Ties between American Jews and Israel, while still strong, are fraying. With the help of rabbis and scholars, historians and journalists, diplomats and activists, Moment explores the forces pulling the Jewish state and the American Jewish community apart—and holding them together.
The age of unquestioning support for Israel from American Jews is over: An era of conflict is replacing the age of solidarity. Within the American Jewish community, there are two major aspects to this divide: ambivalence and anger. On the one hand, there is a process of detachment from Israel, often expressed as indifference and apathy. But the majority of American Jews, about 70 percent, remains emotionally attached to Israel. Within that group there is growing debate and argument about Israel, particularly about Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. There is a mounting sense of frustration, and many are alarmed by the direction the Israeli government is heading. Ultimately, there is a risk that U.S. Jews might become completely alienated from Israel.
This is not simply a divide between Israel and American Jews; increasing divides exist throughout the American Jewish community and deep splits exist within the Israeli Jewish community. That said, there is a growing sense that Israeli and American Jewry are two separate communities moving in opposite directions. Since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the second intifada (2000-2005), Israeli Jews and Israeli politics have moved to the right. American Jews, for the most part, remain firmly in the liberal camp. There is not, however, a divide between Israel and American Orthodox Jews, who remain very attached to Israel and are supportive of the Netanyahu government.
There is an ahistorical attitude that looks at the honeymoon period after 1967 as the norm. However, the American Jewish relationship with Israel has always been in flux, and it has not always, or even often, been characterized by strong, unequivocal support for Israel. Before Israel’s establishment, Zionism struggled to obtain support from American Jews. Even in the 1950s, Israel wasn’t that dominant in American Jewish life. Because most American Jews today are no longer in love with Israel in the way that they were during the period following 1967, there is a tendency to see the relationship as newly troubled and in terminal decline. It is much more that the infatuation has come to an end; this is now a troubled marriage.