In October of this year, a firestorm of sorts was ignited when Eric Goldstein, the CEO of the UJA Federation of NYC showed up in Tel Aviv to participate at the 2018 General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA).
While it is not at all unusual that a high-profile leader of such a prominent Jewish organization such as the UJA would be invited to be a panelist in a conversation about the growing rift between Israel and Diaspora Jewry, what is shocking is what Mr. Goldstein uttered.
At the residence of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and in front of the conference attendees and the media, Mr. Goldstein highlighted the stark contrast between the trajectory of North American Jews and their perspective on Israel’s future and the way Israel perceives its future as well as the well-entrenched assumptions they hold of Diaspora Jewry.
In essence, he pointed out that today’s young American Jews who are raised in a secular, liberal culture, do not relate to the events that shaped their parents and grandparents’ generation.
According to Mr. Goldstein, who was quoted in an article that appeared in the online version of the Israeli newspaper, Maariv, young Jews in America “do not know the Holocaust, the Six Day War or the Yom Kippur War. Today, the focus of young American Jews is social justice. They are against settlement and the Nation-State Law, as well as other policies which they perceive to be unjust.” This applies not only to young American Jews he continued. “There is an increasingly growing disconnect between non-Orthodox American Jews and Israel,” he said.
Mr. Goldstein went on to add that what has also caused a falling out between American Jews and Israel is oddly enough, the warm and cooperative relationship between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Donald Trump.
Needless to say, the relationship between Israel and American Jewry is at times problematic. Not often, but certainly more often than before. And although not justifiable, it is perhaps understandably so. From the Israeli perspective the nation’s generations-old battle to survive as the Jewish State overrides the occasional criticism about issues of a growing pluralistic divide. For American Jewry, which no longer views Israel’s battles as existential – certainly not since the 1973 Yom Kippur War – the criticism of Israel is an established benefit it is entitled to given its symbiotic relationship.
Compounding what it perceives as its right to do so is the more distant or fractured support among the younger generation than that which existed with their parents, or theirs. American Jewry – quite liberal politically – is often at ideological odds with an Israeli nation which is politically less so. In fact, much less so. Its manifestation as a critic of many-things-Israeli is more apparent each day. All this is supported by the facts on the ground. It is the reason Birthright Israel exits.
But there is a more obvious and undeniable reality that has turned too many American Jews to a level of indifference towards Israel and its fate. It is President Donald Trump. His support for a strong and secure Israel and, no less, his close relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has fueled the liberal/Left camp into a sometimes-unfriendly denial of Israel’s struggle. When President Obama clashed with Israel over the Iran nuke deal, American Jews took sides. They supported the controversial agreement. That antagonism was complicated further with the arrival of Trump. It is not unfair to suggest that many American Jews, following the lead of numerous Jewish organizations, are almost antagonistic towards the Jewish State at times – some openly, others obliquely.
The UJA Federation of NYC, by far the largest of its kind anywhere, with an ability and duty to obviate that trend, has not. The very organization that used to raise most of its fundraising dollars on the back of our support of Israel, is strangely on the sidelines while Israel is assaulted by its so-called friends. UJA might claim otherwise, but the transparency is certainly extant.
It seems that a vast majority of liberal American Jews have also jumped on the “Never Trump” train and deride any favorable relations that Trump has established in the realm of foreign policy. President Trump has made it his business to revive the warm and cohesive bonds that the US once had with its only stable, democratic ally in the Middle East before the POTUS’ predecessor had ruthlessly disemboweled it.
President Trump not only recognized Jerusalem as the eternal, undivided capital of the Jewish nation, but swiftly moved the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to its new home. There is no doubt that President Trump’s righteous deeds will be recorded in the annals of history.
Why Mr. Goldstein feels that this president does not deserve our appreciation for the magnanimous posture he has taken on issues pertaining to Israel leaves us nonplussed and beyond confounded. The concept of “appreciation” is a central core principle to Judaism and Mr. Goldstein should know that.
Secondly, Mr. Goldstein had some choice words for the way he perceives Israel in terms of their treatment of the Palestinians. He intimates that the lack of tangible plans to create an independent Palestinian state is yet another major turn off for Jews.
Perhaps Mr. Goldstein and the Jews that he purportedly represents would be tickled pink if Israel pumped trillions of dollars into the West Bank and Gaza to improve the lives of the Palestinians. Perhaps Goldstein would be thrilled if Israel eliminated the check points that are essential to the security of Israel.
We hate to break it to someone with as much intellectual gravitas as Mr. Goldstein has, but all the money in the world, and all the lemming-like “come kill me” behavior emanating from liberal Jews will not stop the Palestinians from murdering Jews and fulfilling their mission of liberating “Palestine” from “the river to the sea.” History has proven such. Just look at the launching pad for Hamas terror that the Gaza strip has become since Jews were expelled from their homes, to get some idea.
Quoted in Maariv, Mr. Goldstein “showed his hand” by implying that if Israel wants to continue to be financially supported by liberal Jews, then they had better get their proverbial act together and start marching lock step with the twisted leftist agenda.
“People who, up until three years ago, were the biggest supporters of Israel now say to us they want to throw up their hands, that all of their love and labor on behalf of Israel went down the drain,” Goldstein said, adding his office gets daily phone calls from donors who stipulate their donation money is not to be invested in Israel.
“When they see how Palestinians are treated, how asylum seekers are treated and how the Israeli Rabbinical Court has a monopoly [on Jewish practice in Israel] they say what we have here is a far-reaching cultural gap which makes them feel very put-off so they choose to disengage,” he said.
So, let’s address the issue of illegal immigrants pouring into Israel via Egypt. These immigrants are coming from such countries at the South Sudan and Eritrea. Just as any other country would not tolerate a massive influx of illegal immigrants, neither should Israel feel compelled to do so.
Are these immigrants (who wreak havoc in south Tel Aviv and put the lives of Israeli citizens in danger because of the heinous crimes they commit), really making the trek to Israel to seek political asylum? Or do they just want to sit back and collect monies through Israel social service programs and lead comfortable lives while instilling fear in the hearts of those who are victimized by them?
Mr. Goldstein also raises the issue of the Israeli rabbinate, with his major complaint being that they are issuing rulings that don’t appeal to the arrogant sensibilities of his liberal flock. While the rabbinate may not be perfect, since its inception at the birth of the modern State of Israel, the rabbinate has tried to uphold the Halachic character by deciding issues based on Jewish law.
While Mr. Goldstein and his acolytes may feel that the rabbinate represents an anachronistic mechanism that flies in the face of modernity and its less than sacrosanct concepts, perhaps the leader of the UJA should be reminded that if not for our rich tradition of rabbinical thought, opinion and at time rancorous discourse, our rich and treasured national character who have been vanquished centuries ago.
The reality is that there are liberal Jews who carry an axe to grind against what they determine to be the “provincial” Orthodox Jews. But the reality is that there is exists only one Jewish State, and its capital is in Jerusalem and not New York. Mr. Goldstein, as a visible leader and spokesman for American Jewry, needs not to forget. History rarely forgets, and even less rarely does it forgive.
The bottom line is, Mr. Goldstein needs to reconsider his propensity for spotlighting Israel’s perceived shortcomings – as viewed through his American and liberal Jewish lens – libeling Israel with his spurious accusations. If indeed those charges were not his, then it seems certainly apparent that he has done too little to combat or arrest the attacks on the Jewish State. Moreover, as a designated Jewish leader, he possesses enough of an understanding of modern Jewish history to realize that Israel will not only survive but will thrive even if the benefactors of UJA decide to “disengage” from Israel and cease to offer their financial contributions. Threatening to put distance between Israel and the American Jewish leadership will prove to be an exercise in futility and will damage the latter more than the former.
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