What drives anti-Israel politics?

Erdoğan and his party obtained a solid victory in the election this week, guaranteeing that relations between Turkey and Israel will get even worse. This is because the Turkish president has a history of anti-Israel rhetoric and actions whenever he wants to stir up his Islamist base or promote himself in the wider Islamic world. It’s not all talk, either, as he provides support for Hamas and is behind anti-Israel subversion in eastern Jerusalem.

Israel had good relations with Turkey before the advent of Erdoğan, just as it did with the other major non-Arab power in the region, Iran, before the 1979 Islamic revolution. But the Islamist ideology does not leave room for a Jewish sovereign state in the region, so neither of the new regimes can treat this “abomination,” in their terms, with anything but hostility. And hating Jews and Israel still plays well in the Muslim Middle East.

Today Israel has better relations with some of its traditional Arab enemies, including actual peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, as well as a lessening of tension with some others, like Saudi Arabia. But even the long-standing peace with Egypt, despite the active security cooperation between Israel and the al-Sisi regime, does not come close to the promises made in the peace treaty, which calls for “cultural exchanges in all fields” and for both sides to “abstain from hostile propaganda.” Egyptians who visit Israel are harassed by security forces, Egyptian artists and academics boycott Israel, and the Egyptian media are full of government-sponsored libels and conspiracy theories about Israel and Jews.

The 1994 “peace” with Jordan is even less “peaceful,” including several violent incidents over the years, including the horrific 1997 murder of seven Israeli schoolgirls by a Jordanian soldier, who is unrepentant to this day. Cultural exchange and Jordanian tourism also do not exist. One of the family members of the murdered girls said that “peace with Jordan is between us [Israelis] and the royal family — not the people or the parliament.”

Saudi Arabia has softened its formerly tough rejectionist policy against Israel in many ways in the past 10 years or so; it has allowed one airline to overfly its airspace on its way to Israel (but not an Israeli airline); it has participated in secret discussions with Israel, Jordan, and the US concerning Iran; and would probably quietly cooperate in an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear project. There have even been a few voices in Saudi media criticizing antisemitism. But as yet there is no reason to see the slight thaw in relations as anything but a very narrow expression of Saudi geopolitical interests.

The Palestinian Arabs are another story. Thanks to several generations of hate education since Oslo, relations with the Palestinians, both in Gaza and Judea/Samaria, have only gotten worse. The recent “knife and car intifada” and the incendiary kite attacks illustrate the degree to which the Palestinian in the street has internalized the hate propaganda that flows unabated from Hamas and the PLO. A young Palestinian man can get up in the morning, go out on the street, and look a Jewish girl in the eye before stabbing her in the heart. Palestinians hate Zionism, they hate Israel, and many of them deeply hate Jews.

But Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and some other Mideastern nations not already irrevocably under Iranian domination can work with us on practical matters, up to and including military cooperation. So why can’t they put aside the antisemitism? I think the answer is the idea, fundamental to Islam, that Jews must be subservient to Muslims. A moderate Muslim may tolerate Jews and treat them well, but Jews ruling over Muslims (or defeating them in war) – well, that’s going too far. So when they see Israel with its powerful army, dominating Arabs, it infuriates them, and reenergizes the traditional “apes and pigs” form of Muslim antisemitism.

What about Europe: why have the advanced nations of Western Europe, supposedly the most socially advanced countries in the world, been so hostile to the Jewish state? Why do they support our Palestinian enemies in so many ways – money, propaganda, lawfare, funding anti-Israel NGOs, UN resolutions, enabling boycotts by requiring labeling of our products? Why do they try to maintain the laughable distinction between antisemitism, which they claim to abhor, and “criticism of Israel” that invariably includes demonization, delegitimization, and double standards? What forces them to take this position?

Is it just fear of terrorism or fear of retaliation by Mideastern oil producers? Is it the desire by officials to gain domestic political advantage with their increasing Muslim populations? All these are true to some extent, but they are not adequate to explain the spitefulness of the public expressions of anti-Israel sentiment that we see in demonstrations or hear from public officials. There is something deeply personal in their dislike of the Jewish state.

There are multiple explanations for Europe’s animus toward Israel. It is an ethnic nation-state, and they hate nationalism. They are embarrassed that many Europeans were complicit with Hitler, and the Jewish state makes it hard to forget. They are still feeling the vestiges of two thousand years of Christian antisemitism. Finally, my favorite: if Israel, the state of the Jews, is as evil as the Reich, then Europeans needn’t feel so guilty about having stood by (or helped) while the Jews were murdered.

Turning to the United States, the political divide is deeper and more painful than it has ever been in my lifetime. Much of the Democratic Party has chosen to carry the Palestinian flag as part of its core ideology, and its potential candidates are competing over who will be more anti-Israel. The present administration is quite pro-Israel, but if and when the other side takes over, I expect that American policy toward Israel will be even more negative than that of the Obama Administration.

Bernie Sanders, one of the contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, has taken some of the most extreme anti-Israel positions of any major candidate, more or less adopting the Hamas narrative of the “March of Return,” demonizing Israel for shooting “unarmed protestors,” and even treating the “right of return” for the descendants of Arab refugees to Israel – a call for the end of the Jewish state – as a legitimate demand.

In the US there is no large Muslim population (yet) and no dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Palestinian terrorists have killed Americans, and no country has worked harder to be a good American ally than Israel. And yet, the American Left focuses on Israel as its greatest enemy, going to ridiculous lengths to try to connect Israel with every issue for which they can find resonance. Did an American policeman shoot an unarmed black man? American police officers have attended training programs in Israel, so Israel is responsible!

This is an interesting example. My son teaches use of firearms to Israeli security personnel. Naturally, great emphasis is placed on distinguishing between armed terrorists or criminals and innocent civilians. What could be more important? One assumes that if an American police officer trained here, he would receive the same training. But according to the Left, the American comes here to learn to be racist, to shoot blacks first, and ask questions later. The accusation is monstrous, but it is commonly made. And believed.

In all of these cases, in the Middle East, in Europe, and in the US as well, antisemitism – or extreme anti-Israelism (essentially the same thing) – is a primary, entrenched motivator for anti-Israel politics (even when the politician in question, like Bernie Sanders, is Jewish).

A consequence of this is that appeals to rational self-interest on the part of our enemies will never bring peace, because they are not rationally motivated. We can relax and just concentrate on being strong enough, militarily, diplomatically, cybernetically, and economically to beat back their attacks. Forever.

Posted in Europe and Israel, Israel and Palestinian Arabs, Jew Hatred, Middle East politics, US-Israel Relations | 2 Comments

Abolish the Rabbinut!

I have expended billions, perhaps hundreds of billions, of electrons attacking liberal strains of Judaism, particularly in the US but also in Israel, for what I perceive as a conflation of Judaism and Jewish ethics with liberal politics.

Today it’s time to turn my critical keyboard in the opposite direction, at the cult-like extremist Haredi factions and their institutional arm, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate (the Rabbinut).

Recently, an El Al plane with hundreds of passengers aboard was delayed for 75 minutes while four Haredim refused to sit in their assigned seats because this would place them next to women. One of them reportedly tried to keep his eyes closed during the boarding process, apparently so that he would not have to see any women.

There is also vandalism of likenesses of women in advertisements in public places, as well as rudeness and even assault of women (and young girls!) who find themselves in Haredi neighborhoods dressed in ways that the local residents find immodest.

These actions do not conform to normative Orthodox Judaism. Even many who would classify themselves as Haredim (often called “ultra-Orthodox”) do not sympathize with this misogyny. Yes, it is woman-hatred, no matter how it is explained.

It should be clearly understood that the perpetrators are not somehow “better Jews” than anyone else because of their extreme and arguably distorted interpretations of Jewish law. Indeed, they violate basic principles of derech eretz, which are essential to living an observant Jewish life.

This behavior does not have to be tolerated, and should not be. Not unlike the case of the Muslims on the Temple Mount, or Hamas at the border with Gaza, when illegal or otherwise unacceptable behavior is allowed to continue, a message is sent that we will allow even more of the same. It should be made clear that misogyny will not fly (so to speak) on Israel’s national airline, and prospective passengers may be required to sit next to women. If that’s a problem, they can fly on another airline. Or swim.

The quasi-governmental Rabbinut also has a strict Haredi viewpoint. Although it doesn’t usually take positions on issues like whom to sit next to on airplanes, it presents its own problems, probably more damaging to the State of Israel than the outrages of Haredi zealots.

By a process of political blackmail, the Rabbinut maintains a stranglehold on one of the most important institutions of communal life, marriage (and of course, divorce as well), as well as holding a monopoly on conversions to Judaism, kashrut supervision, and Jewish burial. The horror stories about the Rabbinut could fill more than one blog, and I’m not going to repeat them. Suffice to say that it acts in an arbitrary and sometimes cruel way, and takes a long time to do it. There have been numerous cases in which officials were found to have received bribes, including a recent high-profile one involving the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi.

Many of the 2 million Russian immigrants have been unable to marry in Israel because their status as Jews is questionable, since documentation was destroyed or never existed in the Soviet Union. They can’t be married in a Jewish ceremony without approval from the Rabbinut, and conversion to Judaism under its auspices is long, difficult, often demeaning, and sometimes revoked after the fact. And of course, some people are simply not religious and do not want a religious ceremony. Some 20,000 Israelis a year circumvent the law by getting married in another country (usually nearby Cyprus)!

The Rabbinut’s power is based on laws which have been passed because religious parties almost always are an essential part of coalition governments. This has been true for coalitions of the Left and Right since the founding of the state (I believe there has only been one coalition that did not include religious parties). As a result, there is no civil marriage in Israel, it is illegal for a restaurant to say that it is a kosher establishment unless it has a paid-up certificate from the Rabbinut, and there is no public transport in most of Israel on Shabbat. Every few years the “Who is a Jew?” controversy flares up, in which the Haredi parties want to make the criteria for application of the Law of Return stricter. Recently there has even been an attempt to bring rabbinical courts in the Diaspora under the control of the Israeli Rabbinut.

There is a simple solution to the problems created by the Rabbinut: abolish it. It serves no useful function and does significant damage. The state should offer civil marriage and divorce for those who want it, and individual rabbis could perform Jewish marriages (actually, in Jewish law, a rabbi is not even required for a marriage to be legal). Groups of rabbis and religious organizations could constitute rabbinical courts which could issue conversions and religious divorces, just as is done today in the Diaspora.

Kashrut supervision could be offered by any rabbi or organization that wanted to. The certificate granted would be required to be placed in a visible location and anyone who wanted to could inspect it and decide for himself whether that rabbi or agency was known and trustworthy.

The argument is made that without a central agency that has governmental authority, it would be impossible to maintain the integrity of the Jewish people. They point to the Reform Movement in the US, which allows patrilineal descent and which espouses the view that an individual can decide what parts, if any, of Jewish law he or she is obligated to follow. Look at what has happened there, it is argued, where the majority of Reform Jews are intermarried. Who can tell who is a Jew and who isn’t?

But Jews in the US make up less than 2% of the population, and most are ignorant of the Hebrew language, Jewish history, Jewish culture, and Judaism. An outsider coming into Jewish Israel (I am putting it this way because there are parallel societies in Israel of Jews and Arabs who mostly do not mix socially) will absorb these things even without formal study, and certainly his or her children will learn about them from their earliest days. In ancient times, new blood (like the biblical Tziporah or Ruth) came into the Jewish people on a regular basis, by assimilation since there was no such thing as religious “conversion.” Perhaps the ancient Jewish kingdoms are more analogous to today’s Israel than the Diaspora.

The present “system,” if you can call it that, is a failure by Orthodox principles. I lived on a kibbutz in the 1980s, and there were a number of non-Jewish women who came to the kibbutz as volunteers and ended up marrying a kibbutznik. They went through an Orthodox conversion, which required them to live for some months in a seminary, where they learned the principles of keeping a Jewish home, family purity, kashrut, Shabbat, modest dress – everything that a frum young woman should know. When they returned to the kibbutz they immediately assimilated to the kibbutz culture and did not practice any of what they had learned (OK, I don’t know about the family purity). Had they married Orthodox men, I presume they would have assimilated differently. One effect of the process, however, was to create in them a strong dislike for anything that smacked of traditional Judaism. I wonder how the young people forced to marry in Cyprus feel about Judaism, and about their state.

Israel is the state of the Jewish people, and I think most Israelis – even some who live a secular life – will agree that Judaism (and for Israelis, that means Orthodox Judaism) has a central place in Israeli culture.

But most will probably also say that we would be far better off without the Rabbinut.

Posted in Israeli Politics, Israeli Society, The Jewish people | 2 Comments

The Fires

It’s impossible to write about anything except the fires.

Foreign media are concerned with other things, but in Israel only the arrest of a former government minister charged with spying for Iran has come close to dislodging the fires from the forefront of our consciousness.

The Arabs of Gaza, with the encouragement of Hamas and the other terrorist factions, are burning our country. They are doing with impunity, launching kites and helium balloons carrying flaming payloads, from far enough back from the border that they are difficult to stop with nonlethal means. Naturally they are doing it from civilian areas in the company of children, so that the IDF believes that the casualties from attacking them from the air would be unacceptable. Various countermeasures using drones have been tried, but they have only been partially effective.

For Israel it is an economic, environmental, and even spiritual catastrophe. Thousands of acres of farmland and nature preserves, crops, plants, and animals have gone up in smoke. Dozens of new fires are set every day, faster than firefighters can put them out. The area is choked from the smoke of the fires and the burning tires that the Arabs ignite in order to hide the operatives who approach the border fence to plant explosives or try to cut through it. It will take decades for the land to return to its previous condition. Some of the wildlife may be gone forever.

Israelis love agriculture and they love nature. These loves are deeply embedded in our culture; look at Israeli music, art, and poetry if you doubt it. Perhaps the only thing we love more is our children. To burn the land is to thrust a dagger into our hearts (something that Palestinians also do regularly in a more literal sense). The damage done by the fires is greater than the cost of the crops that are being destroyed, and even more than the irreparable environmental damage. It is a prolonged assault on the soul of the Jewish state, its reason for being – the love of the land.

The enemy knows this. That’s why they do it. The burning of southern Israel has zero strategic significance, but it is a massive psychological blow. It’s a tribute to their understanding of us and also to their endless hatred that they chose this tactic. Frustrated by their minimal success in killing Jews with rockets and mortars, and unable to overrun the border fence, they have been wildly successful with this low-tech weapon.

The IDF fears the legal consequences of taking serious action against the “civilians” launching kites and balloons, and so far has retaliated by bombing military targets belonging to Hamas. I haven’t heard of any casualties from these attacks, so it’s reasonable to assume that they are being evacuated each night. This seems to be fine with the army, which thinks it can pressure Hamas into stopping the incendiary attacks this way, but does not want to be drawn into a wider confrontation. This tactic was met with a barrage of 45 rockets and mortar shells fired at us from Gaza last night, so it may need rethinking.

Israel’s decision-makers are considering the economic and strategic costs, not the spiritual damage and psychological cost. They know that a wider war would be expensive, and would take our attention away from the objectively greater danger from Hezbollah and Iran in Lebanon and Syria. They don’t want to be accused of fighting another war without intending to win, but they also don’t want to conquer Gaza and become responsible for it. So they do nothing and look for a technological answer.

But if you always ignore provocations, if you allow them to turn into attrition, if you time and time repress your natural desire to retaliate, if you allow the enemy to take greater and greater liberties, eventually you find that you have allowed your honor, and more practically, your deterrence, to dribble away. Sometimes restraint is not a viable option.

This is one of those times. We should not be afraid to admit that they have wounded us. But on the other hand, we must not – we can’t afford to – allow them to deepen the wound.

So here is what we do. We issue an ultimatum to Hamas that the arson attacks must stop within 24 hours, or we will destroy every Hamas installation, we will turn their tunnel city into an inferno with bunker busters, and we’ll personally target their leadership and as many officials as we have Hellfire missiles for. For good measure, we’ll do the same to Islamic Jihad and any other terrorist faction there.

At the same time, we send a copy to the UN and the European Union. We explain to them that we will not allow the Gaza Arabs to burn any more of our country. We explain that we recognize that the UN and EU have made major investments – directly and via UNRWA – in creating and nurturing an entity that will hate and oppose the Jewish state, and that therefore we expect that they will be able to influence it to change its behavior. But if not, and if we have to crush it, we expect that the UN and EU will pick up the pieces, because we certainly won’t.

We publicize our offer in multiple languages, throughout the world. We emphasize that the outcome is up to Hamas, and the responsibility for casualties if they don’t comply is entirely theirs.

Would they take our offer? I have no idea.

Posted in Israel and Palestinian Arabs, Israeli Society, War | 3 Comments

Why don’t we defend ourselves?

Great swaths of land in the Negev desert near the Gaza strip, agricultural land and nature preserves formerly the habitats of numerous endangered plant and animal species, have been reduced to ash and smoke by Palestinian fire-kites and balloon-borne incendiary devices during the past few weeks. The entire area is blackened with the smoke from fires that are being set faster than Israeli firefighters can put them out.

Our powerful army dithers, ever pursuing its apparent goal of fighting wars without hurting anyone. Today I understand that a car belonging to one of the leaders of the bombing campaign was destroyed by an “airstrike,” probably a drone-launched missile. The car was parked and empty. That’ll teach him.

Israeli officials are afraid of the legal consequences of taking effective action against those who are launching the kites and balloons. They are afraid that they will be dragged into the International Criminal Court (even though Israel did not sign the treaty creating it and does not consider itself bound by its decisions), if the army kills any of the “civilians” that are burning our country. Those under the age of 18 are counted as “children,” and as you know one of the themes of anti-IDF propaganda is the false claim that we deliberately target children.

Purposely burning agricultural land is a war crime. Attacking from heavily populated civilian areas and employing child soldiers are war crimes. Hamas and PIJ (Palestinian Islamic Jihad) don’t care, of course. Their whole strategic plan is to take advantage of the fact that Israel considers herself bound by the laws of war, the Geneva Conventions and other treaties, while they permit themselves to do anything that will kill Jews.

They don’t do it by themselves. They have help.

Israel is always required to fight an n+1 front war, with n representing the enemies that are shooting at us, Hamas, PIJ, Hezbollah, and the rest. The additional one is the international diplomatic and legal system, led by our “friends” in the European Union.

In the past week, two Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria have been partly demolished, because homes have been found to be built on “private Palestinian land.” This means that – regardless of whether the land was considered state land when the homes were built – a Palestinian claim, sometimes not even by an individual owner, that the land was at one time used for agricultural purposes by Palestinians, has been accepted by Israel’s Supreme Court. The remedy is invariably that any structure that encroaches on such land will be demolished in toto.

Recently, the Knesset passed a law (the “Regulation Law”) that allows the state to financially compensate the Palestinian “owners” when the land was not considered private at the time the structures were built, instead of bulldozing the buildings (this can be tricky, since there usually are no records that might prove ownership in the sense familiar to those living in normal countries). This law didn’t apply in these cases, because the Supreme Court had ordered the demolitions some months ago, before the law was passed. The Court has now frozen the law awaiting its decision on various petitions against it.

Naturally, our European friends and home-grown champions of Palestinian rights were scandalized by this law. “It’s legalized land theft,” they say. This is quite an exaggeration, since the law calls for the Palestinians to be paid above-market value for the land, which they are not using and may not have used for decades (if ever). Eminent domain proceedings in the US, in which an owner can be evicted from property where he is living or using for business, are far harsher. But my guess is that despite this, when the Supreme Court rules on the petitions filed against it, they will overthrow the law.

Now you may wonder who files these petitions, the ones against the Regulation Law and the ones claiming that Israeli structures have been built on “private Palestinian land.” The answer is that there is a whole industry in Israel of “human rights” non-governmental organizations that employs a battery of expensive and dedicated lawyers to fight the State of Israel. Thanks to Israel’s extraordinary system in which any citizen may petition the Supreme Court on almost any matter, regardless of whether he or she is affected by it, left-wing groups like Peace Now, Yesh Din, and others can and do involve themselves in these matters.

But who supports the organizations, pays their staffs and their lawyers? Probably no more than a few percent of Israelis support what most see as their extremist ideology. And yet left-wing NGOs are everywhere, filming and trying to provoke IDF soldiers doing their duty, finding Palestinians who will testify that their grandfathers worked the land on such-and-such a hill where today an Israeli settlement stands, and filing petition after petition in the Israeli courts, particularly the Supreme Court.

The money does not come from Israel. It doesn’t even come from the Palestinians, whose leaders are happy to skim millions from the aid they get from the US and Europe, primarily to live well or put into their Swiss bank accounts. It comes, unsurprisingly, mostly from European governments, where millions of Euros are funneled into organizations like Peace Now, Yesh Din, B’tselem, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, Breaking the Silence, Adalah, and many others. Somewhat less important donors include the American New Israel Fund and Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

These foreign-funded NGOs are active in the Israeli and international legal arenas, as well as the international propaganda campaign to demonize and delegitimize the State of Israel. Some explicitly support BDS, despite the official positions of their donors. For example, several of them recently sent a letter to the American Secretary of State calling for an arms embargo against Israel because of its actions to defend its border.

Today the NGO Monitor organization, which keeps track of anti-Israel NGOs and their funding, released a report showing that the European Union has given large grants (hundreds of thousands of Euros) to several NGOs to press war crimes accusations against IDF officers and soldiers and other Israeli officials in foreign courts. This sort of thing may in part explain the timidity of the IDF to take effective action against the arsonists of Gaza.

While our Arab and Iranian enemies have had little success in damaging our Jewish state with wars and terrorism, our European ones have succeeded with their Euros to roll back settlement activities in Judea/Samaria, resulting in the expulsion of Jews from their homes. They have fought tooth and nail against our government’s efforts to deport illegal migrants, whom it rightly considers a demographic and social threat. They have hamstrung the IDF’s response to arson terrorism from Gaza, and turned the main concern of the IDF from defeating our enemies to avoiding legal entanglements.

The message this sends to the terrorists of Hamas, the PLO, and the PIJ is simple: you have a green light – the Jews are too weak to fight back.

There are solutions to these problems. Two years ago, the Knesset passed a relatively weak transparency law requiring some NGOs to report contributions from foreign governments. It needs to be strengthened – in fact, there is no reason for Israel to permit foreign governments to intervene in our domestic affairs at all. Opponents will tell you, precisely inverting the truth, that limiting the influence of foreign-funded NGOs is “anti-democratic,” as if democracy requires subverting the will of Israeli voters! But there is only one reason that such legislation is opposed in the Knesset, and that is because some members are themselves treasonously sucking at the European teat. That has to stop.

The Supreme Court has far too much power and zero accountability. No other democratic country has such a situation. The balance of power between the branches of government must be restored.

The other necessary change is a change of attitude. The more Israel refrains from self-defense because of fear of the legal consequences, the more she will be threatened with such consequences. The cycle must be broken, both because it prevents us from acting and because it broadcasts weakness to our enemies. The arson kites need to be met with deadly force, not endless debate. Jewish residents of the territories should have at least equal rights as Arabs, and not be evicted from their homes as a result of legal catch-22s. Illegal migrants should be deported (see here and here).

The legal and diplomatic decks are stacked against us today, partly because of our own actions. We need to get over it and defend ourselves. Nobody else will.

Posted in Europe and Israel, Israel and Palestinian Arabs, Israeli Politics, Terrorism | 2 Comments

Jewish peoplehood in Israel and America

I am an American-Israeli, an American-born Jew who has lived about 17% of his life in Israel. I made aliyah back in 1979, lived on a kibbutz for nine years, and then returned to the US for 26 years, before coming back to stay four years ago. Unsurprisingly, I am interested in the relationship between American Jews and the Jewish state.

I was born in 1942, and I grew up in non-Jewish neighborhoods. The Jews I did know were mostly secular. I had what was supposed to be a bar mitzvah in a Reform Temple (my grandfather insisted), but since I stubbornly refused to learn anything in the obligatory religious school, it was embarrassingly pointless. Later, during summer jobs at Jewish camps, I came to know some Orthodox Jews who finally taught me a little about Judaism.

Nevertheless I always had a very strong sense, from my earliest days, of belonging to the Jewish people, though I would not have expressed it that way for some years. We lived with my grandparents for the first 8 years of my life, and after that nearby, and although they were not “religious” at all, they understood Jewish peoplehood in a way that only those who had lived as Jews in pre-revolutionary Russia (or perhaps an Arab country) could. I interacted with them more than with my parents, who were born in the US, and whose formative experiences were the Depression and WWII. They were Jewish and their friends were Jewish, but their “peoplehood,” if this makes sense, was American.

My grandparents lost siblings and cousins in the Holocaust. I was just old enough to begin to understand what had happened when they received the final confirmation of their fears. They had lived in the part of the Pale of Settlement where the Germans simply shot every Jew they could get their hands on, and as far as I know, my only living relatives are descended from those who left Europe long before the war. It was very clear to me, even as a child, that this happened to them because they were members of an extended family, a family that the evil Nazis hated. My family.

So it was natural for me to strongly identify with the new Jewish state, a place of refuge for my extended Jewish family. It was also the country that allowed my people to regain their self-respect after being treated like vermin in Europe and the Arab world. My people. I cheered when Israel won wars and when it hanged Eichmann. And I have a feeling of admiration and identification when I see the flag of the state of Israel, the nation-state of the Jewish people. Nothing made me more proud than the opportunity to wear the uniform of the IDF, unless it was seeing my children wearing it.

I am representative of an older generation of American Jews, a generation that is now stepping back from active participation in the institutions of society in favor of playing with their grandchildren. We remember when there wasn’t a Jewish state, and some of us remember what that actually meant in terms of Jewish blood.

But younger American Jews have different experiences. The Holocaust recedes and they are less likely to meet survivors or know anyone who lost close relatives or friends. They know about Israel’s wars as one-sided victories, and they don’t remember when her continued existence was in doubt. They don’t know about the weeks before the outbreak of the 1967 war, when Nasser and other Arabs were bragging about the massacre they planned to perpetrate, and volunteers were preemptively digging graves in Tel Aviv parks. They don’t remember the early days of the Yom Kippur war, when massive Syrian and Egyptian forces were on the verge of breaking through.

What they do know is the story they see in the media and on the net, which is almost all contrived to present Israel as a colonial superpower which oppresses the “native” Palestinians. In its mildest form, they are told that there is a “cycle of violence” which only a “two-state solution” can end. This served the interests of several US administrations and the oil companies, which were concerned to force Israel back to pre-1967 lines in order to mollify the Arab countries that controlled the world’s oil supply. At worst (and most recently) they are presented with propaganda intended to delegitimize and demonize Israel in order to set the stage for her destruction.

The millennial generation (born in the 1980s and 1990s) walked into a fusillade of vicious anti-Israel hatred in the universities from groups like Students for Justice in Palestine. Today they face the “intersectional” Left which associates opposition to Israel with support for every kind of minority rights, and demands compliance as the price of social acceptance. Those who do not comply are ostracized as “racists” or “fascists.”

Many American Jews, especially younger ones, are not able to withstand the assault – or don’t even recognize it as such – on their sense of peoplehood. It’s not surprising, because this identification has been suppressed by the American educational system and media from their earliest years. Although certain minority groups are encouraged to feel pride in their heritage and their cultures, Jews are not included as one of these groups – they are considered “white,” which is to say, colorless. Therefore they are required to appreciate the minority cultures (and to feel guilty for their oppression by the majority of “whites”), but not to express their own pride in their culture or of their homeland.

Indeed, if they do so, they may be accused of having “dual loyalty.”

The Israeli experience has been significantly different. There are more Holocaust survivors around. Everyone knows veterans of Israel’s wars, most have served in the IDF, and while there may be a lesser sense of vulnerability among younger people, most people understand that the Jewish state’s continued existence isn’t guaranteed. The hierarchy of victimhood of minorities and the concept of intersectionality that have so damaged intergroup relations in America haven’t appeared in Israel. Although there is much room for improvement, the teaching of Jewish and Israeli history to Israelis is better than what most American Jews get.

Jewish Israelis know they are living in the state of the Jewish people. There is no existential contradiction, no continuous reminder that you are a guest in somebody else’s state. They are Jews in the Jewish state.

A new survey of American and Israeli Jews by the American Jewish Committee confirms that Americans are far less Jewishly identified than Israelis. Only 40% said that being Jewish is “very” or “most” important in their lives, while 81% of the Israelis felt this way.

I don’t like the question about “being Jewish” because it is ambiguous between peoplehood and religion. I would have asked a question about “being part of the Jewish people.” I know that at any time in my life after about the age of 15, I would have answered that being a member of the Jewish people is the most important part of my identity. And this is why it turned out that I feel more comfortable and secure here than I did in the US.

Unfortunately, no age breakdown was included in the results as published. But other surveys have consistently showed that their Jewish identity is less important to younger Jews than older ones, for the reasons above.

The survey showed that there are various other divergences, particularly over the chances for a peace agreement with the Palestinians (Americans think it’s possible and Israelis are doubtful) and Donald Trump (Israeli Jews approve of him; American Jews overwhelmingly don’t). There are disagreements about the role of religion and state in Israel, about which the Reform movement in the US has chosen to stir the pot. But these are minor matters that can be worked out. Identity is the big thing.

American Jews are losing the connection with the Jewish people. America has been good to them and they are happy being Americans. If the situation changes – and historically, that’s a good bet – then they may yet be reminded of who they are.

Posted in American Jews, The Jewish people | 1 Comment