As crisis with US Jews sharpens, Rivlin calls for resetting ties

President says relationship should no longer be based on ‘philanthropy on the one hand and blind admiration on the other’

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

President Reuven Rivlin delivers a speech at the President's residence in Jerusalem on November 22, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
President Reuven Rivlin delivers a speech at the President's residence in Jerusalem on November 22, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

President Reuven Rivlin called Thursday for a “renewed alliance” between Israel and Diaspora Jewry.

Against the backdrop of an ongoing crisis between the government of Israel and much of world Jewry, Rivlin said the relations should no longer be limited to “philanthropy on the one hand and blind admiration on the other” but should instead reflect a shared commitment to justice and an openness to listen to the other.

“It is time for a renewed alliance, for a common language, between Israel and the Diaspora, before it is too late,” the president said during a speech in Sde Boker in the Negev, in memory of Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.

His comments came on the heels of a controversial interview in which Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely complained that American Jews don’t understand Israelis because they lead “convenient” lives and don’t send their children to defend their country. Hotovely’s remarks were widely criticized by politicians across the political spectrum, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“American Jewry is less traditional than in the past, and more deeply involved in the various sectors of American leadership,” Rivlin said at the government’s official memorial ceremony marking 44 years since Ben-Gurion’s death in Sde Boker. “Its self-image is strong and well-established. The community longs for a connection with Israel, but wants a relationship between equals — not of philanthropy on the one hand and blind admiration on the other.”

Israel, too, has changed, the president said. The Jewish state has a strong economy and is admired worldwide for technological innovations, and its society no longer comprises a majority and a minority but rather several “tribes” that redefine its social contract, he said.

“Therefore, we must embark on a new path: no longer a relationship of charity, but a shared commitment to justice, to Jewish and human mutual responsibility,” Rivlin urged. “No longer with the silencing of mutual criticism, but with courageous and sincere openness. No longer with idealization, but with a true partnership based on really knowing each other, and on agreed-upon institutions to solving problems, and to establish a common policy.”

In his speech, Rivlin recalled the 1950 agreement Ben Gurion struck with American Jewish Committee head Jacob Blaustein, which for decades was seen as the blueprint for Israel-Diaspora relations.

President Reuven Rivlin speaks during a conference of the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in Los Angeles, on November 14, 2017 (Mark Neyman/GPO)

“The agreement was based on four principles: First, the State of Israel represents only its citizens, and speaks only in their name. Two, Jews of the United States are citizens of the United States, and are only loyal to the United States. Third, Israel does not expect the Jews of the United States to immigrate to Israel. And fourth, neither party intervenes in the political decisions of the other.”

That agreement might no longer make sense, the president said, citing his impressions from his trip to Los Angeles last week, during which he addressed the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly.

“I saw the immense love of Diaspora Jewry for Israel. I also saw deep concern and pain from the loosening of the ties which link Israel Diaspora Jewry,” he said. “I clarified to the communities of the Diaspora that Israeli democracy, the word of the people in Israel, must be respected. To us I say, this moment is a test.”

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