The shared values project of Israel Policy Forum
Many of us in the American Jewish community have been seeking ways to invest in long-term relationships with our Israeli counterparts who share our values of a liberal-democratic state that embodies the values of equality and pluralism. Being Zionists in this moment means defining what future we want for the Jewish homeland and working towards it.
Since the pivotal November 2022 election in Israel, those invested in the Israel-diaspora relationship have been holding their breath, concerned that the bonds between the two largest Jewish communities in the world, Israel and the U.S., will erode. While this fear was very acute for us, it became clear that there was also an opportunity to seize this moment to advance a new phase in the Israel-diaspora relationship and strengthen the many values that the majority in our communities share. With this foundation, there will be a relationship to utilize for support in times of crisis, such as the conflict with terror organizations last month or a future diplomatic rift between our two governments.
Many of us in the American Jewish community have been seeking ways to invest in long-term relationships with our Israeli counterparts who share our values of a liberal-democratic state that embodies the values of equality and pluralism. Being Zionists in this moment means defining what future we want for the Jewish homeland and working towards it. Today, fighting against the judicial overhaul alongside Israelis is crucial to our core identity, as is actively listening to those on the frontlines of the pro-democracy movement in Israel in order to understand their concerns and narrative.
We called upon each other at this critical moment: one, an Israeli who is committed to a prosperous Israel-U.S. relationship and is devoted to building bridges with American Jews and fostering dialogue about Zionism and Israel with Americans; the other, an American working with young people who are all committed to a Jewish, democratic, secure Israel as the director of IPF Atid. We both view the relationship between our communities as a pillar of the Jewish people’s security, moral obligation to one another and a prerequisite for an authentic sense of Jewish peoplehood. It became clear that focusing on uniting the broad swaths of our communities who do value liberal democracy, equality and pluralism is essential to the continued relationship that has always been vitally important to us both.
In the ensuing five weeks, Israel Policy Forum planned a three-day seminar for 30 Israelis and Americans from a variety of professional fields including political strategy, Jewish community and policy advocacy. It included activists affiliated with a wide array of political, religious, civic and religious institutions. During the convening, our cohort grappled with the questions of defining our shared values, the appropriate role of American Jewry in Israel’s political movements, what our communities are both effective and perhaps very ineffective at doing and a variety of other issues. We spent a lot of time ensuring that the American Jews fully understood the context in which our Israeli peers are living, and vice versa.
Israeli participant Eyal Akerman shared that “this gathering was a unique opportunity to meet, think and work with like-minded American Jews on issues that are deeply important to me. It makes me far more optimistic to know I have partners, not only in Israel, who are willing to make an effort to promote our shared values.”
As young professionals, we discussed the paradigm shift that occurred in recent years in the Israel-diaspora relationship. Our generation does not adhere to what some call the “old contract” of American Jews donating their money without contributing their ideas and their skills. We found that we wish to have an active and impactful role in each other’s lives and work together to promote our shared values. We explored the purpose of Israel-diaspora relations, the unique contributions each of us has to offer the other, understanding the ecosystems we live in, building trust and considering how advocacy is being shaped in both countries.
American participant Zachary Schaffer, co-founder of Project Shema, noted that “this experience was transformative. At a time when the fault lines between Israel and the diaspora feel larger than ever, this gathering demonstrated how much liberal American Jews have in common with a large portion of the Israeli population. I am leaving this gathering more committed to the Israeli people and future of the Jewish state. This convening illustrated the ongoing work of Zionism to continue to build a Jewish society and it showed the opportunities for global Jewry to be a part of this work.”
Most impactful for the group of American Jewish leaders was the opportunity to join our Israeli peers in a massive Saturday night protest on Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv. Surrounded by a sea of Israeli flags and singing Hatikvah mere days before Israel’s 75th Yom HaAtzmaut was the most meaningful demonstration of what our people stand for. In the weeks ahead, we will need to make the case to the rest of our communities for leaning into, and not away from, the relationship with our cousins across the ocean, and demonstrate that an investment in this partnership will strengthen the entire Jewish people and the founding principles of the state of Israel. Now is the time to invest in connections between the next generation of young American Jews and Israelis, so that we can support and inspire one another while fighting to keep Israel a secure, Jewish, and democratic state.
Shanie Reichman is the director of IPF Atid at the Israel Policy Forum.
Mor Yahalom is the former chief of staff to the deputy foreign minister of Israel. She’s an expert in Israel-U.S. relations and Middle East policy.