The Future of the Nation State of the Jewish People: Consolidation or Rupture?
Executive Summary of the Challenge
In 2015, Israel suffered a significant political failure in its attempt to thwart American support for the Iran Deal. Throughout the public debate surrounding the Iran Deal, Israel tested the loyalty of its American Jewish supporters, by asking them to publicly oppose an initiative of the President of the United States, for the sake of Israeli interests. This event exposed deep divisions within the American Jewish community, and destabilized the delicate balance between the civic loyalties and political opinions of American Jews and their connection to Israel. While the Israeli side interpreted this failure as simply a tactical one, for American Jewry, this was a ground-breaking event that continues to echo in Jewish communal institutions.
This event also exposed a significant Israeli ‘blind-spot;’ the widening gap between Israel’s aspiration to be the ‘nation state of the Jewish People,’ and an emerging reality that continuously challenges this aspiration. Israelis believe that the State of Israel is an asset and source of strength for the entire Jewish People, and that Israel provides deep meaning and spiritual significance for every Jew, wherever they live. As such, the Jewish People will always uphold Israel’s right to exist and defend itself. However, Israel’s status as an asset is eroding. For many Jews in the Diaspora, Israel does not provide the meaning that it used to. For some, Israel has become a burden associated with serious political, social, and economic costs. The decline of Jewish identification with and support for the State of Israel, especially among young Diaspora Jews, is a primary example of this trend. This trend has far-reaching implications for the security of the State of Israel, its character, and the future of the Jewish People.
These developments are likely to weaken the Jewish People in the long-term. Instead of strengthening the resilience, prosperity, unity, and leadership of the Jewish People, the State of Israel will become a factor that deepens divisions within the Jewish People. As a result, the State of Israel will have failed to achieve the purpose for which it was founded: to be the nation state of the entire Jewish People, and to ensure the Jewish People’s continued existence and prosperity. This failure will undermine the basic justification of the existence of the State of Israel: to be the embodiment of the Jewish People’s right to national self-determination.
These developments will also weaken Jewish communities in the Diaspora. For many communities in the Diaspora, Israel serves as the central project of the Jewish People and the best anchor of communal institutions. Israel serves as a pillar of Jewish identity for many Jews in the Diaspora. As Israel gradually becomes a factor of division, communal institutions will find it harder to provide a broad-based foundation for Jewish communal life.
The answer to this challenge requires changes on the Israeli side of the Israel-Diaspora relationship. We must integrate ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ approaches, leveraging both the Israeli government and Israeli civil society to answer the question: What does it mean for us, in Israel, to be the nation state of the Jewish People in the 21st Century? This document will introduce necessary changes in Israeli public consciousness, structures relating to the Israel-Diaspora relationship, and Israeli policy.
This subject has significant political and social implications for non-Jewish minorities in Israel. Therefore, the central challenge of the State of Israel is to define its character as the nation state of the Jewish People, in such a way that will also promote the full integration and equality of its non-Jewish minorities.
This document seeks to highlight the growing gap between the role of the State of Israel – to be the nation state of the Jewish People – and an emerging reality where this role is in decline. This document will examine the significance of this gap and propose actions to close it.
Israel’s role as the nation state of the Jewish People is one of the core aspects of 21st Century Zionism. Zionism, as the Jewish movement to actualize Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel, is inherently linked to the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora. However, for much of the Israeli public this subject is a ‘blind-spot,’ that currently lacks a conceptual understanding.
To reduce the increasing distance between the State of Israel and the Diaspora, changes must take place in both communities. However, the present document will focus on the Israeli side of the challenge: the ways that the Israel-Diaspora gap is formed, internalized, and experienced in Israel, and the responsibility of Israeli communities and leaders to act to reduce this gap. We believe that the wide array of Zionist leadership in Israel must ask itself what it means for the State of Israel to be the nation state of the Jewish People. Leaders in Israel must understand that Israel plays a role in the creation of the problem, and therefore also plays a role in its solution. Within Israel, this solution requires changes in conceptual understanding, communal structure, and policy.
The document is divided into four sections: First, we present historical background and current relevant trends; Second, we describe the prevailing Zionist-Israeli mindset used to interpret the relationship between the State of Israel and the Diaspora, and the changing reality which challenges this mindset; Third, we present the significance and implications of this gap for the State of Israel and the Jewish People. In the final section, we present a vision for the Israel-Diaspora relationship, including several ideas, policies, and actions that can shrink the gap between the two communities.
Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People