'Strategic Mistake': Obama Envoy Warns Israel Against Writing Off Majority of U.S. Jews

Terming the trend 'dangerous,' the ex-ambassador to Israel says it received an 'injection of oxygen' when Trump was elected U.S. president

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Dan Shapiro, in Tel Aviv, 2011.
Amos Ben Gershom / GPO

The growing tendency among Israeli political leaders to disregard the overwhelming majority of American Jews – those who are not Orthodox and hold progressive views – is both a moral and strategic mistake, Dan Shapiro, the former American ambassador to Israel, warned on Tuesday.

Addressing a Tel Aviv conference organized by the Anti-Defamation League, he said: There is an idea that has some currency in certain circles around the Israeli government that says, You know what, we can write off that segment of American Jewry because in a couple of generations their children or grandchildren will assimilate. So lets focus on the Orthodox who are an important constituency but smaller. Lets focus on Evangelicals, and we can sustain our support from the American public by focusing on those populations and writing off and being dismissive of Jewish progressives.

Terming the trend dangerous, the ex-ambassador said it had received an injection of oxygen when U.S. President Donald Trump was elected. Shapiro, who was appointed envoy to Israel by former U.S. President Barack Obama, identifies as a Conservative Jew. After completing his stint as ambassador, he remained in Israel with his family and now serves as a distinguished visiting fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

By Shapiros estimate, roughly two-thirds are American Jews are written off by the Israeli government because of their views and religious affiliation. Its a moral mistake because Israel does have this role as the state of the Jewish people worldwide, and that means all the Jewish people, even those who may differ politically, he said.

The Israeli government was also wrong to assume that non-Orthodox Jews would disappear within a few generations because of assimilation, he added. I think that there are assimilation trends and challenges that the Jewish community faces but to believe that two-thirds of the community is going to drop off the table is a bad misread of demographics.

The former ambassador was particularly critical of the government for reneging on its promise to build the non-Orthodox movements a permanent and proper prayer space at the Western Wall where they could hold egalitarian prayer services. There are Israeli leaders, like the prime minister, who talk the talk about common destiny, but they need to also walk the walk, he said. That means not taking decisions in which, on the one hand, youre dealing with a community youve called upon time after time to defend Israel against attempts at delegitimization and actually delegitimizing them by withdrawing or freezing a decision that was made with great fanfare and effort.

Shapiro was addressing a panel on Israeli-Diaspora relations at an ADL-organized gathering entitled the Israel Social Cohesion Summit.

Many American Jews who vote Democrat are still strongly pro-Israel, Shapiro noted in his address, but in a way they choose to be.