What's Happening to Diaspora Jews?

Something bad is happening in the relationship between Israel and important Jewish communities abroad, and it's not just a political issue. A new rift is beginning to develop between Israel and segments of Diaspora Jewry. It's not just anti-Zionists like the Neturei Karta sect and Noam Chomsky who have been criticizing Israel and its policies; lately, even those known as enthusiastic supporters of Israel have been publicly coming out against Israeli policies, an act that isn't easy for them to do.

J Street conference in Washington
Oren Shomron

I would like to note that I'm not comfortable with a situation in which people who don't live in Israel and won't be bearing the possible repercussions of the policies they advocate give themselves license to intervene in the political process here. This applies to figures on the right as well as on the left. For all of Diaspora Jewry's affinity to Israel, the tough political decisions must be ours - and ours alone - to make, and it isn't fitting for non-citizens to have any part or parcel in those decisions.

That's the difference between citizenship, which entails responsibility, and support or sympathy. That's why I opposed the stillborn idea of forming a worldwide Jewish parliament and other such proposals (like the notion that the fate of Jerusalem be decided in conjunction with Diaspora Jewry ).

But what is going on these days requires some thought. Why is it happening now? There is a difference between the American lobby group J Street and the group of European intellectuals who recently signed a petition criticizing some Israeli policies. The American group is a hodgepodge of anti-Zionists, Israel supporters who identify with leftist Meretz ideology, and decent but naive people who don't always know what's going on in Israel. The lobbying group's existence has given rise to power struggles within the American Jewish establishment.

The same cannot be said about the signatories to the European petition.

So what's going on? The answer is simple but painful. For the first time we have a government that's succeeding, in its statements more than its actions (since the government has not done all that much ), in causing the rest of the world to hate us. This cannot be blamed solely on U.S. President Barack Obama's personality or positions, since even friends of Israel like France's Nicolas Sarkozy and Germany's Angela Merkel have lately lost patience.

Israel has never had a foreign minister who was happy to fight with the rest of the world, or a government that has managed to get the world riled up about construction in East Jerusalem even as it has yet to actually build a single home there.

This isolation from other countries worries Israel's friends and is responsible for the rift with Diaspora Jews, hence Israel is losing its inimitable voice as the representative of the Jewish public. One of the most important achievements of Zionism is being taken away from us.

In light of the trend, outrage and condemnation are not enough. Another path is open: trying to talk to Israel's critics. Not by pulling rank or patronizing or accusing them of being self-hating Jews, and not by making do with self-righteousness and fiery speeches at an AIPAC conference - but by holding genuine dialogue.

Only one public figure can initiate a dialogue like this: President Shimon Peres. Precisely because Peres lacks formal political authority, both he and the presidency itself have the ethical authority to attempt to close the fissures and initiate an international Jewish conference on Israel-Diaspora relations.

I have not deluded myself into thinking that each side will convince the other, but they should be sitting around a table in Jerusalem to listen to each other instead of attacking each other, to the joy of Israel's enemies. Perhaps the government will recognize that it also has a role to play in the estrangement, and perhaps the critics will see that reality is slightly more complex than they realize.

It isn't simple, but a situation in which Jews for whom Israel is a significant part of their lives feel alienated from the state of the Jews is simply intolerable - from an Israeli perspective as well as a Jewish one.