“My parents will support Israel no matter what; I prefer to be neutral’. This is a common refrain among young diaspora Jews, noted Daniel Taub, former Ambassador of Israel to the United Kingdom, at a conference on Israel-Diaspora relations organized by the Israel Democracy Institute.
Addressing the complex role Israel plays in diaspora Jewish identity, Taub noted: “If you ask a diaspora Jew to describe an event that has given him or her a sense of Jewish pride, the answer is likely to be an event related to Israel – a cousin becoming an officer in the IDF or Israel being a beacon to the nations in some field. Then ask that same person to describe an event that has given them a feeling of discomfort as a Jew, and that too is likely to be related to Israel, perhaps a BBC news item or a sarcastic comment by a lecture or coworker.”
Ambassador Daniel Taub suggested a number of reasons that the Israel dimension of Jewish identity was so potent, both for pride and discomfort. “Unlike other aspects of Jewish identity which are primarily internal – like a commitment to tradition or Jewish values, or those which are mainly external – like anti-Semitism, for most Jews there is both an “Israel within” – their own cherished ideal of what Israel can and should be, and an “Israel without” – the reality they read about in the newspapers. When these two Israels are in alignment, the result is a powerful feeling of identification and pride. But when there is a disparity between them, the result is a sense of dissonance and discomfort.
Citing recent surveys in both the United States and the United Kingdom, Taub noted that the results indicated that the sense of dissonance and discomfort may be growing among the younger generation of Jews. “These youngsters have very different set of associations than their parents and grandparents. If you talk about the ‘wall’ in a discussion about Israel, they are more likely to think of the separation barrier than the western wall.”
The real danger is not discomfort so much as disengagement, argued Taub. It is worth remembering, added Taub soberly, that for many decades the actively Zionist movement comprised a minority of the Jewish people. It is not unthinkable that such a situation could recurred unless the relationship is nourished and revitalized.
Education in relation to Israel was a key component of any engagement strategy argued Taub. At the same time, it was critical that young Jews be encouraged to find their own individual points of connection to Israel, which corresponded to their own interests and passions. These could vary from issues of faith to culture or hi-tech. “We have moved from a world of broadcasting to narrowcasting” observed Taub. “Our efforts to generate engagement with Israel must do the same.”
Taub suggested that a rethinking of the nature of the Israel-Diaspora relationship was also overdue. He noted that the panels in the seminar reflected a traditional conception of Israelis and diaspora Jews sitting on opposite sides of the table. In fact, noted Taub the picture is far more nuanced. There is now an active Israeli diaspora, while immigrants to Israel have a different connection to the countries of origin. He noted that close to 40,000 British Jews had immigrated to Israel since 1948. Social media too has had an impact. A Jew sitting in Seattle, whose first act when he wakes up is to log on to an Israeli website doesn’t fit neatly into the bifurcated model. Rather than boxing people into outdated categories suggested Taub. The complexity should be embraced and explored as a way to build bridge and deepen relations.
Watch Daniel Taub speak more about Israel: