The harsh statements by the former Israeli ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, at the recent Am Olam Conference on Jewish identity and leadership, did not surprise me.
After paying lip service to the Jewish community's support for Israel (the only Jew he mentioned in this regard was the late Sheldon Adelson) at the conference in Jerusalem – organized by Makor Rishon, a newspaper identified with the religious Zionist movement – Dermer launched into a paean of praise for evangelical Christians. In short, his message was that Israel should invest more time and resources in fostering its relationship with evangelicals than with Jews.
I wasn’t surprised because I served alongside Dermer as Israel’s general consul in New York and I saw this whole theory – the brainchild of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Dermer – in action. Our embassy in the United States capital has invested most of its energy in the relationship with conservatives, Republicans, evangelicals and a certain type of Jews only. The consulate I headed did its best to balance out the picture by focusing on liberal communities and minorities and mainly by turning to all shades of the Jewish political spectrum except the extreme margins such as Jewish Voice for Peace and Neturei Karta.
Dermer’s remarks regarding evangelicals and Jews reflect a serious moral lapse: not because the enthusiastic support of evangelical Christians for Israel is not welcome or worthy of fostering and appreciation. On the contrary, I was never among those who sought to reject their warm embrace due to baseless reasons having to do with their intentions regarding the End of Days. But what does that have to do with our obligation to maintain ties of brotherhood and belonging to the Jews of the Diaspora?
Dermer’s dangerous confusion of values – due to an attempt to weigh evangelical support against Jewish support – stems from the perception of the relationship between the two parts of the Jewish people as a commercial transaction: Give us money and political support and we’ll give you an affectionate relationship in return. Anyone who sees ties between Israel and the Diaspora in this way misses the main point: the foundational idea of Jewish peoplehood and the main purpose of the Jewish state.
Having a great deal of personal experience in this realm, I can attest that maintaining the relationship with the Jews of the United States is not easy, to put it mildly. It is sometimes possible to lose hope in light of widespread opinions or phenomena among American Jews. Even they also feel that way sometimes, due to our actions or declarations. But the nature of a family relationship is that disputes should not lead to despair, but rather to greater investment in strengthening the ties.
A senior Israeli official once told me that there’s no point in investing in the non-Orthodox Jewish community, because it’s “lost,” it will disappear. I asked my interlocutor to imagine that he’s a brigade commander in the Israeli army, atop a hill with his senior officers, who sees a squad in serious danger in the valley below. “Would you go back to the base with your officers, or storm the valley with everything you’ve got?" The moral of the story is clear. His answer – less so.
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If Jewish history books in another 100 years will say, perish the thought, that in the 21st century the Jewish people split into two unconnected tribes, or worse, that one of the tribes disappears – that would be a tragedy, and it will have been our responsibility. Not because our actions or inactions are greater than those of Jews overseas, but because in this relationship we, the State of Israel, have the role of patriarch of the family or of elder brother.
That is why Ambassador Dermer’s remarks are so serious and dangerous. They express a disastrous policy for anything having to do with the future of the Jewish people.