JUNE 21, 2018 – Recent findings published by the American Jewish Committee reveal that American Jews are increasingly from Venus while Israelis are firmly planted on Mars.
The AJC poll included many of the expected political, social and religious questions that generally raise the hackles of any discourse between the cousins on opposite sides of the sea – issues like Palestinian peace negotiations, settlements, religious pluralism, religious coercion, the Western Wall and Orthodox monopoly over religious affairs in Israel.
And – no surprise here – compared to their Israeli brethren, American Jews are more dovish and supportive of religious pluralism than their Israeli counterparts. More surprising is the fact that some Israelis and even more American Jews consider themselves estranged or divorced from each other.
More than twice as many Israelis (28 percent) view American Jews as their siblings while only 12 percent of American Jews reciprocate. Even more so, 31 percent of American Jews don’t consider Israelis to be part of their family at all, compared to only 21 percent of Israelis who felt that way about American Jews.
That’s OK though – I’m Israeli, and sometimes I find myself thinking that Israelis aren’t my brothers either. But it’s usually after I get cut off on the road by a taxi driver or ignored by a customer rep.
We can work on that one. After all, Israeli rudeness and bluntness have been the butt of American Jewish jokes for decades, one of those in-the-family qualities you learn to accept because you can’t change it.
But where the relationship really gets sticky between Israelis and American Jews is when the issue turns to … Donald Trump. And we’re completely at odds. Two rather straightforward questions revealed just how wide the developing chasm is between us.
On recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the relocation there of the US Embassy, 85 percent of Israeli Jews said they support the decision, compared with 46 percent of US Jews. The poll found that 47 percent of American Jews opposed the move – whereas only 7 percent of Israelis were against it.
When asked about Trump’s handling of the US-Israel relationship, 57 percent of American Jews disapproved while 34 percent approved. Israelis thought the opposite, with 77 percent approving of Trump’s policies and only 10 percent disapproving.
This gap between Israelis and American Jews is nothing new – it was already apparent during the Obama years. American Jews overwhelmingly supported President Obama, while at the same time, fueled by the battle between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama over the Iran nuclear accords and the perception that Obama perhaps didn’t have Israel’s best interest at heart regarding negotiations with the Palestinians, Israeli support for Obama plummeted during his eight years in office.
Even though Obama usually said all the right things, he didn’t understand us, didn’t get it in his kishkes, his Israeli critics claimed. The bastion of liberal enlightenment in America was the bogeyman in Israel.
On the surface, the Trump presidency has presented a 180-degree turnaround for Israelis. He’s thrown evenhandedness to the wind, alienating the Palestinians where Obama coddled them. And, against the policy of every US president before him, Trump has acknowledged Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the US Embassy there.
And what do we find? Most American Jews can’t stand him, hate him, despise him more than Robert De Niro does.
What’s an Israeli to do? Ignore all of the odious aspects of Trump and his presidency? Publicly cozy up to him, praise him and name buildings and squares after him as the Israeli government and officials have been doing?
And what about American Jews? Do they hate Trump more than they love Israel – more than supporting a US Embassy in Israel’s capital? Hopefully, both sides will search for answers to their behavior that will enable the relationship between American Jews and Israel to heal.
With or without Trump, there’s a sharp divide – between Israelis and American Jews. But the AJC poll does provide a glimmer of hope. Both Israelis and American Jews realize that they need each other. Among Israeli Jews, 78 percent thought a “thriving” Diaspora was vital to the future of the Jewish people, with 69 percent of American Jews agreeing. The same question regarding a “thriving” Israel being vital for a thriving Diaspora saw 87 percent approval among Israeli Jews, and 79 percent approval from American Jews.
Whether we like it or not, our fates are intertwined, and like family members gathered at a holiday table with a weird and drunk Uncle Donald embarrassing everyone, Israeli and American Jews will likely survive their cultural, political and religious differences once the dinner is over.
We may never fully understand or agree with each other, and there are those that will leave the family, but the rest of us will continue to raise each other’s hackles in pursuit of a consensus among cousins.
David Brinn is a Jerusalem-based journalist.