Ahead of the 2015 elections, American Jews should influence Israel's future character – not through their
pocketbooks, but by asserting their vision of how a Jewish, democratic state should look.
For American Jews who care about Israel’s future as a democracy, as a Jewish nation-state that champions Jewish
values, as a Jewish homeland they can be proud of, Israel’s early elections are a call for action.
The next 96 days leading up to the March 17 elections offer American Jews a rare opportunity to influence Israel's
future character – not through their pocketbooks, but by asserting their vision of what a Jewish, democratic state
should look like.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's third government fell apart because four of its key coalition members –
Netanyahu, Yair Lapid, Naftali Bennet and Tzipi Livni – represent very different, even opposing, visions of
Israel’s future character. When confronted with the Jewish nation-state bill, the leaders were compelled to form
and articulate clearer visions of this; of what it means to be both Jewish and democratic. With the government's
dissolution immediately following a breakdown over this issue, the question of Israel's future character is in the
air, forming a backdrop to this election season.
What matters most is what happens immediately after the elections, when the decision is made as to which parties
make up the next coalition. Will the next coalition be governed by the nationalistic extreme-right, advancing an
exclusionary vision, based on a messianic, xenophobic worldview? Or will it be a progressive coalition, reflecting
a modern, globalized, pragmatic Israel, anchored in humanistic values, Jewish values, advancing peace, equality,
pluralism, tolerance and democracy?
American Jews who are not Israeli citizens don’t have the right to vote in Israeli elections, but that should not
preclude them from influencing the state's future. Stuart Eisenstat, one of Washington’s key insiders and most
respected Jewish activists, says Jewish Americans believe just that. He was recently recruited to help poll more
than 40 Jewish communities worldwide for a study commissioned by the Israeli government on world Jewry’s attitude to the future of
Israel as a Jewish, democratic state.
Describing the study's findings at a talk he recently gave in Washington, Eisenstat was unequivocal. First, he said, Diaspora
Jews believe that Israel should not compromise its democratic values – like granting equality to minorities – to
accommodate security threats or other constraints. Second, Diaspora Jews increasingly believe that the threats
Israel is facing do not grant it immunity from criticism. Third, American Jews are becoming more assertive in
addressing criticism about Israeli policies. They do it not only because they believe that Israel should consult
with them on issues close to their hearts, whether relating to religious pluralism or to Jewish values such as
tolerance, equality and peace, but also because they believe that “Israel’s character has significant influence
on how Judaism is regarded around the world by Jews and non-Jews,” Eisenstat said.
Israel’s image is crucial for Jewish continuity in the Diaspora, he said, as well as for the security and wellbeing
of Jews living outside Israel, “as we see in France and other countries.” Therefore, “we have a right to a say on
these issues,” Eisenstat said, quoting Diaspora Jewish leaders he interviewed for the study.
The coming 96 days offer an opportunity for American Jews to not only exercise that right, but to do so at a time
when what they say could make a profound difference.
During this election season, Jewish Americans have a chance to speak up publicly to support those in Israel who
share their values and who share their vision of Israel. They have a vast range of tools to do so – traditional and
new media, synagogue chains, and numerous Jewish organizations that resonate both in the United States and in
Israel. By voicing their visions, Jewish Americans could contribute, indirectly and modestly as it may be, to a
future Israel that is for them more a source of inspiration and pride, rather than discord and dissonance.
This article appeared first on December 11, 2014 in