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Following is a brief background statement to the Covenant.
On August 23, 1950, the President of the American Jewish Committee and US industrialist Jacob Blaustein visited Israel. In an historic meeting at the King David Hote in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion and Blaustein issued statements expressing their mutual understanding of the relationship between American Jews and Israel, in what became known as the Blaustein-Ben Gurion accord. Three issues were at the focus of that accord — representation, dual loyalty, and Aliyah.
Ben Gurion declared for Israel that the State of Israel represents and speaks only on behalf of its own citizens, and does not speak in the name of American Jews. The State of Israel also recognizes, he said, that American Jews hold political loyalty to the United States of America and not to Israel. Blaustein’s declaration, on behalf of American Jews, stated that while Israel does not represent the North American Jewish Community (NAJC), it does have a responsibility to neither speak nor act in ways that harm American Jews, and specifically not to call on American Jews to immigrate to Israel.
Although the “exchange of views” did not describe mutual obligations (it touched almost exclusively on actions Israel should or should not take), these statements represented a mutual intent and a mutual definition of the relationship between American Jews and Israel.
Since that time, however — and more intensely in the past few years — there has developed a widespread a sense that the relationship between Israel and NAJC is deteriorating, and that there is no mutual agreement about the nature of the relationship between the two most important centers of Jewish life at this time. Many even fear that the relationship is at a crisis point and that the rift is growing wider each year.
This alarming threat to the integrity of a joint project of Jewish peoplehood calls for the definition of new parameters for North American and Israel Jewry relations.
Beginning in the spring of 2016, a group of American and Israeli Wexner program alumni has taken on this challenge and drafted an agreement, a covenant, of NAJC and Israel's relationship. The document, named Covenant of North American Jewish Community-Israel relations seeks to offer a normative framework that redefines the relationship with an emphasis on the creation of new political apparatus for dialogue and decision-making that can support a vibrant long-term partnership based on shared values and mutual obligations.
In the past year the Wexner alumni group convened via electronic conferences for dozens of hours to discuss, study, draft and redraft this document. We debated many issues of substance and form. For example, we debated who should be the parties to the covenant: on the Israeli side, should it be `the State of Israel`, or `Israeli Jews`, or `citizens of Israel`? We chose to identify ourselves at the beginning as `concerned citizens of Israel`, but the obligations are written for the State of Israel. For the North American side there is no official representative body, so we named the party `North American Jewish Community’. In this kind of documents there is inherent tension between choosing broader language that allows for more people to identify, and narrower more specific language that defines the drafters’ point of view. We chose to write broader principles in order to be inclusive and allow for people with greater diversity of opinions to identify with the document.
The purpose of the Covenant is to serve as a vehicle for strengthening and building new ties between North American and Israeli Jews and to provide a holding environment for the continuous formation and rejuvenation of the relationship. To accomplish this goal, we seek the endorsement of the Covenant by as many people as possible in North America and Israel.