considered members of his people, since those migrants, contrary to them, speak his language and share in his destiny.
Israel fulfills a central role, for good or bad, in the Jewish identity of Jews in the United States. Because of this, many of the Jews there mistakenly think the attitude is mutual and that Israelis, too, are interested in them and anxious for their future. According to the report in Haaretz, the commonplace response to Yehoshua's words was to ask, "Does everyone in Israel think this way?" But while the Jewish establishment in the U.S. constantly checks the strength of American Jews' emotional ties to Israel, the ties going the other way have never been seriously checked.
There seems to be no need for an empirical foundation to answer the AJC people's question. Indifference, ignorance and alienation characterize the attitude of the Jewish public in Israel toward the Jews of the U.S. The indifference is reflected, for example, in the minuscule number of Knesset members who bother to participate in the many forums dealing with Diaspora-Israel relations: Yossi Beilin, Natan Sharansky, Colette Avital and Rabbi Michael Melchior.
The ignorance is shown by the fact that pupils in Israeli schools do not learn anything about the existence of Jews in the world today. The country that had no trouble absorbing billions of dollars from Diaspora Jews does not see fit to devote even a single hour of class time to teach its citizens about the existence of those Jews and the problems troubling them. A lone study program, which was initiated by the AJC, aims to change that situation.
As for the alienation, American Jews need not go as far as Israel to grasp the degree of detachment Israelis feel toward them. It is enough for them to ask themselves why the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of Israelis living in the U.S. do not participate in the life of the Jewish community, do not attend its institutions and do not contribute a thing to its existence.
Zionism and Orthodox Judaism alike instilled in the Israeli public ignorance of and alienation from the Jews of the Diaspora, in no small part because of anxiety about the wealthy and attractive alternatives to Jewish existence on offer in foreign fields. On the Israeli left, hostility to Diaspora Jews is growing in tandem with the belief in a state of all its citizens and the more the country's Jewishness is perceived as political incorrectness.
Israelis are not solely to blame for this detachment, but also U.S. Jews themselves. The heads of the American Jewish organizations do almost nothing to alter the perceptions common in the Israeli public. Their leaders who come here several times a year return to their country brimming with delight having heard the prime minister, foreign minister and chair of the Jewish Agency pay lip service in speaking about Israel's obligation to the Jewish people and its future.
The Jews in the U.S. who are worried about the future of ties to Israel should ask themselves what is done with the funds they transfer every year to the Jewish Agency and other bodies in Israel. Why does only a tiny percentage of these find its way into programs that deal with studying the Diaspora or conducting a genuine dialog between Israelis and Jews living overseas. The detachment and alienation between the world's two largest concentrations of Jews may be a fact, but certainly not an inexorable fate.