Which issues are most important to you?
Israel? Growing anti-Semitism? The threat from North Korea? Challenges to pluralism? Defending the rights of dreamers? Intra-Jewish relations in Israel?
Perhaps the question should be rephrased: Which of these issues do you most closely associate with your Jewish values, and what can you do about them?
Whether you are passionate about all, some or only one, effective Jewish advocacy is issue- and policy-based, not about personalities. Jewish advocacy requires us to connect the dots linking the issues to our Jewish values.
What connecting those dots reveals is that Iran is carefully gauging how the United States responds to North Korea’s aggressive rhetoric and actions. Iran, of course, was behind the attack on the AMIA Jewish community center in Argentina over 20 years ago. Iran also supports its proxy terrorist group Hezbollah, and North Korea is a neighbor to Asian allies of Israel and of the United States.
Thus, since Iran clearly threatens the democratic values so vital to Jewish advocacy, so does North Korea.
Often, connecting the dots of Jewish advocacy involves a connection to Israel. While we often focus on the challenges Israel faces from hostile outsiders, one of the greatest threats to Israel’s future is how to navigate the thorny issue of religious liberty within its borders.
Christians, Muslims and Jews are all guaranteed religious freedom in Israel. But, ironically, considerable religious restrictions exist within the country’s Jewish community.
Since the inception of the state, Israeli governments have not given legal recognition to the reality that there are a variety of legitimate interpretations of how to understand and practice Judaism. This continuing refusal to accept the validity of religious pluralism offends many American Jews and weakens the relationship of Diaspora Jewry to Israel.
We must engage with Israeli political leaders and the Israeli public to recognize the danger and deal with it. That is Jewish advocacy.
Sometimes, connecting the dots can be local. Look around you. Look at your neighbors, your friends, the people in the restaurant. You all share things in common, but in other ways each person is different.
Our core Jewish values lead us to believe that we can strengthen our society by encouraging diversity of opinion and stimulating conversation between liberals and conservatives. That’s the way to find common ground on issues we may never have seriously pondered before. And it can enable us to support someone else’s issue, which might not be our No. 1 priority, because establishing a positive relationship makes it easier to obtain the other’s support when we need it. That, too, is Jewish advocacy.
What are our Jewish values?
For American Jewish Committee, Jewish values call for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship even while recognizing the complexity of Israeli society and striving to make it more democratic. Jewish values support keeping the United States a strong global leader, since power vacuums leave space for unwelcome alternatives to our leadership. And Jewish values appreciate pluralism and the diversity of thought and opinion as essential to building a stronger community.
If you want to base your advocacy on your Jewish values, we encourage you to join us, stay informed and know that you have a voice with AJC.
Melanie Nelkin is the president of AJC Atlanta, and Dov Wilker is the regional director.