A Bleak View of American Jewry
American Jewry, apart from the Orthodox and a minority of committed non-Orthodox, is demographically imploding.
Paradoxically, this is taking place at a time when support for Israel among the American people is at an all-time high and traditional antisemitism is at its lowest level. But Jewish education among non-Orthodox Jews is catastrophic, with widespread ignorance of Judaism and Israel. Assimilation is rampant, with intermarriage levels reaching 70%.
Although right-wing racist antisemitism has made headlines, in my view the real threat emanates from people on the viciously anti-Israel and antisemitic Left, and the growing numbers of Muslim extremists.
Under normal circumstances, a proud Jewish community supported by most Americans could neutralize these negative elements.
However, the crisis is largely internal. In the past, American Jews, with valid historical justifications, have always had a penchant for liberalism. Their attachments to Israel and Judaism were synonymous and liberal political forces were Israel’s strongest supporters, while conservatives were less inclined to support the Jewish state.
However, over the past two decades, the far-Left has become viciously anti-Israel, even supporting terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah and depicting Israel as an imperialist occupier.
This trend reached a climax under Barack Obama, who made overtures to the Iranians and treated Israel politically as a rogue state.
Aside from ZOA head Morton Klein, not a single mainstream Jewish leader had the courage to stand up and protest Obama’s bias against Israel.
Despite Obama’s hostility, aside from African-Americans the Jews remained Obama’s strongest supporters.
When Donald Trump was elected president, the hatred manifested against him from the bulk of the Jewish leadership reached hysterical levels.
Many of the so-called Jewish leaders intensified the anti-Israel hysteria by falsely accusing Trump of fascism and even antisemitism, despite his Jewish friends and family members and strong support for Israel. In fact, the administration’s wholehearted ongoing support for the Jewish state even seemed to intensify their anger.
The Anti-Defamation League, headed by Jonathan Greenblatt, relinquished any pretense of being apolitical. It continuously lashed out against the Trump administration and behaved like an extension of the extreme anti-Trump opposition. The ADL frequently seemed more inclined to defend Muslim extremists than Jews, maintaining that organizations like Canary Mission, which exposes antisemitism on college campuses, are Islamophobic and racist. It also ignored or dismissed Left-wing antisemitism and soft-pedaled its criticism of Black Lives Matter, an organization that accused Israel of ethnic cleansing and exaggerated the influence of far-right radicals, seeking to link them to Trump. The ADL also took it upon itself to repeatedly condemn Israeli policies and the so-called “occupation.”
The Reform movement leader Rabbi Rick Jacobs behaved similarly, usually with the support of leaders of the Conservative movement. Jacobs initially even condemned Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
In this environment, J Street — which opposes the current Israeli government — was absurdly promoted by parts of the establishment as a moderate and a legitimate vehicle to soften the more delusional Jewish groups openly seeking the demise of Israel and even defending Hamas.
By remaining silent and appealing for tolerance even toward groups castigating Israel like Jewish Voice for Peace, the establishment created a defeatist climate, paving the way for the chaos currently prevailing in the Jewish community.
This has impacted a large numbers of Jews, especially youth with virtually no Jewish education and for whom Israel has already become a marginal issue.
In turn, this has strengthened the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement and created an atmosphere in which it is chic for unaffiliated Jews to distance themselves from or in some cases even publicly condemn Israel.
Twenty years ago, it would have been inconceivable to have anything other than delusional Jewish fringe groups attacking Israel. Today, especially on campuses, it requires courage to even stand up against these perverted anti-Israel Jews.
These self-hating Jewish deviants have combined with Muslim extremists and the far-Left to intimidate Jews committed to Israel, making life for them unbearable, particularly on college campuses. They are at the forefront of the BDS movement, deny Israeli spokesmen the right to speak, disrupt their lectures, and support the depiction of Israel as an “apartheid state.” The extent of the madness is reflected by groups of Jewish radicals publicly reciting Kaddish for jihadist Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers defending their borders.
Sadly, many Jewish leaders urge supporters of Israel to be tolerant of these hostile Jewish groups and rather than confronting them entreat them to engage in dialogue. Regrettably, many Hillel groups encourage and provide venues for such dialogue.
It is hardly surprising that in such an environment encouraged by the anti-Israel media and the radical wing of the Democratic Party, the preponderance of liberal Jews today — especially their leaders — feel awkward supporting Israel, whereas in the past Jewish support for Israel was almost a given. Wishing to conform to their self-image as “enlightened,” in most cases they feel comfortable publicly condemning the Israeli government.
The current, almost unprecedented unity of the Israeli people transcends politics over issues such as war and peace, defense of the borders, and deterring terrorism, including the violent efforts by Hamas to breach Israel’s borders. This is ignored by many liberal American Jews living in an atmosphere in which they not only feel the need to conform and condemn Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his democratically elected government, but in many cases go even further, castigating the IDF for allegedly responding disproportionately to terrorists who use human shields as a tactic.
It is in this context that Academy Award-winning actress Natalie Portman’s outburst, a symptom of the current climate, was a public relations gift to Israel’s enemies despite her subsequent mealy-mouthed utterances. She would never have contemplated such behavior a few years ago, before the atmosphere had become so poisoned that criticism of Israel by Jews barely raises eyebrows.
It is time for those committed to Israel to be courageous and stand up and be counted. They should dismiss the absurdity of promoting the “big tent” and attempts to engage in dialogue with Jews condemning Israel’s right to defend itself.
They should publicly demand the resignation of leaders who criticize Israel’s security policies, which are supported by a broad Israeli consensus. They should call on their leaders to publicly castigate Jews who denigrate Israel and expel from their ranks those who support or tolerate groups promoting BDS or defend those seeking Israel’s destruction. Jews who align themselves with Islamic extremists or the antisemitic far-Left should be spurned by the community and rejected from Jewish gatherings or synagogues.
Until there are Jewish leaders who are fully committed to supporting Israel during these critical times, the disintegration of the non-Orthodox American Jewish community will proceed unimpeded.
Isi Leibler is a longtime columnist specializing in Israel and world Jewry. His website can be viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.