It has been a spring and summer of extremes for Israelis and American Jews. It began in early May with a war that few Israelis and American Jews expected, when Hamas fired thousands of rockets toward Israel’s main cities. After 11 days, both sides declared victory and a shaky ceasefire took hold. The war claimed 12 civilians and an IDF soldier in Israel; in Gaza, 248 died. It also shook the notion of coexistence in mixed Jewish and Arab cities, as rioters attacked homes, houses of worship and individuals.
As the war was beginning, American Jewry was jolted by the words of Ron Dermer, the former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. In an interview, he dismissed the support of American Jews and said Israel should prioritize outreach to evangelical Christians over American Jews. “About 25% [of Americans] – some people think more – are evangelical Christians. Less than two percent of Americans are Jews,” he said. “So if you look just at numbers, you should be spending a lot more time doing outreach to evangelical Christians than you would do to Jews.” He also praised evangelicals for their “passion and support” of Israel, and criticized American Jews who are “disproportionately among our critics.”
And in July, a new poll of U.S. Jewish voters by the Jewish Electorate Institute – whose leaders have belonged to major mainstream Jewish nonprofits such as Jewish federations and AIPAC – reported that 25 percent of Jewish voters consider Israel to be an apartheid state, with another 22 percent endorsing the notion that “Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians.”
Each day, Israel faces a multitude of internal and external obstacles. Just this past week, in its first major attack in years, Hezbollah fired rockets from Lebanon. Hamas continues to test Israel, with air balloons setting off fires in Southern Israel. And Iran recently attacked an Israeli-owned cargo ship in the Arabian Sea, killing two crewmembers.
But Israel clearly has a problem connecting to Jews in America, its greatest supporter and ally. Its outreach and public diplomacy and public relations has been nearly nonexistent for decades. While Israel took the time to court evangelicals, it forgot who initially helped to fund much of the country’s infrastructure. Israel cannot afford to lose the support of America’s Jews. It needs a strategic plan to open the lines of communication – and that plan should include deploying hundreds of English-speaking Israelis who can listen to American Jews and also articulate Israel’s vision and desire to prioritize its relationship with the Diaspora.