Home Perspectives Features Diaspora Jews are turning away from Israel. But why now?

Diaspora Jews are turning away from Israel. But why now?

A 1917 First World War poster in Yiddish asking U.S. Jews to help with the war effort. WIKIPEDIA

Rabbi N. Daniel Korobkin

Beth Avraham Yoseph Congregation, Toronto

Rabbi Lisa Grushcow

Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom, Montreal

Rabbi Korobkin: Many Jews in the Diaspora aren’t so happy with the things going on Israel. Some on the political left are influenced by the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and are unhappy with the ongoing “occupation” of the West Bank. Others who have traditionally supported Israel’s policies are now unhappy about recent decisions pertaining to the Kotel and the Israeli government’s acquiescence to religious groups that wish to maintain Orthodox standards for conversions done in Israel.

‘There is no question that the relationship is shifting. But the relationship still matters’

To be sure, not all is perfect in Israel and there are legitimate reasons for discontent. But whereas in the past, most of us have supported Israel despite our disagreements, now, traditionally Zionist groups are starting to turn away from Israel. One respected rabbi recently said that Diaspora Jews should withhold their financial support for Israeli hospitals and other institutions.

What’s happening, and why is it happening now? It certainly looks bad for Israel, but can this latest movement be good for Diaspora Jewry?


Rabbi Grushcow: I’m writing from the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, where I’ve been studying all month with rabbis of different denominations from across North America and Israel. One of our goals is to examine the relationship between Israelis and Diaspora Jews.

There is no question that the relationship is shifting. But the relationship still matters. In terms of pluralism, all of us want to feel like Israel truly is our homeland – that we can pray at the Kotel, that our identities are honoured, that our rabbis are recognized. It’s precisely because we care – because we hold onto that Zionist dream of Israel as a home for all Jews – that we raise our voices.

Pluralism is not the only issue. Most Israelis don’t refer to “occupation” in quotes – they are all too aware that for 50 years, we have been holding land taken in war, without either annexing it fully or giving it back. Whatever your ideology, the situation is far from ideal.

My question is: what is the best way for Diaspora Jews to support Israel and to share honestly in its struggles? Israelis have no qualms about having different points of view – why can’t we?

Rabbi Korobkin: The Hartman Institute stands as a shining example of how Jews of different ideologies can come together, agree when possible and disagree respectfully on other things, all while sitting as one mishpachah.

So I agree: “raising voices,” as you state, is what we should all be doing. Let’s raise our voices both when we agree and when we disagree. Let’s raise our voices when tragedy and violence strike Jews and non-Jews alike. But raising voices is quite different from what we’re witnessing today. I can’t recall a time when I’ve seen such overt calls from community leaders for Jews to discontinue their support of the most vital infrastructures in the Jewish state. And by all means, if you prefer “occupation” without the quotes, more power to you. Let’s have an open dialogue about what’s on the table to bring peace.

But the “red line” for all Jews has traditionally been that while we vehemently disagree on how to move forward, we will never withhold our support. That’s what’s changed, and that’s my call to you: are you and your colleagues still fully “in” when it comes to supporting Israel? Where’s your “red line”?

Rabbi Grushcow: It seems as if you are creating a litmus test for loyalty, based on contributions. I think the relationship goes deeper. I can’t speak for other Jews – I can simply say that I and the other rabbis I know, of all denominations, continue to be passionate about Israel. We study here, we bring trips here and we support the causes we hold dear – as do our congregants.

Israel doesn’t need us to fund its infrastructure. As one of the Israeli speakers at Hartman said, Israel doesn’t even need Diaspora Jews to be advocates – rather, he said, it needs us to be character witnesses who can speak about our love for Israel. It is that love that I fear the government imperils when it makes Jews feel alienated in their spiritual home.