Israel and the American Jewish Community

Israel and the American Jewish Community

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

American Jews have had a virtually unbreakable, supportive relationship with the State of Israel, especially since the 1967 Six Day War. There have been differences and criticisms which have emerged from the leadership level, the clerical level, as well as among the masses, but these issues were not critical challenges to the relationship.  Part of the rather explanation for why a crisis is emerging now is a sense that Israel is not in existential danger, Jews and Israel are not being threatened, and, while there is an increase in anti-Semitism world-wide and a growing BDS movement, Jews in America do not feel threatened. This reality has now exposed some fundamental threats to the relationship which could ultimately lead to a breakdown in the cohesive bond that has tied American Jews to Israel.

As Gary Rosenblatt, in this week’s New York Jewish Week opined in analyzing a recent 2016 study completed by Brand Israel Group, Americans—especially those “college-aged Americans, Democrats/political left and minorities, independent voters and Jewish college students”–no longer feel the knee-jerk support for Israel that the post-Holocaust generations felt. In fact this study showed a significant shift since the prior study in 2010. 

The report, which is part of paper to be delivered in the Herzliya Global Policy Conference, presents a genuine challenge to Israel, as it needs public and especially strong Jewish support to sustain pro-Israel support in Washington; something which Israel has received virtually uninterruptedly since its inception. Once the Jews,  representing 2.5% of the American public, become less supportive, there will undoubtedly be forces in Washington—on both sides of the political aisle—which will challenge America’s continued backing of Israel.

There are several recent issues which will intensify this problem. If indeed the Netanyahu Government caves in to the charedim in Israel and does not re-establish the access agreement for the non-Orthodox to the Kotel, the Western Wall—which erupted again today–it will only continue to alienate the non-Orthodox groups in the States. This compounds the intensifying discussion and pressure in both the U.S. and Israel concerning mixed marriages and intermarriage.  

Israel may well not want to move to religious pluralism, but Netanyahu’s actions—which are transparently political–will only add fire to the growing dissatisfaction which many non-Orthodox American Jews feel about his failure to engage the peace process.  Within this Israeli political environment Bibi can chastise and critique Diaspora Jewry, but given the growing dissatisfaction among America Jews towards Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, Netanyahu’s arrogance will not gain him much sympathy from most American Jews.

On Netanyahu’s side, or so he believes indirectly is the Trump Administration. Given that most of those whom the Brand Israel Study identified as well those Americans who support religious pluralism did not support Trump, the Israeli Government does not expect any type of push back for thwarting, once again, promises made to non-right wing American Jews. If this attitude persists, this report will likely be seen as a harbinger of an intense hostility which will emerge between Israeli and American Jews.  

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