Ask your average American Zionist about the challenges facing Israel
today, and he or she will no doubt tell you that Israel faces an
existential threat from Iran. The looming threat of Iran gaining
nuclear weaponry is perhaps the most serious, but Iran’s ongoing
funding of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and it’s control over Syria and
Lebanon are also very grave challenges to Israell’s ongoing security.

American Zionists respond to these threats by supporting Israel both
financially and politically, just as they have for decades, going back
to before the founding of the stae in 1948. Massive institutions
including AIPAC and the American Jewish Federations system were
esttablished to facilitate this kind of support, and they have been
extremely effective in bringing dollars to Israel and bringing Israel’s
political cause to Washington.

Now let’s flip the question. If you ask the average Israeli about the
challenges facing the American Jewish community, without hesitation
Israelis will respond that American Jews are assimilating and
intermarrying into oblivion.

To stem this tide, Israelis individually don’t really do very much.
Instead, the government acts as their representative. The Jewish Agency
encourages Americans to make Aliyah. Birthright Israel, which is
heavily funded by the government, helps to strengthen the Jewish
identities of Americans, and brings them into a closer relationship
with the land and people of Israel. Masa encourages Jewish college
students and young professionals to visit Israel for extended stays and
develop new educational or professional skills and ties in Israel and
with Israelis.

This bilateral relationship has existed for a long time. Americans gave
money and political support to defend Israel from political and
military threats; Israel gave pride and purpose to Americans to bolster
them against assimilation into an increasingly welcoming American
melting pot.

Looking back over these relationships, it’s stunning to think that,
basically, both sides think that the other would cease to exist, but
for their efforts. Normally, an agreement based on this kind of
mutuality would be highly durable and even admirable. But there’s
something inncredibly egotistical and solipsistic about the
relationship. It’s not that each side agrees that there is an
interdependence. It’s that each side believes that it alone holds the
key to Jewish survival, and that it is under some obligation to agree
to save the other.

I’m not sure that the contours of this agreement remain as relevant
today as they once were. Increasingly, Israelis resent and wish to
reject American dollars. They no longer wish to be beggars, and the
strings attached to the money have begun to chafe, especially as it
relates to policy towards Palestinians. Israelis are excited to welcome
new American immigrants to Israel, but conversely, feel that if you
don’t live in Israel and share in the burdens and sacrifices of
citizenship, you have not earned the right to participate in governing
and policy-making for the state. Moreover, Israelis have a deep-seated
unease about American religious denominations that continue to try and
make inroads into Israeli society.

As for Americans, they suffer a much greater sense of ambivalence about
the state of Israel. The problems and shame of a 40-year occupation
weigh heavily, and the polarizing nature of debates about Israel and
antisemitism in general discourage any engagement with Israel
whatsoever, particularly among the younger generation. Israel’s role as
a refuge or safe haven, which still has great currency in other parts
of the Diaspora, doesn’t resonate with Americans, who are largely safer
and more free to practice their (non-Orthodox) Judaism in America than
they would be in Israel. Moreover, with Israel having emerged as an
economic and military titan in its region, Americans are increasingly
questioning why they should send 50 cents of every philanthropic dollar
rasied by their Federation to Israel, especially in the face of growing
needs at home.

Israel today says to America “support me politically, and without
question, because we are family, and the core of both of our identities
is this land which we must defend at all costs and never lose.” To
which Americans reply “be better! I can’t support your actions when
they violate the core Jewish values that are the bedrock of our shared
identity. Better to lose all our land, and save our souls!”

Where can we go from here? Fortunately, the medicine to cure our
disease exists. What we need to do is increase the personal
relationships between Americans and Israelis. Programs like Birthright
and Masa are part of the solution, and so is outreach to the
ever-growing communities of Israeli expats living in America. The
explosion of social networking has created the space for broader and
deeper interactions between Israelis and Americans. We should seek to
support these personal connections because the only way to resolve th
argument that is splitting our shared house is through meaningful
conversation, through seeing ourselves reflected in the eyes of our
brothers and sisters, and through speaking clearly about what values we
share, and what values divide us.

The American and Israeli Jewish communities are the largest in the
world. And surely we are an ever-dying people if both of these
communities, more prosperous, more powerful, and more populous than
ever before in history can be considered to be under existential
threat, to be facing utter destruction. But if it’s true, than our
future is indeed precarious, and we must come together to face our
challenging future in a mutual partnership.