Nimrod Palmach
Nimrod PalmachCourtesy

When Israelis went to the polls in record numbers in the November election, the role of identity politics was prominent as always. The ethnic origins of candidates and longstanding community alignments with political parties clearly influenced public dialogue and voting patterns. Ethos and ethnicity play an undisputed role in pollical allegiances—from haredi leaders to religious Zionists, immigrants from the former Soviet Union, traditionalist Jews, liberal secularists and Arab-Israelis.

In contrast to immigrants of other ethnicities and backgrounds, immigrants to Israel who were born and raised in the United States do not have a distinctive influence on political parties. Few are prominent in cultural and other Israeli institutions. That is the case even though Americans are in sixth place (quantitatively) among Diaspora immigrants, and have immigrated to Israel in a steady stream—from prior to the founding of the State to the twenty-first century.

They are under-represented in contrast to other immigrants, perhaps because of their rates of economic and social success. Even after finding their place in Israel, they maintain strong ties to their country of origin—since there is no conflict between their American and Israeli identities. Their natural connection with Israel’s most prominent ally also distinguishes them from immigrants from other English-speaking countries. Jewish immigrant communities from other parts of the world experience greater difficulties in achieving integration, and the cultures of their country of origin do not align as smoothly with Israel’s as their American peers. These gaps have created a greater need for other groups to form political lobbies and to advocate on their own behalf.

U.S. immigrants are characterized by other singular factors—their immigration was not forced upon them by economic or social exclusion—it is a matter of choice. Although the current new waves of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment cannot (and should not) be ignored, overall many Jews still feel well grounded, economically and socially, in their lives in the United States. When American Jews choose to make aliya, their immigration is motivated by ideological-Zionist considerations. And they do so with an awareness that immigration and integration will impose challenges they are assuming of their own initiative.

These factors naturally raise the question: Given their socio-economic status, higher education, fluency in English and strong ties with their countries of origin—and their strong Zionist commitment—is American-Israeli potential being fully realized in the Israeli public sphere?

It is clear that American Jews have influence—from the pressure exerted on Congress to support the founding of the Jewish State, to the activists who advanced bi-partisan support for Israel, and Golda Meir’s unprecedented fundraising initiatives (she too was an American immigrant). These vital initiatives supported Israel in attaining crucial defense weaponry for the War of Independence and still play a role in that sphere today. Former US Ambassador David Friedman was a significant figure in promoting the recognition of Israeli sovereignty of the Golan Heights and the transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

Each year, some 2,000-3,000 US immigrants arrive in Israel. When American Jews become American Israelis—is their potential being adequately realized? Given their capacities and achievements, why is their presence not more felt in Israel’s political and public spheres?

The full realization of their potential is essential to the future of the State of Israel and the Zionist vision—in an era in which Israeli society is mired in an identity crisis and alienation from the Jewish-Zionist narrative. Renewal of Zionist ideology and inclusion of the ethos of leaders such as Michael Eisenberg, Wendy Singer, Ari Howe, Rabbi Dr.Yona Goodman, Rabbi Dr. Yakov Nagen and many others are models for this renaissance. They bring to life Zionist activism, economic advancement, and social initiatives that utilize their mastery of the English language and natural ties to American culture. They connect Israel with Diaspora Jewry, with a multiplier effect on matters of the economy, politics and Jewish identity.

The clear conclusion is that social and political leaders must invest in the talents of these promising immigrants. More needs to be done to cultivate potential leaders among immigrants from the United States. Every effort must be made to promote inclusion in research centers, training centers for social action, and engagement in mainstream political and social forums—including a focus on the new waves of young American immigrants. These immigrants have a tremendous contribution to make to the fulfillment of the Zionist vision and the future of the Jewish people.

Nimrod Palmach is the founder of The Zionist Project, an initiative he is launching with likeminded colleagues after some 15 years of guiding young leadership programs in Israel and overseas. He is also the creator of programs to enrich Jewish identity and promote social mobility. He is a reserve-duty combat officer of a search-and-rescue unit of the IDF.