Israeli President: Time for New Alliance Between Israel and U.S. Jewry

Following comments by Israel's top diplomat on American Jews, Reuven Rivlin says the agreement that was formed between the two sides 70 years ago needs to be reexamined

President Reuven Rivlin speaks at his residence in Jerusalem, November 22, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

President Reuven Rivlin commented about relations between Israel and American Jews on Thursday, following Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely's disparaging words about the latter. In his speech, Rivlin said that tensions between Israel and U.S. Jewry are high and that a new alliance between the two sides was in order.

Hotovely attacked U.S. Jews in an interview with i24 News on Wednesday, blaming the growing rift between the American Jewish community and Israel on the former's "convenient lives," and criticized them for not serving their country in the military. She also said that American Jews were using the Western Wall crisis for political gain.

Rivlin discussed the agreement decided on by David Ben Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, and American Jewish leader Jacob Blaustein, which emphasized that American Jews were primarily U.S. citizens whose loyalty lay with that country, and that Israel represented only its own citizens. Furthermore, Israel did not expect American Jews to immigrate and neither side would interfere in political decisions taken by the other.

For almost seventy years, this agreement formed the basis for understandings between Israel and Diaspora Jews, serving as a bridge upon which strong and lasting relations between Israel and the largest Jewish community were built, said Rivlin. He noted that he had just returned from a visit to the U.S., where he witnessed the great love American Jews have for Israel, and said that this agreement may need to be reexamined.

“I also saw great concern and pain over the weakening of the bridges connecting them to Israel," he said. "I clarified to them that they have to respect Israel’s democracy and its people’s word. To us, I say that this is a moment of reckoning for both communities. American Jews are less traditional than they used to be but still very involved, with a very strong independent identity. Due to changes that have taken place, it is time to renew the alliance and find a common language before it’s too late.” He added that American Jews yearn for ties with Israel, but as equals, not basing their relationship on philanthropy on one hand or on blind admiration on the other.

Israeli society, he said, is also in a different place vis-à-vis American Jews than in past years – Israel is prosperous, has a strong economy and serves as a model of initiative and technological innovation. “Therefore, we must set out on a new path," he said. "No more relations based on charity, but a joint commitment to justice, mutual Jewish and human responsibility. No more silencing of mutual criticism, but courageous openness and honesty. No more idealization, but sincere partnership based on true familiarity with each other and on agreed-upon institutions for resolving problems, aimed at setting joint policies. This is how we’ll honor the memory of Ben-Gurion and his generation and justify his legacy.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned Hotovely's comments, saying that "Diaspora Jews are dear to us and an inseparable part of our people." Israeli religious and political figures with close ties to the progressive Jewish community called for her to be fired for her remarks.