T he front page of last Friday’s Jerusalem Post had no fewer than four headlines about Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely’s allegedly “offensive” remarks about American Jewry and a front-page picture of IDF lone soldiers from North America with a sarcastic caption reading “What would Tzipi Hotovely say about these IDF soldiers from North America?” “There is no place for such attacks and her remarks do not reflect the position of the State of Israel,” harrumphed Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was said to be mulling whether to fire Hotovely.

Hotovely, I assumed, must really have said something both tactless and stupid. Yet when I read her actual responses to a television interviewer, I could not find anything exceptionable about what she’d said. She pointed out that American Jews often fail to understand the “complexity of the region” in which Israel exists. For one thing, they do not, by and large, share the experience of sending their children to the military — whether the Israeli army or the American. And they have not lived under the constant threat of missile fire from both north and south or of terrorist attacks.

Far from being wild, Hotovely’s statements were virtually inarguable. Not one of those vociferously protesting her insult to Diaspora Jewry made any sort of substantive refutation. The only halfway sensible criticism was that of Herb Keinon, the Jerusalem Post’s diplomatic reporter, who wrote that it was a mistake for her to have played into anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews being underrepresented in the American military when it was irrelevant to her major point that contemporary American Jews have little understanding of the exigencies of military combat or of life under siege.

Indeed, I would go further than Hotovely. Not only do most American Jews fail to understand the circumstances in which their fellow Jews in Israel live, they have also made little effort to do so. Worse still, they give no benefit of the doubt to Israeli Jews, when the latter are portrayed as militaristic warmongers by left-wing propagandists around the world. 

TO TAKE JUST A FEW EXAMPLES: Three times between 2009 and 2014, Israel was forced to enter Gaza in order to bring to a halt rocket barrages falling on Israel’s major cities in the south. Those rocket launchers are almost exclusively located in civilian areas. In addition, Hamas (and probably Hezbollah) has dug, and continues to dig, tunnels under the border in order to infiltrate large numbers of fighters into remote, poorly defended agricultural settlements to facilitate kidnapping Israeli hostages. Again, those tunnels originate in civilian areas.

Have most American Jews given thought to the challenges of minimizing civilian casualties in asymmetric warfare against non-uniformed fighters located in civilian areas, or how remarkably successful Israel has been at doing so? When their bible, the New York Times, argues that Israel’s responses to missile attacks are disproportionate because more Palestinians are killed than Israeli civilians, have they arisen in protest at the absurdity of that argument in terms of the laws of warfare, which place the onus for civilian casualties on those locating military targets in civilian areas?

Or have they even asked the basis questions: How would the United States respond to such missile attacks? What would you urge the president to do if you lived in a population center under attack?

Hezbollah possesses an estimated 150,000 missiles, many of significant range and precision. One successful missile strike on the oil refineries of Haifa or Ashdod could create a fireball that would incinerate tens of thousands of Israeli Jews. Israel’s offshore oil rigs, desalinization plants, and electrical power plants are all equally vulnerable. Do American Jews understand why, in the event of renewed warfare with Hezbollah, Israel would not have the luxury of going patiently door to door to destroy Hezbollah’s highest quality missiles, but would have to do so immediately, even though they are almost all located in civilian areas?

Do American Jews who constantly call for Israel to be more forthcoming to the Palestinians — and who hold the Palestinians blameless for any impasse in the “peace process” — recall the euphoria that greeted the original Camp David Accords in Israel? Or what was offered the Palestinians at Camp David in 2000? Do they wonder what has happened since 1993 that would explain why not just Prime Minister Netanyahu, but Isaac Herzog, former head of the Labor Party, and his successor Avi Gabbay, have made clear that a two-state solution is not viable at present? 

THE DRIFTING APART of Diaspora and Israeli Jewry did not start with Netanyahu’s abrogation of the Kotel compromise, and has more to do with the state of American Jewry than with the actions of the State of Israel. In an op-ed highly critical of the Netanyahu government (again in last Friday’s Jerusalem Post), David Breakstone, deputy chair of the Jewish Agency Executive and the chief representative of the Masorti/Conservative movement to the Israeli government, gives the game away. He cites a survey that half of American Jews under the age of 35 would not view the destruction of Israel as a personal tragedy. That statistic is more than a decade old.

And he quotes a prominent American rabbi’s explanation of why Israel will have to “earn the allegiance” of young American Jews: “They don’t know from the Holocaust. They have no experience of anti-Semitism. They didn’t feel the elation of the Six Day War.” And, he might have added, they are clueless as to why the collective existence of the Jewish People matters.

Well, whose fault is that? Who has totally failed to instill any knowledge of Jewish history or any positive Jewish identity? Not by accident do only 47 percent of American Jews in the same under-35 demographic acknowledge any special obligations to one’s fellow Jews.

Nearly 20 years ago, David Olesker, who teaches pro-Israel advocacy, reported that many Jewish students no longer assume that Israel deserves any defense. Five minutes into an attempt to show the weakness of the anti-Israel case, any pro-Israel speaker is almost sure to be stopped, as I can personally attest, by a Jewish student asking, “Yes, but what is the Palestinian ‘narrative’?” Can anyone imagine a Muslim student interrupting a Palestinian speaker in the same way to ask about “the Israeli narrative”?

True, one can attribute that response to Jewish students’ greater critical thinking. But it also betokens their weak identification with their fellow Jews and lack of inclination to even hear what they have to say.

In 2003, the late New York University professor Tony Judt penned a widely read article in The New York Review of Books in which he pronounced the “depressing truth that Israel today is bad for the Jews,” which holds Diaspora Jews “captive.” The former teenage volunteer on a kibbutz averred that Israel is an “anachronism,” for “the very idea of a ‘Jewish state’ in which the Jews and Jewish religion have exclusive privileges… is from another time and place.” In other words, any concept of Jewish nationhood or peoplehood is antiquated. 

THE SPIRIT OF TONY JUDT PERMEATES American Jewry today, particularly in the precincts of academia. Far more telling than anything Hotovely said, and something that should be of far greater concern to Israel’s leaders, is the cancellation of her scheduled speech at Princeton University by the campus Hillel under pressure from belligerently anti-Israel Jewish student groups. Of course, they did not have to pressure too hard. The Hillel director, Julie Roth, and her husband have donated to the pro-BDS group T’ruah and are actively affiliated with other organizations supporting BDS.

Nor was the cancellation of Hotovely an isolated event, as Caroline Glick notes. In 2009, Roth canceled a scheduled speech by Nonie Darwish, a former Muslim who advocates for Israel. The Hillels at Columbia University and New York University refused to publicize Hotovely’s campus appearances, which were sparsely attended. And recently, the Stanford Hillel canceled the appearance of Reservists on Duty, a group that features non-Jewish IDF reservists discussing their military experiences.

The capture of many campus Hillels by the left typifies other major Jewish organizations as well. Many Jewish Studies departments generously (and foolishly) funded by Jewish philanthropy are populated by BDS enthusiasts and differ little in their attitudes to Israel from the Middle East Studies departments funded by Arab oil money. Professor David Myers, whom I have twice debated in Los Angeles, and who is a member of a number of pro-BDS groups, was recently appointed director of the Center for Jewish History.

Just as Tony Judt suffered from too many snide remarks about Israel’s genocidal policies at faculty sherry hours — which made “Israel bad for Jews” — so too are young American Jews embarrassed by an Israel that has become the bête noire of their fellow denizens of the left. 

PREDICTABLY, THOSE SHRYING LOUDEST about the “coming” Israel-Diaspora rift are the heterodox movements. The threat of such a rift, which they have done so much to foster by sins of omission and commission, is their principal battering ram for the advancing of the religious pluralism agenda in Israel.

And here again, Hotovely got it exactly right: If you want to change things in Israel, come here to live and share our fate. But as of today, only .4 percent of the Israeli population identify with your movements.

She pointed out that there is presently a place for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall that stands empty almost the entire year. The heterodox movements, she said, are using the Western Wall to gain political legitimacy, and thereby turning “a religious holy place something for political dispute.”

She is right. And that is why her fight is ours as well.

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 687. Yonoson Rosenblum may be contacted directly at rosenblum@mishpacha.com