Israeli leader’s plea to US Jews to hang in there never mentions Palestinians

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

Israeli Jews and American Jews are getting a divorce– everyone now acknowledges that. “Let’s talk,” was the theme of the recent Jewish Federations conference in Tel Aviv, and I just listened to the welcoming speech by Danna Azrieli, the ceo of a leading Israeli real estate company who moved from Canada to Israel 18 years ago.

Azrieli’s speech is remarkable because her understanding of Israeli life and culture is so entirely Jewish that she never mentions Palestinians. “I grew up in a Jewish community bubble,” she says; and though she acknowledges deep divisions between North American and Israeli Jews over values, she focuses on religious differences. Her enthusiasm about Israeli diversity and culture is an enthusiasm about Jewish diversity and Jewish culture– “our country,” where Jews celebrate the Jewish new year on top of one of her buildings, and traffic stops on Jewish holidays.

Azrieli briefly mentions settlements and the (explicitly racist) nation-state law as sources of friction, but she never mentions the occupation– which young American Jews say is their beef with the “Jewish establishment”.

Her only reference to Palestinians in the speech is “Arab” schools. She never speaks of Palestinian conditions, from second-class status inside Israel to rightslessness in the West Bank and Jerusalem and Gaza. She never mentions the killings of unarmed protesters in Gaza.

And meanwhile, Azrieli, who is also a director of family foundations devoted chiefly to Jewish causes, speaks movingly of her father’s experience escaping the Holocaust in Poland — and her own activism as a college student to bring down South African apartheid. It is obviously deeply traumatic to be the daughter of a Holocaust survivor. But does that justify leaving out half the population under the government’s control?

Azrieli’s goal in this speech is to keep American Jews supportive of Israel, because Israel depends on American support. We need each other, she claims. I do not think such an ethnocentric appeal will keep young Jews who are critical of Israel on the team.

Some excerpts:

The air of my childhood was filled… with memories and stories of Zionist heroes. In my mind, I visualized and even envied the brawny, tall, tanned, muscled and European men and women who moved to the swamplands of Palestine against all odds to build a country for our people….

I have always been an ardent Zionist and I have also always been a product of the liberal Northeast… I slept on the porch of the Swarthmore College president’s house so we would divest from South Africa…

When I see violence in the world, I feel despair. I cannot understand how people murder, and even as a fully therapized child of a Holocaust survivor, I struggle with anxiety and fear that an enemy may lurk in a place I don’t expect. I am always vigilant…

I hope that my overactive antennae that work overtime all the time and have a deeply psychosomatic effect on my health will save me if ever one day I am faced with an unexpected horror in a restaurant or a dance club.

I have been with six meters of a terrorist running down the main street of the city where I live. I saw his knife. I saw his sweat. I heard the sirens because he had just stabbed a 70 year old lady at the coffee shop on the corner, and I also saw the total abandonment of morality, the bestiality that overcame my Jewish neighbors when they ran the terrorist over with a car and hit his legs with a stick as he was face down at a bus stop while they were waiting for the police to arrive.

I am a product of all of these things…  Every day I wake up and do my part to build the country…

We Israelis have our share of extremely complicated issues but 70 years ago we were given a mandate to build the country, and we did…

As today’s world is becoming more extreme, as people are becoming more closed and protectionist, we the Jewish people of the world do not have the privilege or the luxury of becoming protectionist from each other…

An arch is two sides pressing together. North American Jewry and Israeli Jewry are like two sides of an arch.

We need each other. We need to push against each other to stay strong. By leaning into each other, by providing each other with the right amount of resistance and the right amount of support, we will have the strength to withstand the pressure from all sides. But one side of an arch cannot stand without the other.

We have different elements on each side, some which give strength and some which create weakness…. The art is to find… the right amount of dependence and independence to insure that our two sides will always stay strong visavis one another…

Israel is an immigrant society with incredibly ethnically diverse Jewish cultures. This Jewishly-diverse Israel is exactly what our Zionist dream intended. When we built this country,  our immigrant mentality tried to push us to belong, just like those of you whose grandparents immigrated to America. As immigrants to any country, we learned the language, we changed the way we dressed, but this next generation.. they’re native Israelis and native North Americans… They’re no longer immigrants. This next generation has the benefits and the burdens of a people who feel like they actually belong… The burden is that we’ve forgotten what it is like to be other, so we forget that we need each other…

But we are two sides of an arch… And we have layers and layers of success and failure, inclusion and exclusion, protectionism and universalism, moments of great fairness and moments of terrible close-mindedness, moments of great heroism and moments of bestiality. We love our countries but we criticize them. We love America but we don’t give up when we disagree with our leaders. As I know you love Israel, we must never give up on our commitment to the country when we disagree with its policies or leaders. We must never give up on our mutual bond which keeps each other strong…

It’s not just the settlements, it’s not just religious extremism, it’s not just Women at the Wall, it’s not just the nation state law. In addition, it’s not just who’s serving in the army, It’s not just who’s paying taxes in Israel, and it’s not just about who pays the price for living here you’re afraid for your security.

Our shared story is much more complicated than that. Don’t give up on our country! Don’t walk away because your liberal sensibilities are insulted. Don’t assume that nothing can change. Things do change, just painfully, slowly, incrementally, and with all of our help. Help by continuing the dialogue but not by oversimplifying it. Help by infusing your children with a love of our heritage that celebrates the good. I am not suggesting that we ignore the things we disagree with. I am simply suggesting that we remember it’s a marathon not a sprint and the strength of Israel today is an equal force leaning into the counter strength of Jews throughout the world.

Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

there have been a flurry of these sort of conversation conferences or panels between israel and american jews this year. i think this might be the 4th or 5th i’ve read about or watched the video. they all touch on the same theme: The art is to find… the right amount of dependence and independence to insure that our two sides will always stay strong visavis one another… keeping up the unflinching support no matter… Read more »

“Israeli Jews and American Jews are getting a divorce– everyone now acknowledges that.” _________ The ADL had a survey in 2009 where it was disclosed that US Jews supported the Gaza war in overwhelming numbers. In 2014, a Gallup poll revealed that 93% of US Jews expressed solidarity with the Jews in Palestine, 2% with the Palestinians and 5% did not care. Therefore, in 2014 when bombs were raining on Gaza, 98% of US Jews… Read more »

Israeli Jews and American Jews are getting a divorce– everyone now acknowledges that. …

Are Jewish Americans really in the process of ending their identification with Israel, Jewish Israelis and Zionism? It seems more likely that they just stepping back a bit – taking a little break, as it were – until the “Jewish State” gets its head on straight, after which they’ll resume the relationship.

There is one reason that I would never want to make anything up: if I lie once, how can you trust anything else I write? 1- Jewish support for the war stands at upwards of 90 percent.Nov 19, 2012Operation Pillar of Defense 2- Public support among Israeli Jews for the military campaign in Gaza has been overwhelming throughout its 24-day duration, with a recent opinion poll showing 95% of respondents believed the war was… Read more »

MMMkaay, here the seperation is permanent, were just not going to be what they wanted us to be, so that’s that. This isn’t like we embargoed their salt for 2 years, we are trying to exterminate them. My older relatives don’t see it that way. They don’t see it it all. Most just won’t discuss it, cause they are cowards. I have no sympathy for Jewish Israelis more than any other human. I like all… Read more »