Will Jewish-American Activism on Israel Survive the Coronavirus?

It’s a well-worn lament that intensified during the Obama and Trump years: Israel and American Jews are drifting apart, and the gulf between them has become impossible to bridge. But that cry was always a metaphor. There was never a real physical divide between America and Israel, nothing that physically kept them from traveling back and forth, and sharing in each other’s joys and sorrows. 

Until now. 

Today, even those with the closest ties to members of the tribe on the other side of the Israel-Diaspora divide must stay put. Moreover, as Israelis and American Jews cope with the deadly and frightening new realities in each of their countries, they have little mental bandwidth for what is happening far away, even when it is happening to their brethren.

In short, COVID-19 presents the greatest challenge to Jewish peoplehood in most of our lifetimes. 

It is an environment in which American Jewish groups focusing on Israel advocacy and Israel fundraising must tread carefully. In the hierarchy of Jewish organizations – particularly in New York City, which has been hit hardest by the coronavirus – the welfare arms are clearly the top priority at the moment when it comes to allocating resources, which many fear will soon become scarce as the economic impact of the shutdown is fully felt.

Next on the ladder: religious institutions, to meet the spiritual needs of a ravaged and suffering community. 

Yet while political action, advocacy and fundraising related to Israel may not top the communal priority list at the moment, these groups are forging ahead, with no intention of freezing their activities.