A Letter To An American Friend // Nadav Eyal


We have known each other for many years. We met at a conference. You're part of the so-called "Jewish establishment" or leadership of the Jewish community in the US. Maybe you work in a particular organization; maybe in the media. Occasionally, we meet, usually when you're in Israel. You typically wanted to know where Israeli politics is headed and what are the prospects for negotiations with the Palestinians. I was full of disappointments every time; After all, I've been telling you consistently for over a decade that Israelis are not particularly interested in the state of the relations with the Palestinians, and have become accustomed to the status quo.

You've always been brilliant, eloquent, up-to-date and self-confident. You formulated my ideas better than I did, and felt rooted in your background – plentiful America, the world's most essential democracy, and the most established minority-community within it. For years, you have been pushing the joint interests of America and Israel, part of an organized action.

Lately, your face has soured. When Trump arrived, your world imploded. The certainty in the safe existence of the Jewish community. The Progressiveness of the American Idea. The thin sense of supremacy you demonstrated towards the rest of the world. You wanted Israel to become a bit more like the US, and then you suddenly found out that the US is becoming much more like Israel.

Today you visit less. You have your troubles. Trump, but also and especially the sense of insecurity of the community. In any case, Israel is less interesting to most of the Jewish, liberal, Democrat community. The government, the occupation, Netanyahu, the clashes surrounding the harassment of Reform and Conservative Jews, the end of the peace process, the feeling that Israel is already far from the lost progressive paradise that was in the 1960's. The Prime Minister, who belittles the power of the Jewish community and puts his trust in the evangelicals, doesn't help.

I've been wanting to tell you for a long time, actually, to ask you: say, what is your responsibility for all this?

Don't be shocked or hurt. Israelis' own responsibility is paramount. They write their own destiny. But let's not play dumb. For a hundred years, the American Jewish community, probably the most successful minority in the history of the world, has invested immense capital in Israel and contributed to the Jewish home here. Billions, tens of billions, hundreds; maybe more. And it continues to give generously. Every Israeli should be grateful for that. And no less important than money, these two diasporas, in Israel and North America, have tied their destinies with one another. They've told themselves a story about their family relationships, shared values, and a sense of success and self-fulfillment.

But at the same time, something else has happened in the last two decades, and perhaps you shouldn't ignore it: Israel has become the playground of Jewish multimillionaire from the right. Or billionaires. Sheldon Adelson has set up a newspaper here that is a tremendous, free tool to Benjamin Netanyahu. It is the most read newspaper in Israel. Adelson has been steadfast in putting his generosity and his weight behind the most right-wing ideas in Israel. Netanyahu himself sees this as a crucial element in his victory for more than a decade.

In the Old City of Jerusalem, the late Irving Moskowitz succeeded in redrawing the lines of Jewish presence by contributing generously. This means a reduced chance for a political settlement with the Palestinians, for generations to come. Mem Bernstein, widow of businessman the late Zalman Bernstein, is responsible for a huge donation to the Tikvah Foundation, which supports a host of projects in Israeli society that instill American Conservatism in its most populist and superficial form.

For the first time in Israeli history, once saturated with solidarity and comradery, there are voices calling for the elimination of social plans such as national health insurance or subsidized medicines. At the same time, the Kohelet Forum, which also enjoys some support of the Tikvah foundation, works to strengthen ideas that undermine the activist status of the Israeli Supreme Court. In a state without a constitution, the consequences might be disastrous for its democratic soul.

These are just minor examples. There are many more, far more sinister, extreme and acidic. It is doubtful that American right-wing donors know where some of their money is flowing. According to a review by the IDEA, an Israel based organization that promotes Liberal Democracy, for every dollar that goes from the United States to a center or left wing nonprofit in Israel, two and a half dollars go to distinctly right-wing nonprofits.

The big picture is this: The Israeli left has no Adelson. There is no liberal Jewish tycoon determined to secure the Israeli free media so that it criticizes the government and does not flatter it. There is no American billionaire setting up progressive research institutes here. Donations from the Liberal parts of US Jewry are flowing to social causes in Israel such as reducing discrimination and building social infrastructure. These are noble goals. But there is no deep and budgeted commitment to building a narrative, media, and democratic civil discourse. Everything is in doubt.

Money from American right wing Jews is flooding Israel. On the flip side, you and your friends have made the decision that donating to political causes is complex, difficult, and controversial. You have friends who already boycott Israel altogether. Maybe, you think to yourself, it's lost.

That's a mistake, of course. Viktor Orbán of Hungary understood this long ago. Trump and many other leaders, too. Israel is a small country with disproportionate influence and meaning. It has the potential to give a kosher stamp to every politician and idea. This is an immense power. It is also the place where ideas can be tried out and gain influence quickly.

Israel experienced Trumpism when Trump was just a reality star. It was a democracy trying to live with terror before 9/11. It is the Jewish state. Don't tell yourself it's just not important. The revolutionary republic of Israel is the only state in the world founded as a welfare state, as a universe that combines solidarity and social values ​​with demonstrated nationhood, can reinvigorate progressive values ​​everywhere. For this to happen, this revolution needs to survive and not be killed.

You'll answer me – "What do you want? I'm not responsible for other parts of the community." And I'm telling you – if there's a community, there's responsibility. That's the meaning of the concept. Respected members of your community make a tremendous effort to change the character of my country. In your community these members are a minority. Here, they are kings. And where are you? Where's your part in all this?

I understand your disappointments from Israel. The desire of your children to stay away from it, or to stay away from dealing with its politics. Your desire for it to grow up already and not treat you like the rich "nudnik" uncle from America anymore.  Let's face it: another year, or five more, the anomaly named Donald Trump will disappear – or expand and become malignant in other ways. If it does expand, wouldn't you, and your children, benefit from the Israeli democracy surviving? And if it is poised to disappear, is it pointless to invest a little energy in defending democratic values ​​in Israel as well?

My great-grandparents came here to build a home for the Jewish people; they used their bare hands in constructing roads, then homes, then hospitals. It was their stated aim, as people who were persecuted by Stalin for their Zionist and revolutionary beliefs, not only to have a Jewish state, but a socially exemplary society, rooted in democracy and human rights. At one point, they succeeded.

Here, especially in Israel, it is worthwhile to wage this battle. It's a classic battle ground state. And it's worth it because here you can win.

Israel's importance goes beyond its meaning to the Jewish people. It is its legacy that can grow into the future as well. Your parents and their parents have stakes in the building of the Jewish home in the Land of Israel. Don't give up so quickly.


An Israeli friend.

* This letter is, of course, to an imaginary friend, made up of many friends.