Israel’s Diaspora Minister Warns: If We Lose U.S. Jews, We’ll Lose America

Nachman Shai says he briefed cabinet on the dangers of losing bipartisan support for Israel, implicitly criticizes Netanyahu's prioritization of evangelicals

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
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IfNotNow demonstration protesting Trump's embassy move to Jerusalem, in Washington, D.C., in 2018. The subjects of this photo are not connected to this article.
IfNotNow demonstration protesting Trump's embassy move to Jerusalem, in Washington, D.C., in 2018. The subjects of this photo are not connected to this article.Credit: Gili Getz
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON – Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai has warned that Israel risks losing bipartisan political support in the U.S. if it does not properly invest in its ties with the Jewish American community.

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“The other day, I briefed the cabinet and said: ‘If we see more of the radical left and progressive liberal Jews continuing to support BDS and Black Lives Matter, and similar to the Palestinians they relate to Israel as a genocide state or an apartheid state, we may lose America,’” Shai told the American Jewish Committee’s “People of the Pod” podcast. “The bridge to the Democratic Party and the Republican Party goes through the American Jewish community, and that’s the only bridge I believe in.”

The progressive wing of the Democratic Party has been increasingly critical of Israel, calling for probes into whether Israel violated U.S. law, accusing it of apartheid and violations of basic human rights, and attempting to block a sale of precision-guided missiles to Israel.

Meanwhile, a survey released last month by the Jewish Electorate Institute, a group led by prominent Jewish Democrats, found that 34 percent of U.S. Jewish voters agreed that “Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is similar to racism in the United States,” 25 percent agreed that “Israel is an apartheid state” and 22 percent agreed that “Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians.” The poll found that 9 percent of voters agreed with the statement “Israel doesn’t have a right to exist.” Among voters under 40, that proportion was 20 percent.

Shai noted that while American Jews “may be very critical of what’s going on in Israel — I also have a lot of criticism — it doesn’t matter. We should share the same values, we should believe in the same things, we should get together and help each other for a common future.”

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai at the Knesset, June.Credit: Amit Shabi

He said he had brought up the U.S.-Israel memorandum of understanding on military aid, slated to expire in 2026, to his colleagues as one reason to prioritize improved relations between Israel and the U.S. Jewish community. “I don’t want to hear those voices coming from the Democratic Party’s sidelines of refusing to sell arms to Israel, or to support us internationally,” Shai said, stressing the need to have bipartisan political allies.

Shai said he would be successful in his role concerning the U.S. if Israel is “able to maintain bipartisan support for Israel, if any future president — whoever he or she is going to be — will share Israel’s values and interests. And that means investment. It doesn’t go without huge investment in the political arena.”

He also implicitly criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, alluding to his prioritization of ties to the evangelical Christian community over the U.S. Jewish community. “There were ideas to rely on other groups in America today,” he said. “You know exactly who I mean. No, I believe only in you and I have to make sure that hundreds of thousands of you will stay with us.”

Shai is a former Labor Party and Kadima lawmaker who once ran the Jewish Federations of North America office in Israel. Much of his committee work in the Knesset was focused on improving Israel’s ties with Jewish communities around the world, especially those in North America. Shai resigned from the Knesset two years ago and has spent the interim period teaching courses on Israel at several universities in the United States.

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