Studies and reports published in recent years have been talking about American Jews (especially the young generation) being alienated from Israel with increased feelings of weak ties with the Zionist state. Since Donald Trump won the United States presidency, there have been warnings of accelerated disenchantment as a result of Israel’s “peace policies” as well as cruelty against the Palestinians. The changing relationship has also been a result of the alliance of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightist government with the ultra-orthodox Haredi Jews, which causes dismay among the normally conservative and reformist American Jews.
The gap is widening, reported Ha’aretz recently, and is expanding to include the parents and grandparents of the young generation as well. The newspaper quoted Political Science professor Dov Waxman as saying that “in the last two years, I have given many lectures (in the US), and I estimate that 90 per cent of my listeners are elderly American Jews, the negative sentiments are everywhere”. He noted that “there is a fundamental change among American Jews today, and I noticed a greater shift among American Jews, about a half (48 per cent) who do not believe that the government of Israel is making a sincere effort to reach peace with the Palestinians”. “For a long time”, he went on to say, “there were people who were concerned about Israel’s policy and practices towards Palestinians, but they were not able to talk about it, they felt lonely and suddenly they felt that the burden had been removed from them.”
“I am from a family whose members felt very strongly that Israel is my place,” says Richard Taub, a retired Jewish lecturer at the University of Chicago. “But now, with a large number of elderly American Jews, our anger and hostility towards Israel’s current policy of arrogance is growing with a rightist hold. I think that what is practised in the West Bank is close to criminal action, and I also think that Netanyahu’s coalition with hardliners is very miserable, and I think they are leading Israel to a very bad direction.”
From his side, the former president of the Conservative Congregation in New Jersey, Naomi Kolton Fromme, also emphasised that the circle of opposition to Israel is widening: “It’s true that there is a community that will defend Israel no matter what happens, I think people like me, 50-year-olds, are a bigger group than in the past. The real question is what will they do? Perhaps they will be like many 30-year-olds who have moved away from Israel.”
More serious is the fact that the relationship shift appears to have penetrated the lines of the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the most hard-line lobby in support of Israel. Douglas Blumfeld, an activist in the Committee recently wrote: “American Jews are disappointed with Israel, which has turned to the extreme right and is under the control of the Haredim and the nationalists. They are also disappointed by Israel, which is directed by a charismatic and corrupt prime minister. Perhaps the most obvious thing is that Israel rejects them because they are not Jewish enough.”
The researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies of the University of Tel Aviv, Sarah Feuer, warned of the decline in US support for Israel, as a result of profound changes within the American society.
Contrary to what is common in Israel, Feuer has warned of Israel’s dependence on Zionist Christian groups in the US saying that the strength of these groups is in decline. She recommended more interest in developing relations with other American circles. “Based on recent polls”, she noted, “there has been a decline in support for Israel in many quarters, such as non-Orthodox Jews.”
As a reflection of that, and in an apparent break from his support to Netanyahu, Ronald Lauder, president of the American Jewish Congress (AJC) wrote that “the ratification of the Nationalism Law and other recent events in Israel are endangering its relations with the Jews of the US”. Describing Israeli government policies as destructive, he said: “I fear in the future the absence of its supporters in the face of the boycott movement against it in the US.”
Along these lines, Lauder enumerated elements he sees as jeopardising Israel’s continuing support among Diaspora Jews in general and America in particular, focusing on the recently adopted Nationalism Law. He said “events give rise to the impression that the democratic dimension of a Jewish state is undergoing a test”, adding that “Israel can find itself facing a shattered network of values and dubious friends, and the future leaders of the West will be hostile or indifferent to us. Defending the state to the most liberal young generation in the West has become more difficult for Israel’s supporters in the world, and this sometimes turns into ‘almost impossible’, following the steps taken by the government of Israel”.
The AJC president went on to say that “If this trend continues, young Jews can stop identifying with a state that discriminates against non-Orthodox Jews and against religious and gay minorities, they too may not fight the BDS movement, may not support Israel in Washington or provide it with the strategic assistance it needs.”
Professor As’ad Abdul Rahman is the chairman of the Palestinian Encyclopaedia.