American Jews: Look in the mirror…writes Isi Leibler

December 5, 2017 by Isi Leibler
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There are some unpleasant facts and bitter truths about a large component of Diaspora Jews that are being swept under the carpet.

Isi Leibler

The reality is that many of those who classify themselves as Jews live in an environment in which being Jewish has become associated with endorsing a meaningless universalism dominated by liberal mumbo jumbo.

An ever-increasing number of American Jews in this category describe themselves as secular but they lack the cultural and national characteristics of their secular predecessors who rejected religion but in most cases retained a national identity. Having said that, some of their secular predecessors were Bundists, and until the creation of Israel, most American Jews were non-Zionist.

Today’s middle-aged Jews grew up in a postwar world where antisemitism was receding and many concluded that it was becoming extinct. The generation born between 1950 to 1980 was not exposed to the vicious antisemitism that their parents endured in the prewar era. In addition, with the passage of time, the horror of the Holocaust and what it implied for the Jewish people has become a dim statistical historical memory rather than a collective experience. This generation of American Jews never experienced the pre-State of Israel feeling of powerlessness.

This was further accelerated by the decline of Jewish education, with most youngsters not having even a rudimentary knowledge of their Jewish heritage or culture.

The greatest factor affecting today’s Jews is the massive acculturation that has taken place due to the open society in which they live, where, in contrast to the past, prejudice does not inhibit intermarriage. Today it is estimated that over 70% of non-Orthodox Jews intermarry – an astronomical figure. Surveys show that the vast majority of children of intermarried couples are hardly conscious of their Jewish identity.

The relevance of Israel as a haven from persecution simply does not resonate today as it did to previous Jewish generations. According to a recent Pew survey, only 43% of American Jewish youth have visited Israel and as many as 31% said that they had no attachment to Israel.

We must therefore acknowledge that a substantial and growing proportion of American Jews cannot be relied upon for support, and for many younger Jews, concern for Israel’s security has become a low priority.

Indeed, for some, displaying an anti-Israel attitude is considered chic and a means of socially integrating into the liberal community where opposition to Israel is required for eligibility. This has led some Jews, utterly ignorant of their heritage, to express their Jewish identity by attacking Israel and becoming darlings of anti-Israel agitators on college campuses and in the left-wing media.

This disturbing trend was accelerated by then-U.S. President Barack Obama, who created a rift between many of his Jewish supporters and Israel. They remained silent while he treated Israel like a rogue state and fawned over Iran.

Today, a considerable number of Jewish students choose to identify with Black Lives Matter or endorse terrorist-sympathizers like Linda Sarsour as preferable to supporting Israel. Some even prattle about keeping all Jews in the “big tent” and justify dialogue with anti-Israel Jews and those who actively campaign for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

Taglit-Birthright Israel has somewhat ameliorated this situation but the tragedy is that in order to curry favor with the Left, both the Conservative and Reform Jewish leaderships have been heading the charge against Israel on a host of secondary political issues. When Donald Trump was elected president, the Jewish progressive establishment lost all sense of proportion and reacted with utter hysteria. In addition to its unprecedented bitter partisan campaign against his administration, it intensified its attacks against the elected Israeli government by accusing it of being extremist and promoting fascist legislation.

The issue climaxed when, to save his government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu capitulated to pressure from haredim and rescinded an earlier deal that approved egalitarian prayer at a designated area at the Western Wall. Even though 60% of Reform and 40% of Conservative Jews had never visited Israel and most of them were utterly indifferent toward mixed-gender prayer at the Wall, the progressive leaders fanned the flames of hysteria over this issue and effectively declared war on the Israeli government, demanding that it reinstate the deal – some even threatening to boycott the Jewish state.

With Netanyahu facing immense pressures from all sides, one would expect responsible Diaspora Jewish leaders to display understanding of his predicament and not declare war over an issue that most of their constituents are completely uninterested in – as are most Israelis who put up with far greater irritations from extremist haredi politicians that impact on their lives. Regardless, the majority still prefer Netanyahu to act as their leader rather than any other politician.

The issue was further polarised when Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely inelegantly told the truth of what has hitherto been considered politically incorrect to express. The outcry against her reached hysterical levels with demands for her dismissal and allegations that, by telling the truth, she was promoting antisemitism. Hotovely was expressing facts, but even if she was merely conveying an opinion, she is surely entitled to do so.

American Jews live a life so different from their Israeli kinsmen that most of them – other than those with close family in Israel – cannot possibly appreciate or identify with the challenges confronting us. They are not surrounded by enemies calling for their annihilation; they do not experience the threat of frequent terrorism; and in the absence of conscription, only a miniscule number of Jews serve in the armed forces, in contrast to Israelis who are drafted to the IDF and who often face life-and-death situations.

Progressive American Jewish leaders behave with no restraint and feel free to publicly condemn Israel and criticize the policies of its democratically elected government despite being aware of the immense, even existential threats it is facing. But when Israelis say anything uncomplimentary about American Jewry, progressives immediately accuse them of destroying the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora. The hypocrisy is offensive and it is time for us to stop pandering to these groups that are far more concerned about establishing their bona fides within the far-left liberal community than backing Israel.

But even setting aside our contrasting lifestyles, American Jews would do well to look in the mirror and moderate their triumphalist manner. Despite proclaiming their pride of residing in the “goldene medina” and claiming to be the most influential minority in America, they have not been able to stem the extraordinary rise of anti-Israelism and antisemitism among leftists and liberals. With all their wealth and huge scholarship endowments, they have failed catastrophically on the campuses, many of which have been transformed by Muslims and leftists into centers of hatred, promoting anti-Israeli agitation and antisemitism.

The truth is that much as we seek the support of all Diaspora Jews, an ever-increasing number of people in non-Orthodox American Jewish communities are so utterly ignorant of their heritage that they simply feel no empathy for Israel.

We should therefore concentrate on the Orthodox and committed Jews whose support for Israel has never waned and many of whom are engaged in Israel advocacy programs. At the same time, we must be aware that despite their leaders, there are many Reform and Conservative Jews who remain loyal and committed to Israel and we must encourage and support them.

We should concentrate on our real supporters – and emissaries from diverse backgrounds should be handpicked for either strengthening the committed or trying to educate those who define themselves as Jewish but are in fact ignorant of their Jewish heritage.

We should cease referring to American Jews as a group and distinguish between those for whom Israel is a priority and the many “Jews” whose Judaism is based on liberal stances including supporting positions hostile to Israel.

We should also stop prostrating ourselves to those who publicly attack us. Many of the “leaders” would reconsider their attitudes if they knew that when they visited Israel, they would be politely ignored by the establishment.

The time has come to stop cringing when these fringe Jews abuse us and concentrate our efforts on offering greater support to those actively promoting our cause.

Isi Leibler lives in Jerusalem. He is a former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.



3 Responses to “American Jews: Look in the mirror…writes Isi Leibler”
  1. john nemesh says:

    well written.

  2. Liat Kirby says:

    This is a most excellent cry for change in the escalating nonsense that pervades the life and beliefs of so many American Jews. We saw it again reflected in television news featuring a Progressive female rabbi speaking out against the decision of Trump for the US to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It was said that only 16% of American Jews thought differently to this. I don’t know if that statistic is correct or not.

    I believe it is more than possible to be a secular Jew and marry a non-Jew, while still firmly and passionately adhering to Jewish culture and tradition. There are many Jews who do this successfully, and who have a full knowledge of Jewish history and the tribulations and horrors that have been part of that, who also identify strongly with their Jewish heritage. So, I think it necessary to not paint too wide a picture with an obliterating brush in regard to that topic. It is more than likely that American life itself, with the many different attitudes that promotes, together with the kind of anti-Semitism that has become prevalent through left-wing thinkers and academics using hate of Israel as the base from which to project it, have come together to make the huge and dangerous situation you speak of. What the answer to that is, I don’t know, because you can’t force people to forego their comfort zone and learn and live the truth. It’s this that caused the problem, the response, to Tzipi Hotoveley’s candid assertions. I don’t think she was inelegant. She’s a good speaker, quite urbane and polite, just forthright with it.

    Anyway, thank you for saying what needs to be said.
    Liat K.
    P.S. I appreciate Netanyahu’s difficult position, but the fact is the ultra-Orthodox are a big problem for women in Israel and will become increasingly so if something is not done about it. The Israeli organisation IRAC seeks to make inroads here, sometimes successfully through the Supreme Court. If Israel became more fundamentalist through religious influence it would not be a place intelligent, educated women could live in. I am not an armchair expert; I’ve lived in Israel and am a dual Australian/Israeli citizen, so have a little experience on which to draw. I’m also a member of a Progressive synagogue in Brisbane, where none of the members express the kinds of views we see expressed by the American Progressive Jews we’re discussing here.

  3. Maurice LINKER says:

    I was in Europe during the Second World War. Stateless in a displaced camp in Austria in 1948 when the state was declared
    A miracle occured when Israel was declared a state; a star rose in the sky – I now had “my country” to which I could go whenever I wanted and who looked after the Jews.
    Israel I consider my wife with all its problems. But criticism on Israel by Jews should be done within the “Family”
    The young generation should not take Israel for granted – that it will exist forever and provide a shelter;
    They should remember that Hitler went after people with jewish ancestry even if they converted to Christianity ; we do not want this to happen again
    They have to support Israel irrespective of who is in power

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