On August 23, 1950, the President of the American Jewish Committee and US industrialist Jacob Blaustein visited Israel. In an historic meeting at the King David hotel in Jerusalem, Ben Gurion and Blaustein issued statements expressing their mutual understanding about the relationship of American Jews and Israel, in what became known as the Blaustein-Ben Gurion accord. Three issues were at the focus of that accord — representation, dual loyalty and Aliyah.
Ben Gurion declared: ”The State of Israel represents and speaks only on behalf of its own citizens, and in no way presumes to represent or speak in the name of the Jews who are citizens of any other country.” Ben Gurion also acknowledged that “the Jews of the United States, as a community and as individuals, have only one political attachment and that is to the United States of America. They owe no political allegiance to Israel.”
Blaustein’s declaration insisted that while Israel does not represent American Jews, it also “has a responsibility…in terms of not affecting adversely the sensibilities of Jews who are citizens of other states by what it says or does. American Jews vigorously repudiate any suggestion or implication that they are in exile.”
Although the “exchange of views” was not necessarily respected at all times, these statements represented a mutual intent and definition of the relationship. But since then — and more intensely in the past few years — there is a sense that the relationship between Israel and North American Jewry has broken down and that there is no mutual understanding about the nature of the relationship between the two most important centers of Jewish life at this time. For instance, American Jews’ dual loyalty was put in question with the Iran deal campaign; Jewish pluralism is not upheld in Israel and there is a sense of total disregard for the forms of Jewish expressions chosen by most North American Jews; American Jews not only voice their criticism of certain Israeli policies, but also try to influence public opinion or decision-makers by investing money in media outlets or public campaigns; the current Israeli government speaks on behalf of the entire Jewish world, not only on antisemitism, but also on the proper way to be Jewish (and funds programs to strengthen Jewish Identity in North America).
So the rules of engagement are blurry and the relationship is shrouded in mistrust. We need new parameters for our engagement with each other. Our working group from the Wexner Summit “Stronger Together: [Re] Imagining the Israel-North American Jewish Community Relationship” is drafting a new charter for North American Jews and Israel’s relationship. We are looking at three fundamental components: What are our shared values? What are our mutual obligations? What constructive mechanism can we devise to discuss our differences?
In the past few months we wrote drafts for the two first issues and we are finalizing our last draft this month. In our ocean-spanning discussions we asked questions; such as, are our shared values Jewish values or liberal-democratic values? Are “Jewish pluralism” or “equality for minorities” shared values? Is Jewish particularism something we all espouse?
We debated about obligations: is the well-being of American Jews something that Israel has to consider when it wants to influence the US Government, is it legitimate that American Jews influence the Israeli political process, and by what parameters can North American Jews criticize Israel?
Our next step is to turn to you, our fellow Wexner Alumni, to review the draft and provide comments and input. You will be our sounding board — your comments and questions will make us rethink and refine our work. Hopefully, you will also be our partners and (after some more refining) will agree to put your own stamp of approval on the document. When we finalize the charter, we want to publish it for wider public discussion, in both Israel and North America, and ignite discussion about the fundamental purpose and shared destiny of our two communities. Please email us if you’d like to help be on our review board!
To ask any questions or find out more information from this group,
please use our database to find the group members’ email addresses.
Gadi Baltiansky, WIF Alum (Class 13)
Amy Dean, WHP Alum (Miami)
Ray Fink, WHP Alum (San Diego 1)
Orli Garti-Seroussi, WIF Alum (Class 8)
Deborah Housen Couriel, WIF Alum (Class 12)
Einat Hurvitz, WIF Alum (Class 26)
Peter Joseph, WHP Alum (NY/Skadden)
Hanna Kovel, WIF Alum (Class 6)
Michal Lebenthal Andreson, WSL ’15
Gideon Meretz, WIF Alum (Class 13)
Erez Padan, WIF Alum (Class 26)
Dan Segal, WHP Alum (Philadelphia 1)