Why American Jews Are Looking to Israel

For much of the past century, America has dominated the Jewish world. It has been a semi-sacred ‘safe place’, where anti-Semitism only rarely impinged on the national political culture. Yet today, American Jews face levels of anti-Semitism not seen since the 1930s, with half saying they have observed anti-Semitic incidents over the past year.

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Why Jews Are Confused

Assailed from two sides, American Jewry is having an acute crisis of identity.

Es iz schver tzu zein a yid. (It is hard to be a Jew.)

—Sholem Aleichem

From missiles falling on Tel Aviv and the assault on synagogues during last summer’s riots to mob violence on the streets of LA and New York, the sense of well-being among America’s Jews has been shattered. After decades of relentless social and political ascendency, Jews now face rising anti-Semitism in ways not encountered in over half a century. Attacked from the far right, as well as an increasingly vitriolic far left, Jews are pincered and suffering whiplash.

Amidst what Hoover Institution fellow and Somali immigrant Ayaan Hirsi Ali describes as a rampant rise of “tribalism,” anti-Semitism is becoming normalized in America. Yet in the face of this rising risk, Jews themselves are divided and deeply conflicted. The Jewish establishment has generally focused on white nationalists as the prime threat and, to be sure, lone racists have expressed their anti-Semitism lethally from Kansas City and Pittsburgh to Poway. To a people who have experienced centuries of persecution from the Tsarist regime to the Nazis and the Klan, the far right’s elevated profile fueled by the power of social media—if not the actual size of the white nationalist movement—is nevertheless terrifying.

Yet this is not the real measure, or even the bulk, of the threat. Groups like the Anti-Defamation League focus on Islamists and right-wing hate groups, but their statistics have been roundly criticized in such respected magazines as Tablet, and are widely thought to reflect their increasingly progressive bias. The reality, missing from the mainstream narrative, ignores the arguably more potent threat from an aroused, and increasingly radicalized, left.

The roots of leftist anti-Semitism are nurtured in anti-Zionism that has been brewing for a half century on the left. But now, for the first time, even Congress has a band of anti-Zionists who denounce Israel’s strong response to missile attacks as a war crime. The assault on Israel’s right to self-defense—though still backed by President Biden—comes from the ascendant left faction of the Democrats—led by such figures as Rashida Tlaib and the openly anti-Semitic Ilhan Omar. They assign exclusive blame to Israel for their response to the mass missile attacks on their cities from groups like Hamas, whose genocidal urges are well demonstrated and enshrined in the group’s founding documents, and whose Judenrein territorial goal, “from the river to the sea,” is now chanted by street mobs around the world, and tweeted by none other than the labor union at the New Yorker magazine.

Israel appears to have lost support among American Jews, particularly the younger and less affiliated. Having alienated the Obama administration with their West Bank settlement policies and opposition to the Iran nuclear agreement, Israeli policy-makers now worry more about Democratic Administrations. A former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. recently opined that Israel should prioritize the “passionate and unequivocal” support of evangelical Christians over that of American Jews, who he said are “disproportionately among our critics.” Certainly the new administration’s intent to return to the Iran accords are troubling, as are charges that John Kerry, the president climate czar, gave intelligence to the Iranians, who openly promote eradication of the Jewish state.

These divides are particularly dangerous as the community is aging rapidly, faces increasing pressures to assimilate, while major institutions are under pressures not seen in generations. Overall, the American Jewish population—unlike that of demographically robust Israel—is unlikely to grow by 2050. There is no likely replacement for the influx of Persian, North and South African, and Russian Jews who rescued the community from demographic decline over the last half century. It is also a community that is no longer the global center of Jewry, and has been replaced by Israel, a state that acts primarily in its own self-interest, sometimes in ways that upset many American Jews.

Although Trump made some modest gains among Jewish voters in 2020, the bulk of American Jews, nearing 70 percent according to Pew, identify with the Democratic Party. Jews are widely represented in the upper echelons of the Democratic Party, including Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer and progressive icon Bernie Sanders, and are well represented in the media, academic, and corporate communities that have rallied behind President Biden. Democrats account for 36 out of the 38 Jews in Congress, and one-third of them are members of the far-left leaning Congressional Progressive Caucus, whose leading members, during the current hostilities, moved to block a planned $735 million weapons package for Israel.

Leading progressive Jews often embrace the notion of tikkun olam (“healing the world”) as the mission of the faith. In their mind, Jewish values are intrinsically progressive and point with pride to the community’s support for the African American civil rights movement, and their more recent unrequited backing for the Black Lives Matter movement and the Women’s March. Yet many of these groups are led in part by enthusiastic backers of the most influential anti-Semite of our time, National of Islam head Louis Farrakhan, who smirks that he is an “anti-termite” and insists that Jews controlled the slave trade, and other leaders who accuse Israel of genocide, and of running an apartheid state. Professedly anti-Zionist, BLM has allied with Islamist groups and disparaged Israel during last year’s DC demonstrations as well as during the recent Gaza conflict. BLM protests have also led to rioters vandalizing synagogues and trashing Jewish owned businesses in Los Angeles, New York, and Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Moreover, violent, unprovoked attacks on Jews in Los Angeles, New York, Raton, Montreal, LondonArgentina, Chile, Germany, Austria, Poland, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, and Turkey demonstrate that much of anti-Zionism is in reality anti-Semitism.   

Read the rest of this piece at American Mind.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Edward Heyman is currently active as a volunteer and consultant in the Orange County, California, Jewish community, following a career as a partner in a software development firm serving the defense and intelligence communities.

Photo credit: Gregory Hauenstein via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

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