Tag Archives: American Jewish Diaspora

Is it too late to salvage the US and Israeli-Jewish relationship?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

There was a time when religious and non-religious Jews, capitalists and socialists, Democrats and Republicans, Americans and Israelis, looked past their differences and political allegiances and united for a common good.

It was the time of the fight for the human rights of Soviet Jewry, when the greater good of freeing Soviet Jews from the repression of the “Evil Empire” masked many of those groups’ profound differences.

Of course we celebrate the victory of the downfall of the Soviet Union, freeing millions of Jews and other dissidents from tyranny, but the camaraderie and sense of purpose that illuminated a shared vision for attempting to save a lost remnant of the Jewish people by the free Jews around the world showed what a unity of purpose can do when Jews stand together.

When we are at our best, when we celebrate our commonalities, our shared humanity, our pride in belonging to a unique civilization and tradition that has given so much to the world, we stand as one people and can do great things.

Unfortunately that sense of purpose and unity are largely gone both within the American-Jewish community and in the relationship between much of America’s Jewry and their Israeli cousins.

A recent poll of Israeli and American Jews regarding whom they favor in the American presidential election revealed results that were polar opposites. The overwhelming majority of Israelis favor the reelection of President Donald Trump, despite his personal flaws,  crediting him with moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, putting consequences on the Palestinian Authority’s incentivizing of terrorist activity, and for the first time laid down a peace plan that prioritized Israeli security interests, while creating the diplomatic work for Israel’s first peace treaties with Arab nations in a generation.

On the other hand, American Jews overwhelmingly favor the defeat of Trump, prioritizing domestic progressive or liberal concerns over Israeli security concerns.

It is no surprise there is a profound difference between the two largest Jewish communities’ perspectives. Israelis live as a majority in their own state and are unashamed of their Jewish particularism and the pride afforded to them by their ability to defend themselves after two millennia of persecution directed at Jews.

American Jews live as an accepted minority in a Christian-majority nation, with growing antisemitism cropping up to the right and left.

American Jews have a much more universalistic perspective, identifying Judaism more as a religion they have or had, and are uncomfortable with the survival issues of the Jewish state. This has led too many to not only criticize Israel but even join with boycotters and delegitimizers who share their progressive values.

Too often they define Israel by what they disagree with, whether it is their criticism of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) monopoly on religious affairs, or their simplistic understanding of the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, reflexively siding with the Palestinians as victims.

When American Jews see Judaism only as a religion, they miss out on the beauty of their own heritage, that Jews are a diverse people of every color, and don’t appreciate the miraculous fulfillment of their millennial long national aspirations, fulfilled in their lifetimes.

For an Israeli, religion is just one part of the Jewish mosaic. An atheist in Israel can have a very Jewish identity, but for an American who has no religious affiliation and for whom Israel is a tertiary issue, their progeny’s Jewish identity will likely disappear within a generation or two.

Has the divide reached a tipping point where only two generations ago, Jews from America considered Israeli Jews their brothers and sisters but for many, they now only consider them at best distant cousins who they have little in common with. A 2018 AJC survey found only 28% of Israelis consider American Jews “siblings” – and that was more than twice as high as the 12% of American Jews who viewed their Israeli counterparts that way, and Israeli Jews are more than twice as likely as their American counterparts (81% to 40%) to say that being Jewish is “very” or “most” important in their lives.”

SO IS there still a compelling case for American Jews to support Israel? Do American Jews want to abandon 7 million fellow Jews who are in the crosshairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has vowed that its mission is to eradicate the Jewish state as an affront to Islam?

Seventy years ago American Jews we’re not able to save the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis due to a combination of a lack of information, and a lack of influence and power. Today there is no excuse for not knowing the dangers Iran poses to the existence of the Jewish State or the rise of political Islamism in many countries, with its quest to delegitimize and destroy the only nation state of the Jews.

Democracies help democracies, and even if you are a loosely afflicted American Jew, Israel should be important because it advances American security interests.

Is there a way forward?

Let’s start with some respectful tolerance for each other‘s situation. For Israeli Jews, more open mindedness toward unfamiliar American liberal religious movements would go a long way. For American Jewry, an appreciation that life as an Israeli is nowhere as easy as our very comfortable life in America. Americans have not had a compulsory draft putting their children in harm’s way for more than 40 years.

Whether Donald Trump is reelected or Joe Biden becomes president, either will strain the relationship between Israelis and American Jews.

What we need now are organizational, religious and political leaders who prioritize unity as they did during the fight for Soviet Jewry, explaining how Jewish education and Zionism benefit the American Jewish community, while also explaining that tikkun olam, repairing the world, can also embrace Israel’s needs.

The first step is acknowledging the problem, the second is realizing that the relationship must be saved for the benefit of both Israeli and American Jews. The message of the 2018 AJC survey is clear, “If the concept of a global Jewish community…is to retain any meaning, each of its two major components (Israeli and American Jew) must develop a greater appreciation for the priorities and needs of the other.”

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the US Senate, House and their foreign policy advisers. He is the senior editor for security at The Jerusalem Report/The Jerusalem Post, and has appeared in The Hill, i24, RealClearWorld, JNS, JTA, Defense News, Rudow Iraqi media, and The Forward.

Are Beinart and Rogen the handwriting on the wall for Diaspora Jewry?

{Previously published by the JNS}

Much has been written about Peter Beinart’s recent article “I No Longer Believe in a Jewish State” and Seth Rogen’s simplistic ill-informed podcast delegitimizing the State of Israel. When you are praised by the anti-Semitic Code Pink organization as Rogen was, you know you have crossed a line—whether intended or not—into the BDS anti-Israel world that claims Israel is the worst nation on earth, an ethnically cleansing illegitimate enterprise from its beginning. Rogen’s defenders claimed he apologized, except that he didn’t. “I did not apologize for what I said. I offered clarity.” That is the very definition of not apologizing. Blaming his childhood Jewish education for his adult ignorance is pathetic. The best he can say is that Israel has a right to exist.

The important question to ask regarding their outrageous statements is whether these are indicative of where the American Jewish Diaspora is headed.

Let’s be clear from the start. Criticism of the Jewish state is the national sport of Israelis and for Jewish Americans of all stripes. The false claim that those who support and defend the right of the Jewish state to live in peace and security are a non-thinking, biased group that never sees anything wrong with the actions of the Jewish state is simply false and a tactic of Israel critics to delegitimize those who support Israel, warts and all.

So let’s do a simple test to gain some insight into the potential staying power of American Jewry for the long term, at least in quantifying the number of future identifiable Jews. Honestly ask yourself what percentage of American Jews, who are not Orthodox or Zionists, will have grandchildren and great-grandchildren be Jewish beyond defining it as enjoying bagels and being proud to have an ancestry of one Jewish grandparent.

If we are honest, the answer isn’t pretty. Unless you are a Zionist or Orthodox, your grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be further and further estranged from their past, beyond a spit test sent to you by ancestry.com or “23andme.”

Yes, there will still be some small number of Jews who continue to identify as Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist, and will fulfill the fine aspirations of each one of those denominations, but they will be far smaller in number. As a Conservative Jew, it’s painful for me to admit the truth.

The American-born Israeli novelist Hillel Halkin asked, “What binds American Jews together today? Most of us are secular; the religious bond is gone. Few of us speak Hebrew; the language bond is gone. What remains is the historical narrative of 80 generations and Israel, the realization of that dream and the spiritual and cultural light that radiates to the rest of the world. If we abandon Israel, we abandon our future. If Israel is gone, Jewish life will be gone in one or two generations. … If we forget that narrative, gone is our Jewishness. Throughout our history, the driving engine of survival has been the hope for returning to sovereignty in the birthplace of our history—Eretz Israel. The State of Israel is the culmination of this dream.”

Today’s young Jewish Americans don’t relate to Israel, as their cultural immersion from middle school through graduate school has painted Israel as the last illegitimate remnant of imperialism, which should be expunged for society to advance. If they care about their Judaism, it is overwhelmingly defined by tikkun olam, repairing the world—a lovely universalist concept that is an important part, but not in itself enough, to make one Jewish. If that is your primary identification with Judaism, you may be a wonderful person, but there is no compelling reason to pass your Jewish identity on. If you also see the Jewish state as anachronistic and militaristic—something that you cannot be associated with to live with your progressive ideology—then you take a step towards Beinart and Rogen.

This all sounds harsh, perhaps a little over the top. But to ignore the facts and reality of what is happening to liberal American Judaism, especially if you care about Judaism’s future in the diaspora, is to bury your head in the sand.

Since most American Jews will not become religious, much less Orthodox, and don’t identify in religious terms in the contemporary post-denominational era, the only sure way to have a continuation of Jewish identify in the Diaspora for the future is to connect to Israel in some way. If you are an atheist and a Zionist, you have a much better chance that your progeny will be meaningfully Jewish than if you are estranged or hostile to Israel and consider your Jewishness to consist of being a really nice person.

With an overwhelming intermarriage rate—and most American Jews uninterested in Judaism as a religion except for maybe a family Passover seder—then a re-engagement with Zionism may be the last hope for maintaining the Jewish census in America. This should begin by ending the false narrative of only seeing Israel through the prism of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and defining it completely by its “occupation” of the disputed territories. Otherwise, Peter Beinart and Seth Rogan are truly the handwriting on the wall for American Judaism.

Learn to love Israel on your own terms and pass it on to your children. It will preserve your 3,000-year-old heritage and legacy for future generations, with all its beauty and complexities.

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is a columnist for “The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”