(Follow up to an earlier SRQPATS post on this page,
Bad for the Jews, Bad for America,
by Sandy Goodman a retired producer for NBC Nightly News)
The Fracturing of the Jewish People
Israel has become a red state while U.S. Jews remain blue.
By William A. Galston - WSJ
“Israel is the home of all Jews,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared in his address to the American Jewish Committee Global Forum in Jerusalem recently. “Every Jew should feel at home in Israel.” There is a lot of history packed into these terse sentences, and just as much controversy.
The assertion that Israel is the home, not just a home, for all Jews is the core of classical Zionism. It implies that no other country can be a home, even if the Jews living there think it is. The Jews of Andalusia thought they were at home—until Christian rulers arrived and expelled them in the 15th century. The Jews of Germany thought they were fully German until a regime defined by murderous hatred of all Jews came to power.
But today, for the first time since the Talmudic era, there are two strong, self-confident centers of Jewish life. One of them embodies the Zionist proposition; the other rejects it outright. American Jews, the largest diaspora population, don’t believe they are living in exile, or even in danger. America is different, they insist. To the extent that America rests on civic principles rather than ethnic or religious identity, its liberal democratic institutions can accept Jews as equal citizens, as George Washington promised in his famous letter to the Touro Synagogue.
For most American Jews, the U.S. isn’t a temporary resting place interrupting ceaseless wandering; it is their permanent home. When they say “Next year in Jerusalem!” at the end of each Passover Seder, they don’t mean it literally.
What if they are wrong and the pessimists are right? What if the marchers in Charlottesville chanting “the Jews will not replace us” are the harbingers of a momentous shift from civic nationalism to white Christian identity as the basis of the American polity?
This is where the existence of Israel becomes a transformative fact. A poem by Robert Frost contains a thought-provoking line: “Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Israel is the only country that guarantees immediate entry and citizenship to every Jew who knocks on its door. This is the sense in which Israel is the home for all Jews.
It is also why Israel means the end of Jewish exile. For two millennia, Jews faced a terrible choice between persecution and statelessness, as when the SS St. Louis, crammed with Jewish refugees, wandered from port to port in 1939 looking for a country that would accept its passengers. The creation of Israel gave Jews a third choice.
In that sense, Israel fulfills the Zionist goal of the “negation of the exile.” This is consistent with the existence of permanent Jewish communities outside the state of Israel. The end of exile as an unchosen political condition doesn’t mean the end of the diaspora* as a voluntary condition.
The emergence of two permanent poles of Jewish life—one in Israel and one in the diaspora—offers new possibilities but also presents new challenges. The challenges are underscored by an American Jewish Committee survey released as its conference convened in Jerusalem.
In effect, Israeli Jews are a red state while American Jews are a blue state. Seventy-seven percent of Israeli Jews approve of President Trump’s handling of relations between the U.S. and Israel, compared with only 34% of American Jews. Eighty-five percent of Israeli Jews, but only 46% of American Jews, back Mr. Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the embassy there. Fifty-nine percent of American Jews would support dismantling at least some settlements as part of a final settlement with the Palestinians; only 39% of Israeli Jews would do so. Eighty percent of American Jews but only 49% of Israeli Jews favor allowing Conservative and Reform as well as Orthodox rabbis to officiate at Israeli weddings, divorces and conversions. And 73% of American Jews but only 42% of Israeli Jews support both sexes praying together at the Western Wall rather than the strict separation required by Orthodox Judaism.
Underlying these policy differences is a deep jurisdictional dispute. Although both American and Israeli Jews believe that they are part of one people, and that they benefit from one another’s strength, they are divided by citizenship. Relying on the idea of shared peoplehood, 53% of American Jews believe that it is appropriate for them to influence Israeli security issues. Speaking as citizens of a sovereign state, 68% of Israelis disagree.
When Israeli policy principally affects Israeli citizens, noncitizens may offer advice but cannot demand influence on the outcome. But when Israel acts as the guardian of the patrimony of the entire Jewish people, as it surely does with the Western Wall, it has a greater responsibility to weigh the views of the wider Jewish community. Because security issues occupy a gray zone in this continuum, Jews in and outside Israel will continue to debate not only the substance of these issues but also their respective claims to a stake in their resolution.
*the dispersion of the Jews beyond Israel.