REUT's Strategy Summit in NYC on November 4th, 2021.
"The Israel and Jewish Erasure"
REUT's Strategy Summit in NYC on November 4th, 2021.
The Reut Group gathered leaders, professionals, and philanthropists to discuss and analyze the acute challenges to Israel and Jewish communities. We invited people from across the Jewish political spectrum and strived to create an atmosphere of 'constructive discomfort' to prompt a complex and honest conversation. We believe that this goal has been achieved.
The strategy summit focused on a very narrow challenge that we call "the Israel and Jewish erasure" (hereinafter 'erasure'). Namely, how the current progressive discourse, often unwittingly, depicts Jews and the Jewish State as whites, privileged, and oppressors, and as a result, fails to capture the unique Jewish experience and "cancels" many aspects of Jewish identity and the Jewish State. This challenge has had an enormous impact on Israel's national security and on our Jewish future.
It is nearly impossible to summarize all that was said in the breakout groups, but the Reut team revised the material, and we would like to present to you our main takeaways for your feedback and comments:
No matter where you stand politically, the focus should be on articulating the "Israel and Jewish erasure" as a specific challenge, not as a descriptive characterization of the entire progressive movement. Emphasizing the problematic issues of a wide and diverse political movement is risking turning the Jewish erasure from a moral issue to a political one. This will prevent even Jewish communal organizations from taking a stance on this issue, not to mention non-establishment organizations from the left. The goal is to create a large Jewish coalition, and the framing and language need to be articulated appropriately.
A proposal for a galvanizing vision: Resilient communities that rebuild the center – The fact that Jews are between a rock (antisemitism from the right) and a hard place (antisemitism from the left), also positions Jews uniquely to lead efforts aimed at rebuilding the center. A populist resurgence makes the historical role of the Jewish community ever-more crucial. This task, by definition, requires strengthening the Jewish communal cohesion:
Rebuilding the center is about coalition building and creating safe spaces where internal disagreements are discussed. The current political polarization largely 'erased' safe spaces and diminished the ability of diverse Jewish voices to engage in constructive discussions on contested issues and disagreements. The existence of these kinds of discussions is crucial for a vibrant Jewish community.
Rebuilding the center could also serve as a new platform for Jewish renewal amongst young Jews, whose participation in this conversation is essential. Today, Israel-related antisemitism prevents young Jews from engaging with Israel-related issues.
Promoting the concept of "Jewish Peoplehood" - The challenge towards the Jewish identity can provide an opportunity to rejuvenate our shared understanding around our collective identity in Israel and the US. The idea of "Jewish Peoplehood" has the potential to create a shared center and provide the wide conceptual framing in supporting a future for a vibrant Jewish Identity and help us "weather the storm" to a more sustainable relationship.
Rebuilding the center may "smoke out" many within the less engaged silent Jewish majority.
Liberal and progressive voices are particularly essential. Liberal and progressive circles tend to downplay the importance of the Jewish erasure as they see it as an attempt to avoid the conversation about Israeli policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians. These organizations may pay a social and political price within progressive movements for participating in such an effort. The task of engaging on this issue for organizations from the left is particularly complex, but the potential return on investment is high: progressive and liberal voices who criticize the erasure carry much more weight and influence.
Generating a broad and shared understanding in regards to the challenge is a threshold for a Jewish response. Its lack thereof wastes a lot of Kosher energy on the debate over the debate.
There is NO need to share similar perceptions in regard to the desired responses. The acute need is to clearly articulate the challenge and be willing to mobilize and act on it, even if in different ways.
Investing in the community relations field is the order of the day. There is a need to grow the capacity for direct and authentic engagement and expand its role in spearheading responses in emerging fields.
Finally, we want to share with you our impression that mobilization of a critical mass of organizations facing the Israel and Jewish erasure is an achievable goal. While it was clear that not everyone in the conference bought into the event's working assumption, and despite the polarization of the Jewish community today, we are certain that a Jewish systemic response in the form of a few dozen diverse organizations against the erasure is possible. We believe that given the growing political polarization of our societies, a proper Jewish response would be to model a community that centers open dialogue and a strong commitment to collective action.
We thank participants who made the time and took the effort of attending the summit, and we look forward to future collaboration