Analysis from Israel

Israel quite properly moved quickly to quash reports that in response to worsening ties with Turkey, it planned to start helping the PKK.  Jerusalem has tried for years to persuade the world there’s no such thing as a “good” terrorist  organization, and adopting a pet terrorist group of its own would completely destroy this argument. Moreover, Turkey would justifiably consider it an act of war, just as Israel does when other countries arm Hamas or Hezbollah, and the last thing Israel needs is for its cold war with Turkey to degenerate into a hot war.

But there’s no reason whatsoever for Israel not to launch a diplomatic campaign on behalf of the Kurds, focusing on both their justified demand for independence and Ankara’s gross human rights violations against Kurds in both Turkey and Iraq (where Turkey frequently bombs Kurdish areas). It should also start lobbying for international recognition of the Armenian genocide, and urge American Jewish organizations to do so as well.

For years, the alliance with Turkey confronted Israel with an uncomfortable choice between morality and realpolitik. It was always problematic for a country founded by survivors of history’s worst genocide to tacitly acquiesce in denying another people’s genocide, especially since the world’s indifference to the Armenian genocide is thought to have encouraged Hitler’s (correct) belief that he could massacre Jews with impunity. It was also problematic for a country founded on a stateless, persecuted people’s yearning for a home of their own to tacitly acquiesce in the suppression of another stateless, persecuted people’s identical yearning -especially after Israel began supporting the Palestinians’ demand for statehood, which is incomparably less justified than that of the Kurds. (Unlike Kurds, Palestinians are ethnically and linguistically indistinguishable from their Arab neighbors, and have suffered far less: For instance, they were never barred from using their own language, as Turkey’s Kurds were, and many fewer have been killed). One can question whether Jerusalem was right to have made these compromises, but successive governments all concluded that given Israel’s nasty neighborhood, the benefits of the Turkish alliance were too great to forgo.

Now, however, this alliance is dead, and it is unlikely ever to revive: Ankara’s state-sponsored anti-Semitism (see here, here, or here, for instance) is indoctrinating young Turks to loathe Israel,  while the Turkish opposition’s main gripe against the government’s Israel policy seems to be that it isn’t anti-Israel enough. After a UN inquiry largely exculpated Israel’s raid on last year’s flotilla to Gaza, for instance, the opposition lambasted the government for enabling such a “pro-Israeli” report and for not suspending all trade with Israel.

So, for the first time in decades, morality and realpolitik align rather than conflict: By doing what is right on the Kurdish and Armenian issues, not only would Israel not lose anything, but it would bolster its own deterrence by showing Turkey cannot wage diplomatic warfare against it with impunity. In short, it’s a win-win situation. All that’s needed is for Israel’s government to finally face the fact the Turkish alliance is history.

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‘We need to talk’ about the role of non-Orthodox movements

The Jewish Federations of North America are holding their annual General Assembly this week under the title “We Need to Talk,” with “we” meaning Israel and the Diaspora. In that spirit, let’s talk about one crucial difference between the two communities: the role of the non-Orthodox Jewish movements. In America, these movements are important to maintaining Jewish identity, something Israelis often fail to understand. But in Israel, they are unnecessary to maintaining Jewish identity—something American Jews frequently fail to understand.

A 2013 Pew Research poll found that by every possible measure of Jewish identity, American Jews who define themselves as being “of no religion” score significantly worse than those who define themselves as Reform or Conservative Jews. For instance, 67 percent of “Jews of no religion” raise their children “not Jewish,” compared to just 10 percent of Reform Jews and 7 percent of Conservative Jews. Only 13 percent give their children any formal or informal Jewish education (day school, Hebrew school, summer camp, etc.), compared to 77 percent of Conservative Jews and 48 percent of Reform Jews. The intermarriage rate for “Jews of no religion” is 79 percent, compared to 50 and 27 percent, respectively, among Reform and Conservative Jews.

Indeed, 54 percent of “Jews of no religion” say being Jewish is of little or no importance to them, compared to just 14 percent of Reform Jews and 7 percent of Conservative Jews, while 55 percent feel little or no attachment to Israel, compared to 29 percent of Reform Jews and 12 percent of Conservative Jews. And only 10 percent care about being part of a Jewish community, compared to 25 and 40 percent, respectively, of Reform and Conservative Jews.

Granted, the non-Orthodox movements haven’t done very well at transmitting Jewish identity to subsequent generations; Orthodoxy is the only one of the three major denominations where the percentage of 18- to 29-year-olds isn’t significantly lower than the percentage of people over 50. Nevertheless, these movements do vastly better than “Jews no religion,” which, for most non-Orthodox Jews, is the most likely alternative. Not surprisingly, any Jewish identity is better than none.

Yet the picture is very different among secular Israeli Jews, the closest Israeli equivalent to “Jews of no religion.” The vast majority marry other Jews, if only because most of the people they know are Jewish. Almost all raise their children Jewish because that’s the norm in their society (fertility rates are also significantly higher). More than 80 percent consider their Jewish identity important. Most obviously care about Israel, since they live there. And because they live there, they belong to the world’s largest Jewish community, whether they want to or not.

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