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American Jews are growing more estranged from Israel

August 16, 2021 at 1:28 pm

Members of Jewish Voice for Peace hold flags and placards as they protest outside the Duty Free Americas Headquarters in Hollywood, Florida on 2 June 2021 CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images]

It is known in Israel that there is a trend among young American Jews not to support the self-styled Jewish state. Moreover, such young US citizens are urging Washington not to support Israel. This is a dramatic shift that will change the face of the largest Jewish community in the world, and a worrying turn for the Israeli government.

Anti-Israel activism in the US has increased, especially among progressive Jews who condemn the occupation state, leaving Israeli decision-makers with a lot to consider as they plan the state’s future. The legitimacy of Israel is being questioned, with more and more Jewish Americans joining the chorus of calls for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS). Criticising Israel as an apartheid state, they insist, is not anti-Semitic, rather there is a lot of difference between legitimate concerns about a political entity and unacceptable racism.

The feeling is growing in America that Jewish communities should not be shaped into a state structure, but should live within a state which values all of its citizens with equal rights for all. Such a society, it is believed, ensures a place for Jews without the need for a “Jewish state”.

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This view is gaining in popularity among American Jews: according to a recent survey, 22 per cent of them believe that Israel is engaged in the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians; 25 per cent support its definition as an “apartheid state“; and a massive 60 per cent do not have an opinion on institutional Jewish life. Meanwhile, the number of what might be called “observant” Jews appears to be declining significantly, as is the number of those active in local Jewish Community Centres.

Progressive Jews oppose the “Jewish Nation-State Law” in Israel and think that Zionism is an unattractive and unacceptable ideology that will meet its demise in the foreseeable future due to its difficulties in attracting new supporters. They compare Israel to apartheid South Africa and even agree with those who draw similarities between Israel and Nazi Germany. It is becoming ever more obvious that Jews in Israel and those in the US have separate goals and contradictory principles.

Israel has passed the Nation-State Law becoming officially an Apartheid State - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Israel has passed the Nation-State Law becoming officially an Apartheid State – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Disparities have arisen and intensified in recent years to such an extent that Israeli military commanders, ministers, and politicians are no longer greeted with much enthusiasm in New York; there are no more queues to see them and listen to their speeches. Indeed, Israeli political life means little to a growing number of American Jews. This is happening despite high profile Jewish groups such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the World Jewish Congress (WJC), the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations, and the American Jewish Committee (AJC).

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This polarisation between the Jews in Israel and those in the diaspora, particularly the US, is leading to more American Jews joining the liberal wing and the struggle for equal rights for all. What can be described as the “structural tension” between Israel and American Jews is a matter of great concern for Tel Aviv, especially with Democrat Joe Biden in the White House and his efforts to put pressure on Israel to change its policy towards the Palestinians.

A number of American Jewish leaders have been roundly critical of Israel and are starting to mention the once-taboo “O word”: the occupation. Israel’s illegal settlements are condemned, as is the Apartheid Wall, and more and more congregations in Reform Judaism across the US have not only stopped talking about Israel and Zionism but are also willing to educate the younger generations that Israel is an occupying power. This is a reality that even the most pessimistic Israelis would not have contemplated or imagined a few years ago.

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