I can’t recall ever having heard a lecture in Hebrew in Israel without the speaker throwing in some Americanisms – usually in the original. Though Israelis learn English at school from an early age, much of what they know as adults seems to come from watching American movies and thus imbibing American popular culture. Whereas the founders of the state were shaped by European ideas and their languages, this generation gets much of its orientation from the United States. I think that most Israelis feel a special bond with America, but not necessarily with its Jews.
Several leading Israeli politicians have lived in America and, at some point in their lives, may have been US citizens. This is definitely true of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, of Naftali Bennett (the leader of the nationalist-religious party in the government and minister of both education and Diaspora affairs) and of Ron Dermer, the current Israeli ambassador in Washington.
Professor Shlomo Avineri is arguably Israel’s most distinguished political scientist. In his Ha’aretz column on January 20 he mentions the three men as he reflects on Israel’s current government enthusiastically celebrating the accession of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States.
Avineri is apprehensive. He worries about the effect that this may have on the relationship between the Jewish state and the Jewish people in the Diaspora, particularly in the United States. He doesn’t write about the rupture between the majority of US Jews that’s not Orthodox and the restrictions in matters of personal status and related issues to which the government of Israel is subjecting them. His concern is the apparent sense of euphoria about Donald Trump becoming president on the part of Netanyahu and his coalition partners.
This feeling appears to be very much against the opinions of the leading Jewish organizations in the United States. Most Jews there didn’t vote for Trump and, by all accounts, their leaders now voice their opposition to him, some vocally others in a wait-and-see muted way.
Though the incoming US president has surrounded himself with a number of very rich Jews it doesn’t mean that the bulk of American Jewry is on his side. The growing chasm between Israel and American Jewry isn’t likely to be diminished by politicians with American roots. On the contrary. Today, many American Jews, particularly the young, are hostile to present Israeli policies concerning the settlements and related issues. The sense that the Israeli establishment only wants Reform and Conservative money but Orthodox immigrants also heightens the sense of alienation.
In addition, Avineri raises the fundamental issue that further widens the gap: even if it’s expedient for the Jewish state to be in Trump’s good books because he supports the settlements and doesn’t seem to favour the Palestinian Authority, is it justified to celebrate him from the point of view of Judaism’s moral teachings? Isn’t he a man with an embarrassing record of racism, xenophobia and misogyny? Much of American Jewry seems to think that to support Trump isn’t good Judaism.
Can the prime minister of Israel, who claims to be the spokesman of all Jews, ignore this fact? He seems to be inclined to do so. He’s likely to be among those who believe that the Diaspora cannot sustain itself without Israel. Therefore, irrespective of Israeli politics, American Jewry will line up behind him. There’s much to suggest that he’s wrong – with terrible consequences for us all.