Israel and the Jewish Diaspora

Page last updated 18 April 2018


This section details the many-faceted subject of Jewish identity in the Diaspora and particularly the relationship between Jewish identity, the state of Israel and the Palestine/Israel conflict. There is a rich cultural Jewish identity in the US, Britain and elsewhere independent of Israel. For many in the diaspora the ongoing conflict has pushed them to distance themselves from the “Jewish homeland” but this detachment by no means extends to their personal identification with either the Jewish religion or Jewish culture. The (mis)treatment of Palestinians, in particular, goes against what many highlight as the fundamental pillars of their religion.

The articles below largely consist of attempts by Jews in the diaspora to wrestle with the tensions and contradictions of the Israel-disapora relationship and/or to define what theeir Jewish identity eans to them.

Further relevant material will be found on other webpages, especially

The Jewish Community in Britain


1. The cause that chose me
Brian Robinson, JfJfP 12 Jun 2015

“I used to defend Israel because I thought it was good for the Jews, now I no longer defend it, because I realise it’s bad for the Jews. I wish I didn’t have to say that, and I also know that people may think me terribly tribal and ethnocentric, especially when I add a further confession. My involvement in campaigns for justice for Palestinians, which to my discredit came rather late, was for me, to be frank, always more about my being Jewish than it was about Palestinians.”


2. Israel has broken my heart: I’m a rabbi in mourning for a Judaism being murdered by Israel
Michael Lerner, SALON, 04 Aug 2014

“My heart is broken as I witness the suffering of the Palestinian people and the seeming indifference of Israelis. All my life I’ve been a champion of Israel, proud of its many accomplishments in science and technology that have benefited the world, insistent on the continuing need for the Jewish people to have a state that offers protections from anti-Semitism that has reared its head continuously throughout Christian and Islamic societies, willing to send my only child to serve in the Israeli Army (the paratroopers unit-tzanchanim), and enjoying the pleasures of long swaths of time in which I could study in Jerusalem and celebrate Shabbat in a city that weekly closed down the hustle and bustle of the capitalist marketplace for a full 25 hours. And though as editor of Tikkun I printed articles challenging the official story of how Israel came to be, showing its role in forcibly ejecting tens of thousands of Palestinians in 1948 and allowing Jewish terrorist groups under the leadership of (future Israeli Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir) to create justified fears that led hundreds of thousands of other Palestinians to flee for their lives, I always told myself that the dominant humanity of the Jewish people and the compassionate strain within Torah would reassert itself once Israel felt secure.”


3. Zionist myths: Hebrew versus Jewish identity
Moshé Machover, Weekly Worker, 16 May 2013

Machover draws a distinction between the Hebrew settler nation that was formed by Zionist colonisation in Palestine (and commonly referred to as such before 1948), and Jewish communities worldwide. And while he doubts that efforts to define a Jewish secular identity for diaspora Jews have a long-term future, he argues that a return to the Hebrew national identity can, potentially, provide a real counter to Zionism.


4. Israelis lost sight of a meaningful Jewish identity in the Diaspora
Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, Ha’aretz, 06 Dec 2011

“The latest storm between American Jews and the Israeli government has passed. Americans bristled that the Israeli Ministry of Absorption would characterize the potential for Jewish life in America as so small that a child would not even know that it was Hanukkah. These flare-ups, triggered by the American Jewish sense that our identities are treated dismissively, seem to be more frequent and more easily instigated.”


5. A new tool to foster Jewish identity in the Diaspora: Israel education
Lidar Gravé-Lazi, JPOST, 07 Oct 2014

“Some 140 Jewish educators from 16 countries participated this week in the First International Dialog on The Israel Educator. The four-day conference in the capital was organized by the World Zionist Organization, the ministries of Education, International Affairs and Strategy, and Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs, and the iCenter for Israel Education. The conference was built around the idea that there is a need to develop a common language toward fostering an attachment to Israel among youth in the Diaspora. The program aims to address issues relating to the role of the Israel educator in facilitating this process and strengthening Jewish identity and acceptance of the Jewish state.”


6. An American Jewish Identity Crisis
Alan Snitow, Tikkun, nd c.2011

“‘Jewish life had its renaissance because Israel was born,’ Rabbi Marvin Hier recently told my partner Deborah Kaufman and I during an interview for our documentary film Between Two Worlds. Hier, the neoconservative founder of Los Angeles’ Museum of Tolerance, was trying to convince us that the State of Israel is the center of American Jewish identity.”

“Hier interweaves the tropes of Diaspora victimization with his justification of Israel as the root of contemporary Jewish identity and power in the United States. It’s a half-truth at best, appealing to American Jewish insecurities about identity and projecting a neoconservative notion that there’s nothing original about the American Jewish experience other than new ways to assimilate or to support Israel.”


7. Young Jews + Israel: How Vital is Israel to Diaspora Jewish Identity?
Josh Whisler, Presentense, nd.

“Jews have established vibrant communities spanning the globe, but always direct their prayers toward the land of their biblical ancestors. How does this ancient connection to Israel affect the personal lives of Diaspora Jews today? In celebrating 60 years of statehood for Israel, PT presents two different views on Jewish living in the Diaspora.

What do you refer to as your ‘Promised Land’?

NYC. My definition of a ‘promised land’ is anywhere Jews can be free to practice their way of life, without the threat of persecution. That place for me is here, America.”


8. Israel: a defining feature of diaspora Jewish identity
Vanessa Valkin, South African Jewish Report, 18 Mar 2015

“Surveys have shown that higher observance is strongly associated with a greater connection to Israel and less synagogue attendance is associated with less interest in the country.Yet, for Diaspora Jews in 2015, even if one is secular, Israel is very much a part of how we think of ourselves. How can we not? We live in a world where militant Islamic terror activity against Zionism has led to a rise in attacks against Jewish establishments.”


9. Living with the Holocaust: The Journey of a Child of Holocaust Survivors
Sara Roy, Journal of Palestine Studies, 01 Oct 2002

This essay was given as the Second Annual Holocaust Remembrance Lecture at the Center for American and Jewish Studies and the George W. Truett Seminary, Baylor University, on 8 April 2002.


10. How Can Children of the Holocaust Do Such Things?: A Jewish Plea
Sara Roy, Counterpunch, Weekend Edition 7-9 Apr 2007

“Many of the people, both Jewish and others, who write about Palestinians and Arabs fail to accept the fundamental humanity of the people they are writing about, a failing born of ignorance, fear and racism… Why is it so difficult, even impossible to incorporate Palestinians and other Arab peoples into the Jewish understanding of history?”


11. Reflections of an Arab Jew
Ella Shohat, Bint Jbeil

“I am an Arab Jew. Or, more specifically, an Iraqi Israeli woman living, writing and teaching in the U.S. …When my grandmother first encountered Israeli society in the ’50s, she was convinced that the people who looked, spoke and ate so differently–the European Jews–were actually European Christians. Jewishness for her generation was inextricably associated with Middle Easterness. My grandmother, who still lives in Israel and still communicates largely in Arabic, had to be taught to speak of ‘us’ as Jews and ‘them’ as Arabs.”


12. A Time to Speak Out: Rethinking Jewish Identity and Solidarity with Israel
Brian Klug, Jewish Quarterly, No 188, Winter 2002-2003

“By the same token, Jewish communities in the so-called Diaspora need to live in their here and now, ‘constructing a harmony’ within the world. This implies the reverse of the ethos of ‘solidarity with Israel’. Instead of lumping everything together, it is time to make distinctions – between Judaism and Zionism, Israeli and Jew, the biblical and the political.”


13. A Jewish Voice Left Silent: Trying to Articulate “The Levantine Option”
David Shasha, Mondoweiss, 10 Jan 2012

“Though all of us are deeply aware of the calamitous ethno-cultural situation in Israel – exacerbated by the demographic preponderance and social repression of its Sephardic Jewish population, who when coupled with the native Arab population would form a clear majority of indigenous Middle Easterners as against indigenous Europeans – we can also see that the Sephardic presence in America is just as complicated a factor in contemporary Jewish life”.


14. The Seven Pillars Of Jewish Denial
Kim Chernin, Rense, Sept/Oct 2002

“I am thinking about American Jews, wondering why so many of us have trouble being critical of Israel. I faced this difficulty myself when I first went to Israel in 1971. I was an ardent Zionist, intending to spend my life on a kibbutz in the Galilee and to become an Israeli citizen. Back home, before leaving, I argued almost daily with my mother, an extreme left wing radical, about the Jews’ right to a homeland in our historical and therefore inalienable setting. However, once established on my kibbutz on the Lebanese border, I began to notice things that disrupted my complacency”.


15. “Some of My Best Friends Are Zionists”
Bruce Robbins, JfJfP 30 Oct 2011

“A documentary film about American Jews who take an independent line on Israel and the Middle East”.


16. Letter of Resignation from the Jewish People
Bertell Ollman, Tikkun, Jan-Feb 2005

“From what I’ve said so far, it would be easy for some to dismiss me as a self-hating Jew, but that would be a mistake. If anything, I am a self-loving Jew, but the Jew I love in me is the Diaspora Jew, the Jew that was blessed for 2,000 years by having no country to call his/her own. That this was accompanied by many cruel disadvantages is well known, but it had one crowning advantage that towered over all the rest. By being an outsider in every country and belonging to the family of outsiders throughout the world, Jews on the whole suffered less from the small-minded prejudices that disfigure all forms of nationalism. If you couldn’t be a full and equal citizen of the country in which you lived, you could be a citizen of the world, or at least begin to think of yourself as such even before the concepts existed that would help to clarify what this meant. I’m not saying that this is how most Diaspora Jews actually thought, but some did—Spinoza, Marx, Freud, and Einstein being among the best known—and the opportunity as well as the inclination for others to do so came from the very rejection they all experienced in the countries in which they lived. Even the widespread treatment of Jews as somehow less than human provoked a universalist response. As children of the same God, Jews argued, when this was permitted or just quietly reflected when it wasn’t, that they shared a common humanity with their oppressors and that this should take precedence over everything else. The anti-Semitic charge, then, that Jews have always and everywhere been cosmopolitan and insufficiently patriotic had at least this much truth to it.”


17. Jewish Critics of Zionism and of Israel’s Treatment of the Palestinians
Edward C. Corrigan, Dissident Voice, 16 April 2010

Corrigan attempts to disentangle some of the complexities of the Jewish relationship to Zionism and provides a long history of Jewish opposition to and questioning of Zionism, from Kafka, Freud and Einstein to the present day.

“The truth is that many Jews were anti-Zionist and opposed the settlement of Jews in Palestine. In fact historically Zionism was not supported by the majority of Jews. As Nahum Goldmann, former President of the World Jewish Congress wrote, “When Zionism first appeared on the world scene most Jews opposed it and scoffed at it. Herzl was only supported by a small minority.”

There is a very respected and honoured Jewish tradition of opposition to injustice and human rights violations. There is no monolithic position for Jews when it comes to Israel and the Palestinian issue. Many prominent Jewish intellectuals and activists have criticized Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.


18. It’s Time For Israel To Recognize That Diaspora Jews Are Already Home

Jane Eisner, Forward, April 18,2018

“The State of Israel is 70 years old, well past its early growing pains; it is strong, confident and distinctive. North American Jewry is still here — strong, confident and distinctive in its own fashion. But the relationship between the world’s two largest Jewish communities is growing more and more strained, and, on this milestone anniversary of independence, it is the subject of much hand-wringing over whether and how it can ever be repaired.”

“So I’m going to offer an alternative idea: Rather than pretend that some sort of global marriage counseling can reconcile two fundamentally different entities, let’s acknowledge and celebrate their separate identities and embark on a new kind of relationship. To begin with, let’s leave behind the outdated notion of “Diaspora.””


Contents of this section


a) Antisemitism
b) Israel and the Jewish diaspora

c) The Jewish community in Britain
d) Jewish holidays

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