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Final Paper for Taub Seminar Ariel Beery and Hindy Poupko

Contemporary Currents in the American Jewish Relationship with Israel

Recently, and especially since the collapse of the Oslo Peace Process of the 1990s

and the launch of the Second Intifada in September of 2000, American Jewish critics of

the Zionist project have become remarkably more outspoken, demanding that the Jewish

community include their negative views of the Jewish State in the organizational

discourse. In doing so, these post- and even anti-Zionist Jews openly question—and

ultimately reject—the centrality of Israel in American Jewish life. For those American

Jews who believe in the unity of the Jewish People and that therefore the State of Israel

should occupy a central role in Jewish identity, these public challenges have raised a

number of questions concerning the essence of Jewish identity in the post-Exile, post-

Holocaust era. These questions dig to the very root of Jewish self-perception, communal

organization and collective priorities—and the answers to these questions are far from

self-evident.

To help the American Jewish community in its attempt to answer the challenges

posed by these critics and by these transformative times, this paper will explore the

context in which this criticism of the Zionist enterprise emerged, seek to highlight the

major strains of the argument against tying the fate of American Jewry to that of Israel,

and will then offer a possible theory to explain why the topic has become so heated in

today’s geopolitical reality.

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Brief History of the Israel-Diaspora Relationship

The relationship between the Jewish People and the modern State that has been

built upon a portion of what has been known since Biblical times as the Land of Israel is

a complex and dynamic one. Early in the history of the State of Israel, the United States

government remained relatively uninvolved in the region under the cover of a general

arms embargo while Israel’s leading politicians openly proclaimed their socialist beliefs.

As time went on, American Jewish support for Israel grew ever stronger, and over the

next three decades of Israel’s existence, American foreign policy shifted from distance to

closeness as Israel and America found themselves in the special relationship that exists

until the present day.

The warming of this relationship can be largely credited to the intense lobbying

work American Jews undertook. Like many if not most Jews who witnessed the

Holocaust and now lived in a post-Holocaust world, many Diaspora Jews idealized the

notion of a homeland with a strong army, and looked to Israel as a beacon of spiritual

light. Others who were less militarily inclined, such as those who followed or were

influenced by Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan and his school of American Judaism, viewed

Israel as the place where the Jewish people could fulfill their ultimate destiny of being a

light onto the nations.

Such idealization mostly resulted in financial support—especially from American

Jewry, who tended not to immigrate to Israel. As Eli Lederhendler points out, “the bulk of

monetary assistance comes from precisely those communities that contribute the smallest

number of immigrants.”1 As Israel became a stronger State with a first-rate economy,

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funding for economic-support’s sake began to decline, and a new model for funding has

arisen whereby many American Jews use philanthropy as an acknowledgement of a

shared interest and as a means of influencing what goes on in Israel while not being there

themselves.2

Reflecting on this relationship, Jonathan Sarna observes that the Zion American

Jews dreamed about was in fact “a mythical Zion, a Zion that reveals more about

American Jewish ideals than about the realities of Eretz Israel.”3 American Jews,

according to Sarna, developed this ideal vision by first depicting Israel as a “holy land”

then with images of the “romantic pioneer,” and finally, as “a utopian extension of the

American dream, a Jewish refuge where freedom, liberty, and social justice would reign

supreme.”4 In this way, the transformations undergone by Israel’s image reflect the

contemporary emotional and psychological needs of the American Jewish community—a

role played out in the present day as well, when leading advocates for Israel now present

the Jewish State as the front-line outpost of the global war democratic countries much

wage against Islamic extremism.

In all cases, Israel as a representation of communal needs offers those who confer

upon her that role a “sacred mission” of sorts, one that links Jews to one another in a

collective actor that can address the problems of the day.5 And, due to the geographic

distance, Israel also seems to free American Jews of their burden of leading a sacred life.

The problem here arises in that the relationship is based on unfair expectations and an

idealized sense of reality—a reality that becomes increasingly complex over the years.

American Jews who saw Israel in an ideal light, and had for it the highest of expectations,

did not know how to deal with the complexity—resulting in a distancing of members of

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the community.

In response to this disappointment, some Jews have moved to redefine the

categorization of Jews who live outside of the Jewish State. An interesting thesis

proposed recently is the concept of “Global Jewry,” a term that denies the continuation of

the category of Diaspora created by the exile following the destruction of the Second

Temple, a denial that thereby creates a “New Jew,” untethered to a specific geographical

place. Arguing this thesis, Caryn Aviv and David Shneer suggest instead that we are all

“global Jews.”6 According to Aviv and Shneer, “Diaspora” is a negative category due to

its origin, a term that “has dignified a diminished spiritual and eschatological condition,

connected to the negative idea of exile, homelessness, and a yearning for a return to

Zion.”7 Further, “the historic Jewish Diaspora differs from many postmodern diasporas,

which have an actual political identity, rather than only a symbolic one, that they may call

a homeland.”8 The ability to adopt local identity is not solely a contemporary

development, the author’s note: Jews have a unique ability to create a sense of “rooted-

ness” wherever they may find themselves, as reflected by the cemeteries, traditional

schools, and bathhouses, that existed in many Diaspora communities.

Aviv and Shneer argue that in response to the move by Jewish communal

organizations to make “support for Israel a civic religion,”9 many Jews are now searching

for an alternative to Zionism as the basis of secular Jewish identity. This identity enables

hybridism and fragmentation,10 wherein the current model of the Diaspora should be

redefined by “a theoretical and historical model to replace national self-determination.”11

This theoretical framework challenges the very notion of a collective Jewish

people:

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By deemphasizing “Diaspora,” which connotes powerlessness, and “homeland,” which connotes

power, we suggest that power within the Jewish world- cultural, political, economic-flows in

many directions and to and from diverse places.12

The authors of “New Jews” attempt to redefine our notions of Diaspora and re-

contextualize Israel’s role in Jewish identity, with the aim of “sharing power” among all

Jews, now referred to as global Jews. While on a secularist level they may be correct in

asserting that identities today are a hybrid of a host of factors, it should be noted that

Jewish identity is not based solely on secular identity. Jewish identity is based on a

combination of the Bible, a continued collective history, and the collective sense of

national status due to the foundation of the Jewish narrative: covenant. Part of that

narrative holds at its core the recognition of the Land of Israel as the Jewish national and

spiritual homeland, and any Jew who recognizes the religious, historical and collective

linkage of the Jewish people de facto chooses to live outside of that center of gravity.

A Quick Review of the Public Debate

American Jewish uneasiness with Zionism is not a recent phenomenon; while it is

true that American Jews have been amongst Israel’s most vocal supporters, the Zionist

movement did not tally the same success in the United States as it did in Europe—even

prior to the Holocaust, when the socioeconomic status of the Jewish populations was

relatively comparable.13 Due to this broad distribution of opinions concerning the

fundamental concept of the Jewish State, debate surrounding Israel’s actions has never

been absent from the American Jewish discourse—and rose to a fever pitch during the

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Oslo peace process when right-wing groups attacked the Rabin government for being

willing to part with portions of what is thought of as Biblical Israel.14 That said, recent

debates carried out and highlighted in the American media since the start of the post-Oslo

era have a different ring to them, and since this paper is focused on the contemporary

relationship, and specifically on the growing criticism concerning the Zionist project, it

will be these debates that this paper will review.15

The opening shot in the contemporary public debate concerning the justice of the

Zionist project can most probably be traced back to that one fired by a New York

University professor, Tony Judt, a historian specializing in European History who

primarily focuses on the post-Holocaust period. In an article entitled “Israel: The

Alternative” published in the New York Review of Books, Judt called for the dissolution of

the Zionist enterprise, claiming that,

The problem with Israel, in short, is not—as is sometimes suggested—that it is a European

"enclave" in the Arab world; but rather that it arrived too late. It has imported a characteristically

late-nineteenth-century separatist project into a world that has moved on, a world of individual

rights, open frontiers, and international law. The very idea of a "Jewish state"—a state in which

Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever

excluded— is rooted in another time and place. Israel, in short, is an anachronism.16

This argument marked a turning point in the American Jewish discourse not for its

originality—it should be remembered that intellectuals and Zionist leaders such as Martin

Buber and Judah Magnes argued for a binational state nearly a century before Judt

arrived on the scene—but for its redefinition of the item of contention. Prior to the Judt

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article, the “One State Solution” most prominently meant a Jewish state stretching from

the Mediterranean to the Jordan, no Palestine in between. This was known as the Greater

Israel movement, and its adherents were—and in many cases still are—well represented

in the American Jewish establishment, controlling the Zionist Organization of America

and occupying nearly the totality of the Modern Orthodox religious Zionist institutions.

As noted above, this movement was responsible for one of the more heated periods of

Israel-Diaspora relations due to the controversial status of the Oslo process, during which

the right-wing groups rejected Palestinian claims to self-determination.

Judt, however, was not addressing this school of thought; for him, and many like

him among the Jewish intelligentsia that has tended to leaned leftwards, the creation of a

Palestinian State was a foregone conclusion. It was the existence and maintenance of a

Jewish State that caused unease, spurring debates around this same time concerning the

justice and wisdom of Israel’s existence in key intelligentsia magazines such as

Harper’s,17 Foreign Policy,18 the National Journal,19 and others. This politically-oriented

debate appeared numerous times on the pages of the New Republic, which dropped Judt

from its masthead in 2003 and revisited the claims against Israel in a number of articles—

many of which addressed Judt’s claims while decrying the man himself, most

vociferously when Judt’s claims of maltreatment by the ADL were found to be either

false or greatly exaggerated.20

External voices—that is, non-Jewish voices—fed this fire, particularly as they

provided fertile ground for the Jewish communal debate to rage. Professors John

Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt published an article21 and a fully-formed academically

sanctioned report on the John F. Kenedy School website condemning the influence of

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what they called the “Israel lobby” on American foreign policy; 22 former US president

Jimmy Carter entitled, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,”23 which was met by great

commercial success; a flurry of articles continues to spread as of the writing of this paper

concerning the legal case made against America Israel Public Affairs Committee

(AIPAC) staffers concerning the passing on of classified documents about Iran.

In response, some American Jews, to paraphrase an observation made by French

philosopher Alain Finkielkraut concerning a similar reaction amongst French Jews,

quickly rushed to show that they were more American than Americans.24 Speaking of

“American Interests” and intent on forcing peace in the Middle East, a group of

prominent activists including the billionaire financier George Soros announced that they

were exploring setting up an alternative lobby to AIPAC, one they argued would more

clearly reflect American interests in the region (and be less impacted by the government

of Israel’s own assessment of Israel’s strategic interests).25 Whereas reports of the launch

of this lobby remained tenuous for a period of time,26 Soros validated predictions that he

would get more involved in political maneuvers against AIPAC with an article in the New

York Review of Books, entitled “On Israel, America and AIPAC.”27 The reactions and

counterreactions were sharp from all sides, and, as of this paper’s writing, the fall-out

continues.

That the justice of a nation-state’s very existence has been so openly debated by

both Jews and non-Jews is remarkable enough—most nations take their existence for

granted, and debates concerning nations normally limit themselves to issues of policy.

What was more remarkable about these debates is that many of those debating for Israel’s

dissolution were not only Jewish, but were arguing using Jewish arguments based upon

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Jewish values and Jewish history. The ultimate example of this trend was a compilation

of “progressive Jewish-American responses to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” called

Wrestling with Zion, edited by the playwright Tony Kushner and the journalist Alisa

Solomon.28 While the range of opinions is this compilation spread relatively wide, one

theme could be discerned throughout the book: support for the justice of the Jewish State

could not be taken for granted amongst the Jewish intelligentsia. It was this trend that

Alvin Rosenfeld reacted to in an officially sanctioned essay published by the American

Jewish Committee, “‘Progressive Jewish’ Thought and the New Anti-Semitism,”29 whose

publication in 2006 sparked another round of debate and recriminations concerning the

responsibility of the American Jewish community to Israel and the Zionist movement—a

debate which also rages on.30

Trends in Youth Culture

It is nearly impossible to overestimate the affect of the Holocaust and the rise of

the Jewish State on contemporary Jewish identity. The destruction of European

communities erased various forms of religiosity and traditionalism, and the rise of the

secular-in-spirit State gave birth to a new way of being Jewish, one rooted to land and not

solely built on the clouds of imagination.

For that generation that lived through the Holocaust, the powerlessness they felt

led to a strong counterreaction—the support of Jewish power, one that assumed that the

underdog status of the Jewish People could only be mitigated through self-determination

and the military to defend it.31 This changed markedly with the following generation,

which knew not Hitler and, witnessing the victory of the Six-Day War, did not feel

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underdogs as Jews. These so-called “Boomers”—who came of age in the late 1960s and

were active in the protests of 1968—took the lessons of the Holocaust to teach support

for the Third-World causes. This generation of 1968 continues to affect the present day,

as can be seen in the prominence of writers such as Judt, Kushner and Solomon.32

The assignment of victim-status in post-Holocaust Jewish discourse is a factor

that is too important to ignore due to its statistical and rhetorical prominence. Whereas

the older generation, who lived through the Holocaust, drew the conclusion that the Jews

would no longer permit themselves to be at the mercy of the nations, the younger

generations, when told the story of their people’s victimization, concluded that they

would never let such oppression happen again—to anyone.33

The generation that follows—the one coming of age at the time of this paper’s

writing—was born into even more radically different a world. Children of the post-1967

revolution in Jewish identity, born into an age in which Israel has consistently been seen

as the strong party in the region, Jewish youth in many cases simply did not get why the

older generations are so very attached to the Jewish State. For these youth raised in a

strongly middle-class community in the United States,34 who knew only Jewish power

and comfort, and would only hear about Jewish powerlessness and victimization from

their grandparents or would read about it in books, the idea that the Jewish people needed

a state to ensure the safety of Jews around the world seemed nearly ludicrous. Moreover,

having come of age during the first Intifada, when Israel was roundly condemned for its

continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip by the international community,

many of these youth came to believe that if anyone in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was

to be given the mantel of the victim, it certainly was not the Jews.

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While this move to re-focus the conclusions from the Holocaust from

particularistic ones to universalistic ones began in the generation before the current one

as noted above, it took a generation for this focus to sink in and to mix with an alienation

born of living a life geographically at distance from the Jewish State. The result has been

a steady decline in attachment to Israel,35 and this alienation has been sped-up thanks to

the official sanction that these new post-Zionist and even anti-Zionist Jews are getting

from Foundations and official Jewish institutions that fund the propagation of this

culture.36 This then becomes a self-perpetuating cycle, wherein the Boomer generation

denies the authority of the Zionist attitude of generations past, and thereby turns around

to fund programming that encourages youth who are disconnected from the Jewish State

and often, due to their core assumptions concerning Jewish identity, take the statement

one step further to deny the very justice of existence of the Jewish state.

The rise of Heeb Magazine is an interesting case in this regards. Founded by

Jennifer Bleyer in 2001, Heeb was born out of Bleyer’s desire to connect to the

“Otherness” that she saw as elemental to the Jewish condition.37 The magazine therefore

pursued a repossession of this sense of otherness from a society that held that Jews were

the ultimate insiders by focusing on those aspects of Jewish identity that were in contrast

with society, taking an irreverent tone that reacted to the irony as “Americaness” and

“Jewishness” collided. Finding strong organizational support, Heeb was heavily funded

by such prominent backers the UJA-Federation of New York and Steven Spielberg’s

Righteous Person’s Foundation who together contributed several hundred thousands of

dollars.38 Since Heeb’s launch was heralded by a series of leading newspaper accounts in

papers such as the New York Times and Time Out New York,39 the Jewish organizational

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world decided to pour more money into Jewish cultural projects in the hope of

strengthening Jewish continuity and stemming the flow away from affiliation with the

Jewish organizational world. Interestingly, the return on this investment is a mixed bag:

on one hand, it is true that many Jews in metropolitan areas attend culturally-Jewish

events.40 On the other hand, most of the people who attend these events—over eighty

percent—come from highly-affiliated backgrounds.41

Unfortunately, such increased support backfired in the case of Jennifer Bleyer—

and understanding her case is important when discussing contemporary Jewish identity

based upon otherness. Writing in a retrospective in Nextbook, Bleyer relates how,

…[A]s more people got into Heeb, the more disconnected I felt. After a while, it was like I was

putting out a magazine for people with brown hair. Sure, I have brown hair. I like having brown

hair. But I can talk about it only so much until it feels irrelevant, not to mention self-indulgent.

Being the poster girl for hipster secular Judaism wasn't really me. And although I was glad for

Heeb's success and worked very hard for it, the popular message was, roughly speaking, that being

Jewish is cool.

Being Jewish, cool? Um, dork factor: ten.

It's not cool now, it never has been, and it never will be. But, this was the message taken by many

people, and I was its mortified messenger.

I preferred the definition of Jews as ultimate outsiders.42

Bleyer’s feelings were echoed throughout the young Jewish cultural landscape,

and in many ways define what it means for a significant percentage of the non-Orthodox

but committed population to be Jewish today.43

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The Intersection of the Public Debate with Trends in Youth Culture

While the public debate carried out by the intelligentsia did not in-and-of-itself

cause the distancing of youth culture from Israel, it certainly intersected well with trends

emerging around the same time. Around this time, a trend towards post-Zionism and

alienation from the State of Israel building over the past few decades was coming to a

head in the youth culture. Long-influential Zionist youth movements found themselves

closing down camps across the country in the 1980s and ‘90s due to cuts in traditional

sources of funding by the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization, leaving

historically relevant movements such as Hashomer Hatzair, Habonim Dror and Betar

nearly without members in North America.44 Moreover, due to the fact that this

generation came of age after Israel had made peace with Egypt and during years of the

Lebanon War in Israel and the rise of the Israeli peace movement to national prominence,

the Israel that this generation knew was not the poor, needy and precariously placed Israel

of their parents. The Israel of today was nearly opposite—it was not under existential

threat or making the desert bloom—and this transformation in status was not picked up

upon by the educational establishment that introduced many American Jews to Israel for

the first time.45

The cognitive dissonance caused when the historic image of Israel as the

oppressed came into contrast with the contemporary image as broadcast in the American

(and Israeli) media of Israel as the oppressor caused many of this new generation of

American Jews to either tune out from relating to Israel whatsoever, or to tune into anti-

Zionist claims growing in prominence amongst the more progressive elements of political

activism.

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As the younger generation developed media of its own, this either/or of the tuned

out Israel-isn’t-my-life school or the tuned in engagement-through-criticism school was

strongly brought to bear, and examples are numerous in statements made by young

communal though-leaders: Benyamin Cohen, the editor of American Jewish Life, tells an

interviewer “I do not care about Israel…It sounds like a crazy, almost horrible thing for a

Modern Orthodox person to say. But it [the founding of the Jewish state] happened more

than 50 years ago, and it doesn’t mean anything to me. The love of Israel is not a gene

that a Jewish person is automatically born with;”46 Ilana Sichel, editor of New Voices, the

magazine of the Jewish Student Press Service, writes, “We therefore must reconsider our

tradition’s age-old liturgical longing for another place. In this era of global conflict,

unprecedented mobility for the upper classes, and natural disasters that send millions

running from their homes, we must ask ourselves: Can home be any place but the place

we live?;”47 Joshua Neuman, editor of Heeb Magazine, in an interview with the New York

Post rejects the “idea that Jews aren't really at home anywhere but Israel and only there

do they live an authentic existence.”48

Various other examples of trend-setter comments to this effect can be found in the

reports and studies put together on this demographic,49 the key aspect being that the

Israel-isn’t-my-life Jews feel more “American” or “British” or “European” than they do

connected to Israel, and therefore tend to invest their energy elsewhere than the Jewish

State. Moreover, general trends away from citizenship-as-obligation drive young

members of the United States to be alienated from the very idea of the State, since

citizenship in the post-Draft era no longer means more than paying taxes and consuming

public goods.50

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The criticism-as-engagement stream has been especially strong online, where a

significant amount of the youth-culture debates have been—and continue to be—carried

out. Following a trend in Information Age general society, and parallel to the coffeehouse

journals of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, weblogs—or blogs—bring together like-

minded individuals to discuss the issues of the day; and, unlike the Israel-isn’t-my-life

group, for the criticism-as-engagement stream the issues of the day frequently have to do

with Israel.

One key example of this intellectual stream is a group weblog by the name of

Jewschool, launched in 2001.51 Describing itself as “an open revolt…The New Jew

precisely because you cannot confine us to traditional categories and delineations,”52

Jewschool is the largest progressive youth culture blog in the Jewish blogosphere with a

reported readership rivaling the circulation of the more traditional-form magazines and

newsletters.53 While Jewschool itself covers a wide variety of cultural and religious

programming, a steady component of its content has to do with—and is highly critical of

—Israel, and its founder, Daniel Sieradski, has been an outspoken anti-Zionist in the

community. Writing on his own blog, Orthodox Anarchist, Sieradski states,

No, I’m not a Zionist. I’m a Jew. I’m not going to whitewash this despicable desecration of our

inheritance and paint it as awesomely wonderful because of it’s scientific breakthroughs or its

false appearance of democracy.

The more venom you spew in my direction, the more I realize it’s true — that Zionists don’t really

believe in Torah. Because Zionism is assur by the Torah. Zionism has nothing to do with Judaism.

It is a Jewish nationalist movement. Judaism and Zionism are not one and the same.54

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Taken on their own, these words highly resemble the arguments of the Neturei

Karta sect of Satmar Hasids known for their public protests of the Jewish State. But

although Sieradski declares himself Orthodox, he would not be considered such by most

Orthodox Jews. Instead, Sieradski and Jewschool are an expression of an

evangelicization of American Jewry—a hybrid of deeply-held religious convictions and

political ideology that produces its own orthodoxy of sorts, with clearly delineated and

enforced positions on everything from gay ordination to the Jewish State. Activists on

behalf of this ideology follow their parents’ generation’s example in joining independent

prayer groups or minyanim, and are taking more prominent roles at the non-Orthodox

seminaries, where progressive politics have become a central part of non-Halachic

Judaism.

It should be noted that this is not the only trend in young Jewish culture, even if it

is the most highly-covered in the Jewish media, which devoted quite a number of articles

to what they termed alternatively the “New Jew” or the “Hipster” moment. Less focused

upon, probably due to its less sexy demeanor, is a more “positive” current—insofar as

this current affirms the affinity between American Jews and the Jewish State, and

encompasses a more ideologically diverse population. This at times more traditional

sensibility exists in both offline and online offerings, as well as in various publications

that have arisen during this period straddling the mediums. Also, this more committed

segment is larger in adherents than the criticism-as-engagement stream, but smaller than

the larger mass of American Jews who have simply tuned out.55 However, since the focus

of this paper concerns the challenges that have arisen to the American Jewish relationship

to Israel, covering these ventures is beyond the scope of this paper.56 Just as the voices in

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the intelligentsia calling for the disengagement of the American Jewish community from

Israel’s interests are small but loud, the voices among the youth represent a very small but

very active subsector of the American Jewish population that has a disproportional effect

on the self-image of American Jewry.

Research and Data Analysis

In an effort to gain a deeper and more realistic understanding of the way in which

young Jewish adults perceive Israel and their relationship to her, we conducted web-

administered survey of young Jewish professionals. It is important to note that although

the survey deals with a population of equal statistical value as recent much-publicized

surveys by the sociologist Steven M. Cohen57 and the various studies by the Reboot

group, the conclusions are, similarly, not generalizable: the 22 responses to the survey

were biased in selection, thereby mitigating any randomness and biasing the general

spread. With this caveat in mind we continue to present the survey results.

The survey entitled “Israel and America: What Gives?” asked the respondents a

myriad of questions including:

• Do the political realities in Israel affect the way in which you relate to Israel?

• If the United States and Israel went to war, whom would you root for?

• Who would you fight for? Why?

• Is your relationship to Israel based on religion, nationality?

• What do you think the American Jewish community’s policy should be toward

Diaspora-Israel relations?

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• Do you feel American Jews are supportive enough of Israel?

The responses we received revealed a fascinating trend we had not anticipated. It

became increasingly apparent that there was a direct correlation between an individual

having a strong sense of peoplehood, and their support for Israel. The following is a plot

of their scores:

Support for Israel


5 3 5

4
4

3
3 Sense of Peoplehood
1 2 4 5
1
2

1 1

As is represented on the graph, the individuals whose support for Israel fell in the

highest range were also the individuals who revealed the strongest sense of communal

responsibility and shared destiny. For instance, the respondent who scored the lowest for

his support for Israel made it clear that he felt no sense of responsibility or brotherhood to

his fellow Jews in Israel and felt more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. When asked

whether or not the political realities in Israel affect his relationship to the land, he said, “I

am embarrassed to be Jewish sometimes.” He also made it clear that if he were to visit

Israel again, it would only be “to take advantage of the culture.” Another respondent

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whose support for Israel was in the lowest range commented, “I am extremely offended

that my temple attempts to fund Israeli wars of aggression while I am trying to pray.”

Those individuals who scored the highest in their support for Israel generally

believed that their connection to Israel is based on a sense of “nationalism” and used

language including: “The Israel-Diaspora relationship should be about peoplehood,” “My

connection to the Jewish people makes me feel a connection to Israel,” “I believe the

Jewish people need a homeland,” and “If Israel and United States went to war, I would

fight for Israel.”

The most interesting of the respondents, however, were not the ones that fell into

the extremes, but rather the bunch that scored right in the middle in terms of their support

for Israel and their feelings of peoplehood and responsibility to the Jewish people. This

group often described their relationship to Israel as “love/hate” and expressed growing

concern for Israel’s “immoral” behavior. Additionally, when asked whom they would

fight for if Israel and American went a war (a question which often revealed respondents’

feelings on peoplehood), many said things like “I think it would depend on whose side I

thought the justice and ethics lay, not on blind loyalties.” Yet, while they maintain a

somewhat critical approach to Israel and would not be willing to fight for the Jewish

people unless they agreed with the cause, they still felt that Israel is in fact the Jewish

homeland and plays a critical role in their Jewish identity. Perhaps it is this group that

best reflects the heart and soul of American Jewry today. It is a community with

competing values and dual-loyalties, and a community that believes Israel should exist,

but must change its ways to deserve their unwavering support. More study on this linkage

deserves to be done to see whether the trend found here is generalizable.

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It is clear that of those polled, the stronger the feelings of nationhood and

peoplehood, the stronger the support for Israel. One can conclude from here that perhaps

one’s relationship to Israel has little to do with how one views Israel per se, but rather,

how one defines what it means to be a Jew.

Policy Implications and Conclusion

If the American Jewish community values a supportive and holistic relationship

with the Jewish State, and hopes to counteract trends in Jewish culture pulling apart the

geographically dispersed segments of the Jewish People, a significant effort will have to

be made to differently educate the next generation. As mentioned above, it should be

remembered that while the majority of youth are not opposed to the existence of the

Jewish State, the reigning feeling of apathy and alienation provides the opportunity to

normalize negativity in the community—thereby widening the gap between the two

communities. Such a gap tears apart the fabric of a unified Jewish People—creating

disparate sects of Jews, connected only through name alone.

It is our opinion that due to the strong correlation between feeling of Peoplehood

and support for Israel, if the Jewish community seeks to maintain the American Jewish

community’s relationship with Israel, or to maintain the political/communal unity of the

Jewish people, a qualitative focus on Peoplehood is of utmost importance. In other words,

focus on the religious aspects of Jewish identity is not sufficient: as we have illustrated

above, liberally-minded Jews can just as soon reject a connection to Israel based upon

religious education as they maintain it. If they do not feel a sense of covenant with other

20
Jews, however, their relationship with the faith is not enough to keep them connected to

the Jewish State. Jewish education must therefore do more to incorporate ideas of

Peoplehood and communal responsibility into the meta-narrative.

In addition, the majority of respondents mentioned that they wish they had been

exposed to a more complex and realistic version of Israel as opposed to the idealized

representation they were taught in the classroom. This makes sense allegorically: family

members want to know the good and the bad concerning members of their family,

because if a family member truly feels committed to another member, that member wants

to be able to help when needed and to celebrate when given cause. Likewise, the Jewish

People may think of themselves as an extended family, and to enable that, new

mechanisms need to be developed to communicate this complexity while emphasizing

commitment—thereby ensuring that Jewish youth do not exempt themselves from their

responsibilities to the Jewish People, but have an accurate assessment of the challenges

we will face in the coming years.

In conclusion, the circumstances of the present era make it clear that the Jewish

community should find new and innovative ways to address the questions many young

Jews face about Israel and its policies. All is not lost: as the philosopher and Hebraist

Simon Rawidowicz pointed out, we Jews often see ourselves as the last of our line—an

ever-dying people—but there is still much more of the Jewish story to write. If we want

those chapters of the Jewish story to continue as one—if we want Jews inside and outside

of Israel to act as a collective actor—it is clear from our research that a focus on

Peoplehood and collective responsibility is crucial. Hopefully, such a renewal of efforts

will lead to an environment where young Jews feel secure enough in their obligation that

21
they then also feel comfortable exploring their relationship with the Jewish State,

committed to its continued existence despite its often complex political realities.

22
1
Lederhendler, Eli. “The Diaspora Factor in Israeli Life.” In Anita Shapira, ed. Israeli Identity in Transition. Westport:
Praeger, 2004. pg 120.
2
Lederhendler, 127.
3
Sarna, Jonathan. “A Projection of America as it ought to be: Zion in the mind’s eye of American Jews.” In Allon Gal, ed.
Envisioning Israel: The Changing Ideals and Images of North American Jews. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. 1996.
pg. 41.
4
Sarna, 41.
5
Sarna, 58.
6
Aviv, Caryn and Shneer, David, “Introduction: From Diaspora Jews to New Jews” in New Jews: The End of the Jewish
Diaspora. New York: NYU Press: Page 2.
7
Aviv and Shneer, 3.
8
Aviv and Shneer, 5.
9
Aviv and Shneer, 12.
10
Aviv and Shneer, 17.
11
Aviv and Shneer, 17.
12
Aviv and Shneer, 20.
13
, pg. 9.
14
Despite the fact that many critics of Israel and Zionism claim that there is not enough criticism of Israel among Jews, any
cursory look at the organs of intellectual debate will show one Jew or another debating one facet or another of Israel’s
policies and Zionism’s tenants. True, the communal Jewish magazines tend to be less critical of Israel than the non-
communal magazines owned and written for by Jews, but communal debate—as evidenced in the articles cited in this paper
—need not be confined to the pages of the Jewish Week or the Forward. Moreover, it should be recognized that this debate
is not only a Left-wing one; during the Oslo Peace Process the right-wing elements of the Jewish community held together a
strong attack on the democratically elected government of Israel—an attack that took place in opeds, the pages of
Commentary Magazine, and in the halls of congress with the lobbying of such communal leaders as Mort Klein of the
Zionist Organization of America. Since this paper is about anti-Zionism it cannot address this breakdown in American
Jewish support for the democratically determined policies of the State of Israel at length—but it is important to keep such a
phenomenon in mind when reading further.
15
It should be noted that much of what follows is a reaction to post-Zionism and the New Historians, who started to
deconstruct the Zionist narrative of Israel’s formation during the years of the Oslo Peace process, 1992-2000. Since this
paper is dealing with the American Jewish community, describing and discussing the post-Zionist critique is beyond its
scope. That said, it need be kept in mind that much if not all of the currently voiced criticism of Zionism has been sparked
by post-Zionism.
16
17
18
19

20
Wieseltier, Leon. "The Shahid " The New Republic October 23 2006.
21
Mearsheimer, John, and Stephen Walt. "The Israel Lobby." London Review of Books 28.6 (2006).
22
Mearsheimer, John, and Stephen Walt. The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy Cambridge, MA: John F. Kennedy
School of Government, Harvard University, 2006.
23
Carter, Jimmy. Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006.
24
In writing about the way the Israelites reacted to French condemnation of Jewish particularism. See Finkielkraut, Alain.
The Imaginary Jew. Trans. Kevin O'Neill and David Suchoff. 2nd ed. Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press,
1994, pg. 65
25
Kampeas, Ron. "Soros to Support Dovish Jews Seeking an Alternative to Aipac?" Jewish Telegraphic Agency October 10
2006.
26
Guttman, Nathan. "Soros and Media Heavyweights Attack Pro-Israel Lobby’s Influence on U.S. Policy " The Jewish
Daily Forward March 23 2007.
27
Soros, George. "On Israel, America and Aipac." New York Review of Books 54.6 (2007).
28
Kushner, Tony, and Alisa Solomon, eds. Wrestling with Zion: Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Israeli-
Palestinian Conflict. New York, NY: Grove Press, 2003.
29
Rosenfeld, Alvin H. “Progressive” Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism. New York: American Jewish Committee,
2006.
30
While the essay was covered in nearly every Jewish community paper, the most prominently remarked upon article was,
naturally, the one written up in the Jewish People’s newspaper of record: New York Times. Cohen, Patricia. "Essay Linking
Liberal Jews and Anti-Semitism Sparks a Furor." The New York Times January 31 2007.
31
Finkielkraut, 117
32
Finkielkraut makes this point strongly concerning the importance of the Holocaust in his—and his generation’s—
consciousness in Finkielkraut, 17-19
33
Beery, Ariel “Let’s Stop Playing the Underdog. It’s Dangerous,” London Jewish Chronicle. April 27, 2007
34
It should be noted that, according to data in the National Jewish Population Survey of 2000-2001, Jews living in
households under the poverty level are slightly more emotionally attached to Israel than those above. It would be interesting
to further interrogate this economic explanation of support for Israel. For more, see UJC. The National Jewish Population
Survey 2000-01: Strength, Challenge and Diversity in the American Jewish Population New York: United Jewish
Communities, 2003.
35
Cohen, Steven M, and Jack Wertheimer. "Whatever Happened to the Jewish People." Commentary 121.6 (2006), pg. 34
36
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara. "The “New Jews”: Reflections on Emerging Cultural Practices." Re-thinking Jewish
Communities and Networks in an Age of Looser Connections. New York City Yeshiva University and Institute for
Advanced Studies, Hebrew University, 2005.
37
Bleyer, Jennifer. "Among the Holy Schleppers ". New York City, 2005. Nextbook. 09.16.
<http://www.nextbook.org/cultural/feature.html?id=173>.
38
Unfortunately it is unclear how much money Heeb has been able to raise over the years due to the fact that their money is
held in a joint account by the National Foundation for Jewish Culture—although it has been revealed that the UJA-Fed
alone provided over 100,000 before cutting off funding following a dispute with Heeb’s editorial staff concerning a pictoral
depicting Jesus (personal conversation with Heeb staff).
39
For a full review of Heeb’s press, see: http://www.heebmagazine.com/press/press.php#
40
Personal observation. The leading report on this trend, unfortunately, only visited twelve events in New York City, and is
therefore unable to draw quantitative conclusions.
41
Beery, Ariel. "Jewish Identity - Lite." Jerusalem Post October 24 2006.
42
Bleyer
43
The Orthodox population is separate and distinct, in many ways, from the trends outlined above, and while this paper
cannot devote sufficient time to exploring why, this distinction should be kept in mind.
44
Personal observation. Co-author of this paper, Ariel Beery, was the North American general secretary of Hashomer
Hatzair in 1997, and witnessed the decline of the movement so that when Beery became general secretary, the movement
that once had nearly a dozen chapters in New York City alone—with tens of thousands of members—was reduced to three
chapters in the Northeastern United States.
45
That the education provided in Jewish schools focused on the ideal and ignored the real, so to speak, was a recurring
theme in interviews conducted in the lead up to this paper. Some quotes are provided in the body of this paper.
46
Greenberg, Richard, and Debra Nussbaum Cohen. "Uncovering the Un-Movement." Bnai Brith Fall 2005.
47
Sichel, Ilana. "On Seeing Our Houses as Homes " New Voices 2005. < http://www.newvoices.org/cgi-
bin/articlepage.cgi?id=441 >
48
Weinstein, Farrah. "Star of David - Jewish Boy and Girls on Israelity Tv." New York Post October 20 2005, All ed.: 45.
Neuman and the editorial staff of Heeb has been outspoken on a number of occurrences concerning the comparable
irrelevance of Israel to the magazine and their everyday life, and those who have been inspired by Heeb—such as Jewdas in
the UK—many times follow the same tact.
49
Luntz, Frank. Israel in the Age of Eminem. New York: The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, 2003.
50
While this sentence is certainly insufficient to describe the remarkable redefinition of the idea of citizenship following
America’s abolition of the draft and the rise of a new model of obligation to the State, it will have to suffice for this paper so
that we may be able to focus on the Jewish question more specifically.
51
For a rather colorful account of the rise of the JBlogosphere—that is, the group of weblogs that make up the Jewish
online universe—see Sieradski, Daniel. "Let It Be Said: We Run This Bitch". 2007. Jewschool.com. March 27th.
<http://jewschool.com/2007/03/27/we-run-this-bitch/>, and for a counter-perspective, see Abitbol, David. "He Runs This
Bitch?" Jerusalem, 2007. Jewlicious. March 27th. <http://www.jewlicious.com/?p=3273>.
52
From Jewschool’s masthead, accessed April 10, 2007: http://jewschool.com/masthead/
53
Unfortunately one can never truly know how many readers a blog gets, simply because so many factors are involved in
measurement that it is better to speak of unique visitors; in this regards, Jewschool has reported an average of 7,500 unique
visitors a day. A check using a third-party service called compete.com carried out in April 2007 found the visitors closer to
5,000 – but the number is bound to rise and fall.
54
Sieradski, Daniel. "I Know the Day’s Not over yet…". Jerusalem, 2006. Orthodox Anarchist. August 22.
<http://orthodoxanarchist.com/2006/08/22/i-know-the-days-not-over-yet/>. Full disclosure: one of the co-authors is
mentioned in this post.
55
It is far beyond the scope of this paper to project numbers, of course. Full disclosure, a co-author of this paper, Ariel
Beery, is the founder and editor of PresenTense Magazine, which launched in January of 2006, and BlogsofZion, which
launched in the Fall of 2005.
56
On the blogosphere there are websites such as Jewlicious.com, Bangitout.com, Oy-bay.org, and more; in print there is
PresenTense, a score of young campus-based journals funded through a grant by the journal Azure, and arts and culture
magazines such as Mimaamakim.
57
Cohen, Steven M., and Ari Kelman. Cultural Events & Jewish Identities: Young Adult Jews in New York. New York: The
National Foundation for Jewish Culture, 2005.