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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, postHolocaust 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.
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,
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
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 “rootedness” 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:
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 recontextualize 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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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 antiZionist claims growing in prominence amongst the more progressive elements of political activism.
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
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 likeminded 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
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
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 webadministered 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?
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
2 4 5
Sense of Peoplehood
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
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.
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
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
they then also feel comfortable exploring their relationship with the Jewish State, committed to its continued existence despite its often complex political realities.
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 noncommunal 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
Wieseltier, Leon. "The Shahid " The New Republic October 23 2006. 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 IsraeliPalestinian 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/cgibin/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.
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.
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