Presidential Conference debates what world Jewry expects from Israel
June 25, 2012 | Atara Beck - Israel Correspondent
Panelists discussing what the Diasporo expects from Israel at the Presidential Conference in Israel last week were (from left): Professor Peter Beinart, French Jewish leader Pierre Besnainou, ADL National Director Abe Foxman, journalist Alana Newhouse and moderator Shmuel Rosner.
JERUSALEM – “My support [and] my love for Israel is unconditional; it does not depend on my ideological views,” declared Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, at a panel discussion at the fourth annual Presidential Conference.
The discussion was based on the theme, What does world Jewry expect from Israel?
Included in the dialogue was Professor Peter Beinart, author of The Crisis of Zionism, in which he argues that Israel’s “undemocratic treatment of the Palestinians” has been alienating young American Jews; he supported that thesis at the conference as well. He is also known for his call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of products from the West Bank.
Moderator Shmuel Rosner, a prominent journalist and the only Israeli onstage, quipped that he would “try to resist the temptation to talk about Peter Beinart’s book.”
In his comments, Foxman added, “Israel must do what it has to do to protect the country, not to please the Diaspora…. These are often life-and-death decisions.”
His expectations from Israel are to maintain an open-door policy for those who want to immigrate, “whether willingly or out of necessity,” and stand against antisemitism around the world in “consultation with world Jewry, without politics.”
Beinart agreed with Foxman that Israel “should not have to act on our views…. It must do what’s good for Israel.”
Yet he quoted former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, one of Israel’s most unpopular politicians, as well as advice from Saudi Arabia to support what he thinks is in Israel’s best interests.
“We are witnessing in the US a slow decline of the Zionist consensus,” which is “eroding, especially among young American Jews,” he stated. “Young Jews who never needed Israel as a refuge…ask casually, ‘Why do we need a Jewish state at all? They’re not committed anti-Zionists and would probably support a two-state solution as a pragmatic way of solving the conflict.
“If it doesn’t happen, you’ll see a movement among young elites to move towards support of one bi-national state…. That would be the consequence,” he warned.
“I don’t believe there is a crisis,” journalist Alana Newhouse asserted. “In addition to manifesting a problem that does not exist…it creates a clear case of crying wolf,” which would make dealing with future challenges all the more difficult.
Her expectations from Israel are “the same as I expect from America – to make good decisions that resonate with my values. I also understand that it’s not always like that. My biggest challenge is trying to understand why American Jews have the expectations that they do.”
She believes it has to do with “ignorance – not just education, but a lack of understanding of Israel and vice versa, and more troubling, an utter lack of interest.”
Beinart commented that a “genuine understanding” of Israel includes non-Jewish Israelis as well, whom he believes are treated unfairly.
“We need to have Israel as a democratic Jewish state; that’s the most important thing world Jewry expects from Israel,” said French Jewish leader Pierre Besnainou. He spoke about the tragedy in Toulouse last March, when three Jewish children and a man, the father of two of the children, were murdered by a terrorist, and he blamed the outcome on a lack of security.
“We failed because we didn’t have enough money,” he lamented. “We should not have to decide between leaving Judaism or aliyah. There is a responsibility to help Jews who want to live in the Diaspora….
“World Jewry built the Jewish state with political support, aliyah and money…. Things have changed. We have the right to expect one per cent of the Israeli budget to support Zionist education in the Diaspora.”
Renowned literary personality Leon Wieseltier cited a “double standard. Criticism from the right is okay, but not from the left….
“I expect Israel to pursue justice. I expect Jews to pursue justice because that is what we were told to do. I also expect other people to pursue justice…. Ultimately, we are responsible for ourselves.”
Regarding Foxman’s statement regarding unconditional love, Weiseltier said, “Conditional love is the highest form because its’ constantly earned….
“Jews are not morally superior. For 2,000 years we lacked power.”
Although some actions taken by Israel seemed “horrific” to him, he could “still justify his conditional love.”