Elliott Abrams, who has had a distinguished career in the United States and still serves on its Council of Foreign Relations, lectured in Jerusalem yesterday. His subject was the current relationship between the State of Israel and American Jewry. What follows isn’t a report of what he said but something of a reaction to it.
Though he himself is a Republican and a supporter of the current Israeli government, Abrams painted a troubling picture. He reminded us that nowadays Israel has bigger fish to fry than American Jewry: it doesn’t need the money because its economy is doing very well, and it doesn’t need the Jewish lobby because of the support of the evangelicals. There’re around twenty times as many evangelicals in the United States as there’re Jews. Moreover, most Jews still vote Democrat whereas the evangelicals are staunch Republicans, as is Israel’s current prime minister and many of his cabinet colleagues.
Donald Trump is in power because of the evangelical vote. He moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to please them more than us. The Israeli right-wing is, therefore, prepared to overlook and explain away the Christian missionary agenda of the evangelicals because of their seemingly uncritical commitment to Israel, while they’re always happy to lash out against Reform and Liberal Jews
Israelis are keen to point out that lukewarm supporters of their government are to be found among Jewish Democrats many of whom belong to Reform and Conservative congregations. By contrast, Orthodox Jews tend to vote Republican and be solidly behind Israel (with the exception of say the Satmar Hasidim who’re passionately anti-Zionist).
To support their contention, critics of liberal Judaism cite opinion polls that point to the high rate of intermarriage among non-Orthodox Jews. They, therefore, tend to conclude that the proverbial Jewish vote in America will get smaller and weaker with time and imply that in due course American Jewry will go the way of less numerous Jewish communities in the world.
And that even though the smaller communities seem to be more committed to Israel. Abrams cited statistics that only 40% of American Jews have ever visited Israel compared to 70% Canadian Jews and 95% British Jews.
He suggested, therefore, that Israel should be doing what other countries have done and create bodies abroad to promote Israel among both Jews and non-Jews. Instead of sending money through the conventional channels promoted by annual campaigns, Israel should invest in self-promotion by creating the equivalent of the British Council, the Goethe Institute and many other such bodies, mainly but by no means exclusively for the benefit of Diaspora Jews.
One also hears more and more Israeli voices that suggest that, instead of sending money to Israel, Jews should keep it for day schools and other educational activities in their own communities, because Jewish education has become prohibitively expensive for most parents.
The current wisdom is that Israel is the strongest factor in keeping non-Orthodox Jews Jewish. Member of Knesset Michael Oren is even quoted to have suggested that Israel pays American (non-Orthodox?) Jews to come on aliyah to save them for Judaism. The idea seems crazy but the reasons for it reflect much of current thinking in Israel about the vanishing Diaspora. I find it troubling.
Jerusalem 6.6.18 Dow Marmur