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