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November 29, 2016 9:11 am

Thanks for the Memories: Why Israel Has No Use for American Jewish Organizations

avatar by Gidon Ben-zvi

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Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt. Photo: ADL.

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt. Photo: ADL.

Many American Jewish organizations are currently minimizing antisemitism, and arguing that people who hate Israel are not antisemites. In this environment, does it make sense for Israel to keep aligning itself with these groups?

Case in point: A recent panel hosted by the Anti-Defamation League — entitled “Is Delegitimization of Israel Anti-Semitism?” — provided well-known anti-Zionists Jill Jacobs and Jane Eisner a platform to launch into tirades about the evils of the Jewish state. In addition, Jacobs defended the BDS movement against accusations of antisemitism, and criticized the American Jewish community for opposing BDS.

At this point, there’s little to connect the Jewish state to ostensibly centrist American Jewish groups other than mystic chords of memory. The days when such organizations served to bolster Jewish sovereignty by way of a common, non-partisan commitment to the Zionist enterprise are long gone.

In recent years, Israel has actually been the primary source of friction between the Orthodox, secular, Reform and haredi communities in the United States. As a result, donations to Israel are no longer about helping the country’s poor, hungry or otherwise afflicted — nor are they about securing the Jewish state.

Today, it’s all about politics. American Jewish organizations have morphed into appendages of one of the country’s two main political parties. With 70% of American Jews voting for Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, the vast majority of American Jewish groups appear beholden to the Democrats.

And in the aftermath of Clinton’s loss, the Democratic Party may be turning against the Jewish state. Notably, Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, the front-runner to be the next Democratic National Committee chairman, has a long history of anti-Israel, antisemitic and extremist radical Islamist involvements and positions.

Tellingly, the aforementioned and always vocal Anti-Defamation League suddenly went mute with regards to Ellison’s defamatory remarks and controversial record. But facts are stubborn things: in 2014, Ellison was one of only eight members of Congress to vote against a bipartisan bill to provide $225 million for Israel’s Iron Dome missile system.

And let’s not even talk about his ties to the Jew-baiting Nation of Islam.

So, does this mean that 70% of American Jewry is anti-Israel? No. However, population dynamics in the United States have facilitated a tectonic shift. Monolithic American Jewish support of Israel’s elected leaders, regardless of political orientation, has been replaced by a fractured American Jewish community that is increasingly butting heads over Israeli policies.

And that only takes into account those who feel a connection to Israel. The 2013 Pew Research study on American Jews found that only one in three Jews feels a strong “emotional attachment to Israel.”

Here’s a fast, harsh dose of reality: the vast majority of politically minded American Jews are passionate about gay marriage, the Paris climate agreement, abortion rights, raising the minimum wage and other standard talking points. Assimilation and intermarriage have spawned an American Jewish community that’s increasingly disconnected from Israel. Malcolm Hoenlein, now in his 31st year as executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, has called this the “negative phenomenon of indifference.”

As such, American Jewish groups should embrace this reality and refocus their energies on the domestic issues that large swaths of the American Jewish community care about.

Out with supporting Iron Dome, in with dismantling structural racism.

As for Israel, while breaking up is hard to do, disassociating from American Jewish organizations with political agendas will deny the latter the megaphone they’ve been using to play politics over Israel.

I think it’s safe to say that Israel, which the World Economic Forum’s 2016-2017 Global Competitiveness Report recently ranked as the second most innovative nation on earth, will figure out a way to move on.

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  • Joshua Laskin

    ADL has to remain relevant to American Jews, two-thirds of whom don’t feel a strong emotional attachment to Israel. The reason for this non-attachment, is that Israeli democracy isn’t Democracy-in-the-American-Style. The very concept of a ‘Jewish democracy’, or any democracy defined by a specific ethnicity, goes against the American grain. That’s why Judah L Magnes, one of the few American Zionists living in Palestine in the 1920s, argued for a bi-national state. Zionists from Eastern-Europe, who had no democratic background, either couldn’t grasp, or didn’t rate, what was obvious and crucial to Magnes: that a new state that didn’t recognize Palestinian Arabs’ nationalist aspirations, would surely experience endless war. His understanding has, naturally, become shared by most American Jews of today. Which is not to say that most of us would claim to know, better than Israelis, what’s best for Israel. It’s only that we simply can’t any longer relate to the ‘Jewish democracy’ idea. It rubs our democratic sensibilities the wrong way; and gives us the willies. So, we count ourselves out. Anyway, ADL’s mission has always been American-society focused, rather than Jew-specific. We’re not glad if Israelis feel betrayed; but, the Jewish Diaspora isn’t about Israel, and never has been. And, as Gidon writes, Israel is all grown up, now, and well situated to fend for herself. So, no harm done.

  • Bishadi

    As evidenced, Israel DOES NOT represent Jews or Judaism as a collective. What Israel(is) should be observing is why and making the changes.
    Could anyone be against Israel if it truly was acting as a ‘holy land’?

  • Igor

    While ZOA for now is OK, ADL now stands for antisemite defence league. I would sooner deal with Christian conservatives then so-called Jewish liberals. They are disgrace

  • Phil Lesh Fan

    “Jewish leaders either don’t know the extent of Ellison’s relationship
    with Islamist groups like CAIR or of his consistent criticism of Israeli
    actions, especially in response to Hamas terror — or they do not care.
    Jonathan Greenblatt, the Anti-Defamation League’s chief
    executive, issued a statement last week saying that Ellison “is a man of
    good character” and “an important ally in the fight against
    anti-Semitism and for civil rights.””

    The above paragraph is from an article on the United With Israel web site. Below is from this article on Algemeiner. The ADL is hardly “mute” about its support of Ellison.

    “Tellingly, the aforementioned and always vocal Anti-Defamation League suddenly went mute with regards to Ellison’s defamatory remarks and controversial record.”

  • howiej

    The ADL has come out in favor of Ellison as has Schumer.

  • David T

    The author could have provided a balanced discussion of how both major political parties have taken ideological positions on Israel in recent years. Instead the author focused only on the bias of one party. So, allow me to remind readers that Steve Bannon is the recently former head of Breitbart. His defense as an employer of religious Jews reminds me of Hitler’s employment of avid homosexuals in the Brown Shirts group. Remember the Night of Long Knives? Bannon would be delighted to get the country to a readiness to remove all the Jews from Breitbart and of course from the White House. I have zero interest in either party when their actions indicate biased hate toward Israel and toward American Jews.