Throughout most of its existence, Israel has maintained a classic give-and-take relationship with American Jewry, based on complete reciprocity. Israel is the center of the world for many U.S. Jews, while Israelis are hardly aware of their existence. They worship the ground we walk on, while we mock their Diaspora ways. They’ve given billions to building Israel but we make fun of the little signs in which the names of donors are etched. They push Israeli causes in the White House, lobby for budgets on Capitol Hill, work to free Soviet Jewry, secure loans for their absorption, combat BDS, defend Israel’s good name in the media, fight our wars, lock horns with our enemies and stand by our side even when they don’t agree with it, and all we ask for in return is that they say thank you nicely.
This situation is doubly impressive because while many American Jews adore it, Israel denies their faiths and denigrates their beliefs. Not only is Israel dominated by an Orthodox theocracy that has effectively excommunicated Reform and Conservative Judaism while insulting their members endlessly, even completely secular Israelis, those who haven’t seen a synagogue since Bar Mitzvah and make a point of eating pork with milk on Yom Kippur, ridicule Reform Jews as if they were members of the most fanatic Hasidic sect. What kind of observance is this, Israelis ask, in which you pray in “temples” for the welfare of State of Israel as you treat women equally, work for social justice and tikkun olam, embrace intermarried couples, ignore 613 ancient mitzvot and are undeterred by mingling with goyim? To borrow a famous saying of our current prime minister - have you forgotten what it means to be Jews?
And then, when once every few decades Reform and Conservative Jews rise up from their sado-maso routine with Israel to signal that they’re sick and tired of being ostracized in the second homeland for which they toil, many Israelis are dumbstruck, as they’ve been since last week, when Netanyahu’s cabinet unilaterally cancelled the Kotel deal that took years to hammer out. What do these foreign Jews want from us, we wonder. Why do they suddenly have demands? Who do they think they are, that we should treat them with respect? How can they contemplate out loud the possibility that they will stop giving money to a country that’s been humiliating and kicking them around for so many years? It’s sheer chutzpah, as Minister Yariv Levin was quoted as saying in the New York Times, and many Israelis agree.
But there’s at least one consolation for our brothers and sisters across the ocean: They are not alone. They are not the only ones whose absolute support is taken for granted while any objections or reservations they voice spark shock and outrage. Barack Obama is a case in point. For eight years he tirelessly expressed support for Israel, defended it in international forums, deepened intelligence sharing between the two countries and gave even more billions to its defense, but all of these were erased from the Israeli consciousness even before he signed a nuclear deal with Iran, while his loopy successor, who has done nothing but mouth platitudes, is feted as savior. The same is true of Europe, which maintains deep and wide-ranging diplomatic, economic, cultural and scientific ties with Israel, but alas, hates settlements and sympathizes with Palestinians. Like Obama, it is pilloried as Israel-hating, latently anti-Semitic and potentially Islamist.
From this point of view, all Israelis are essentially ultra-Orthodox. They demand unquestioning faith, insist on meticulous observance and punish for the slightest infraction. Either you’re with us or you’re against us, and if you’re with us, then you’re all in, no questions asked. You can like it or lump it. As far as we’re concerned, if Reform or Conservative or anyone else still has issues, then to paraphrase a famous saying that German playwright Friedrich Schiller originally wrote about a Moor, “the Jew has done his duty, the Jew can go.”
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