III. Implications

The differences between the configurations of religion, culture, society and politics in Israel and in the Jewish-American Diaspora have far-reaching implications for the development of the relations between communities. In each of these respective contexts of Jewish life, Jewish affiliations, orientations and identities have different meanings. As a result, the communications between leaders as well as laypersons from these two parts of the Jewish universe reveal what the noted American anthropologist Clifford Geertz called, in another context, systematic misunderstandings. Systematic misunderstandings consist of misunderstandings that arise neither from a lack of knowledge, nor from a lack of information, nor from simply correctable misperceptions. Instead, they arise from more fundamental discontinuities in the very structures, positions and perspectives of the groups involved. Unlike random misunderstandings, systematic ones lend themselves to analysis and prediction. Hence, they can be used as tools for locating problems in the interactions between Israeli and American Jewish leaders.

Applied to our issue, the concept of systematic misunderstandings implies that key categories or key terms of the Israeli-Jewish American discourse live simultaneously in different spheres of meaning. Since leaders of these two communities tend to ascribe to these the different meanings they have in their own respective contexts, they often use similar words to say very different things. Such discontinuities, or contradictions, in the meanings of key terms are likely, therefore, to lead to breaks in communications or to complex, indirect transactions. I shall try briefly to illustrate some of these systematic misunderstandings by examining the different frames American and Israeli Jews tend to assume in using such key terms as “Israel,” “America,” “Arabs” and “Jewish history.”

The following discussion is meant to be brief and illustrative. A more exhaustive examination of discontinuities in the language of Israel-American communications will have to wait for another time.