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America's Jewish population drift away from Israel

January 23, 2014 at 4:54 am

In an interview with the New Internationalist last year American scholar Norman Finkelstein pointed out recent, prominent defections from American support for Israel; New Yorker editor, David Remnick, previous editor of the New Republic Peter Beinhart and Nobel prize-winning and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman.

Despite this, a number of polls still indicate a higher percentage of Americans are more sympathetic with Israel than Palestine. Their position echoes President Obama’s stance; in one of his presidential campaign videos last year he described the bond between Israel and America as “unbreakable.”

In fact a connection between the two countries has long been a central focus of Washington’s policy in the region.

Yet evidence suggests that even this public support for Israel, at least amongst American Jews, is declining. Speakers at the annual Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations recently discussed the ‘Phenomenon of Jews distancing themselves from Israel.’

The Conference of Presidents, who in their own words, “provide a link between American Jewry and the U.S. government, and marshal a coordinated community response'” have identified a number of concerns that rest primarily with the younger generation. Many, they say, have become detached from Israel. Statistics suggest that 80% of American Jews are secular, have intermarried and feel less connected to Israel.

Possible reasons for their detachment are not hard to find; take, for example, the recent war on Gaza, the continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and increased settler violence on Palestinians. According to Paul Krugman in his ‘the crisis of Zionism,’ blog for the New York Times, “most American Jews are still liberal.” In which case their principles conflict heavily with the current government’s policies. 
According to Finkelstein in his book ‘Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel is Coming to an End,’ “twenty years ago, defence of Israel was the Jewish cause on college campuses. Now, Jewish activists fill the ranks of the local Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters.”

One effect of an increasingly distant American Jewish population is its potential to weaken the pro-Israel Lobby – that is individuals and organisations who are pro-Israeli and actively attempt to shape American foreign policy to this agenda, in different ways and with differing focuses – that currently exists in the States.

Take, for example, the Lobby’s current influence on the mainstream media. According to ‘The Israel Lobby’ by John Mearsheimer and Stephan Walt, one CNN executive explained he occasionally receives 6000 complaint emails in one day for one story, if contenders deem it to be anti-Israel. Boston’s National Public Radio station, WBUR, lost over one million dollars as a result of campaigners who pressured contributors not to give funding until the station’s coverage of Israel became more positive.
If support for Israel amongst the Jewish population in America continues to wane, the pro-Israel lobby may no longer enjoy such unprecedented support whilst contributing, with impunity, towards blocking the peace process.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.