US ambassador at JFNA GA:
'Apathy is our enemy, not disagreement'

Ambassador Friedman discusses Israel-diaspora relations at the JFNA General Assembly in Tel Aviv. 'Far more unites us than divides us.'

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

David Friedman at JFNA GA
David Friedman at JFNA GA
JFNA/Eyal Warshavsky

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman addressed the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, where he discussed relations between Israeli and diaspora Jewry.

The ambassador said that, despite disagreements between the two communities, "Apathy is our enemy, not disagreement," and emphasized that, ultimately, "Far more unites us than divides us."

"Canadian Ambassador to Israel, Deborah Lyons, Chair of the JFNA Board
of Trustees, my friend Richard Sandler, incoming Chair Mr. Mark Wilf,
co-chairs of the GA Danna Azrieli and Marius Nacht, CEO of the JFNA,
my friend and fellow rabbi’s son, Jerry Silverman, my wife, Tammy just
returning from the birthday party of our eldest granddaughter in NY,
fellow supporters of Israel, friends and distinguished guests,

Welcome to Israel and thank you for having me.

The theme of this conference, as I understand it, is “Let’s talk.”
It’s a great theme. And while you don’t say “about what,” I will
presume the primary subject is Israel/Diaspora relations. It’s a great
topic. There are few things I care about more or that I want to talk
about more. So if this is the dialogue you are seeking to encourage,
you’ve got the right guy. Unfortunately, for the next 10 minutes this
will be more an exercise in “Let me talk” rather than “Let’s talk.”
But rest assured this is a conversation I wish to continue with all of
you, and to listen as much as I talk.

Many don’t want to ask the question so bluntly, but I believe in
brutal honesty – some people say this makes me undiplomatic, some say
it makes me a good diplomat. But I do believe in confronting issues
and addressing them head on.

Are Israel and Diaspora Jewry drifting apart? And, if so, what can be
done to change the trajectory?

Before addressing the question, I think we need to start with a more
basic point. To make it, I will borrow from a parable in the Passover
Haggada. We are all familiar with the reference to the four sons – one
wise, one wicked, one simple and one who knows not even how to ask a
question. Let’s assume we all fall into the first category, the wise
son. My goal is not to classify the Jewish community but rather to
make a more fundamental point – the Haggada prioritizes qualitatively
the four types of Jews, and the last is not the wicked! The last son,
most deserving of criticism, is the apathetic. Apathy is the lowest
rung of Jewish observance – two levels below even the wicked.

It’s an important lesson for all of us. Apathy is our enemy, not
disagreement. I will bet that there are people in this room who
disagree with me on Israel policy – I am an unapologetic hard right
defender of Israel and a security hawk. That’s who I am. And to those
of you who think differently, my response is not “you’re wrong” or
“who cares?” My response I value your thinking, I respect your views
and, most importantly, I’m grateful that you care. Now let’s have a

Everyone in this room is part of the solution. As Woody Allen said,
80% of life is just showing up. By being here, you are showing how
much you care and voting with your feet against apathy. And I thank
you for that.

Where apathy is growing in the diaspora, we have a problem. It’s a
problem of outreach and education. It requires a concerted and
multi-layered effort to inculcate unaffiliated Jews with the wonders
of Judaism and the State of Israel. Programs are out there to address
apathy and they need to be supported.

Where disagreements are growing, however, we have a different problem,
but it is one which, in my humble view, is easier to solve. Because
we’re dealing with people who already care. Disagreements we need to
discuss. With respect. And with love for each other. Not just
pretending to care, or being polite, but actually listening.

But we can never drop the ball on combating apathy just because we
have unresolved disagreements – they are related but nonetheless
discrete issues. While a husband and wife are arguing, they still need
to support their children.

Let me speak for a minute about the disagreements that pop up from
time to time between Israel and Diaspora Jewry. They will never go
away completely. They just won’t. To paraphrase the famous
observation, Israel is from Mars and the Diaspora is from Venus. But
as they sometimes say about the original subject of that observation,
“Viva la Difference.”

Here are the most obvious examples of how Israel and the Diaspora
Jewry are different in profound ways.

1) Israel has no first amendment, no separation of church and state.
We do – our founding father’s greatest achievement may have been the
first amendment. In the U.S., as robust as the democratic process may
be, we don’t vote on religious matters or religious authority. In
Israel, religion and politics, for better or worse, are intertwined.
Is it a good system? It doesn’t matter. It’s the system in place here
and we all have to understand it.

2) Israel has formidable enemies on its borders and even in its
midst. While the U.S. is also exposed to terrorist threats, we have
the luxury of being bordered by Canada, Mexico, the Atlantic and the
Pacific. Israel fights a war on its border at least every decade. We
don’t. Israeli parents send their children off to battle, most of us
don’t. It is easy sometimes to forget or ignore the threats facing
Israel because Israel does such a great job of creating normalcy for
its citizens and its tourists. But the threats are there and, as
we’ve seen recently in the south, they can have a profound effect.

Now I believe that every American Jew and every Israeli values human
rights and social justice. But those values are always balanced
against maintaining security. The balancing act is fundamentally
different between the U.S. and Israel because the threats are
fundamentally different.

Now these are points that perhaps suggest that the Jewish Diaspora
needs to be more understanding of Israel – and there’s some truth to
that. But the converse also is true – Israel needs to do more for the
Diaspora. Israel is now the big brother in the Jewish world. First
world economy and quality of life, world leader in cyber, biotech, and
artificial intelligence. As the world’s largest Jewish community it
can and must do more to connect to the Diaspora. Unlike Israel,
Diaspora Jewry isn’t reaffirming its Judaism every day by living in a
Jewish State, most are not immersed in Jewish study, kids are not
singing Hatikva every day – in the Diaspora you can’t reaffirm your
Jewishness just by showing up! The Diaspora needs Israel to help World
Jewry maintain its connectivity to Judaism and Israel needs to accept,
embrace and discharge that responsibility as a national imperative
even though those efforts extend well beyond its borders.

In the end, there is far more that unites us than divides us, and it
is the unifying facts which we must always emphasize:

- Israel is a miracle

- It is a literal and figurative oasis of democracy and
tolerance in a region which has far too little of either

- Israel is the culmination of a 2000 year exile (the longest
of any people) whereby the prayers of our forefathers for our return
to Zion were finally answered

- Israel is the land of biblical history – our national history

- Israel makes the world a better place in so many ways as many
of you observed on this trip

- Israel helps to keep Americans safe through military and
intelligence cooperation

- Israel is the only guaranteed safe haven for Jews throughout
the world who are at risk

We all know these facts to be true. That’s why we are here. That’s why
there is a critical role for every one of us to play in the ongoing
miraculous story of Jewish history. And that’s why we will continue to
be here and do all we can to strengthen the bonds between the country
of our citizenship and this small nation of Israel that we value so

3000 years ago, King David said in Psalm 128 –

May the Lord bless you from Zion and may you see the good in Jerusalem.

An odd phrase – not “may Jerusalem be safe, or prosperous or blessed”
but MAY YOU SEE IT – see the good? What was the Psalmist saying? He
was making a profound point -- Just because something is there, is
true, is beautiful, doesn’t mean you will see it.

Seeing may be believing, but seeing is not just biological. Tests show
that we have much control over what we see. Best example is an eye
chart – start with big letters on top and we are conditioned to expect
lower visibility as we track downwards. Turn it upside down and remove
that expectation, and many reveal better vision of smaller letters.

What we see is thus in part how we condition ourselves and our
thoughts. That was the message of King David.

May all of us condition ourselves to see more, to see more clearly, to
open our eyes, our hearts and our minds to appreciate and understand
the heartfelt and sincere beliefs of all who care about the world
Jewish community and the state of Israel.

And may this lead to all of us fulfilling the blessing of King
David—Ureeh B’tuv Yerushalayim – may we all literally and figuratively
see the good in Jerusalem.

Thank you."