Jewish Americans Embrace Israeli Leaders, US Identities

Article Summary
The Jews of the United States are “first of all Americans, Americans first of all, last of all and always,” and their remoteness from Israel is reflected in their voting patterns. Younger Jewish Americans keep track of what’s going on in Israel, but with a critical stance, and fear “a lack of personal completeness” should Israel be annihilated. Sever Plocker reports.

A Jewish American intellectual was interviewed recently and asked how he would respond if Israel would be annihilated — wiped off the map. His answer was, “I would not feel like a complete Jew.” Something would be missing from the fellow’s identity if and when Armageddon comes to the holy land and Israel disappears off the face of the earth. Today and always, the Jews of the United States are “first of all Americans, Americans first of all, last of all and always,” to quote the famous words of Rabbi Stephen Wise, the recognized leader of American Jewry during World War Two and who spoke at the American Jewish Congress held in August 1943 to arouse public opinion against the Nazi atrocities.

Since then, the identification of US Jews with America has only intensified. Few of them visit Israel, and even fewer regard Israel as a possible place to live. All the talk about “dual loyalty” has ceased; the thousands who attend AIPAC conferences create the false impression that Jews there divided their loyalty equally between their country and Israel. Aside from a handful of Zionists sitting on their suitcases until they make aliya (immigration to the holy land), the Jews of America view themselves loyal only to America — and this is true not only for the younger generation. The older generation feels a distant sense of belonging and is willing to bravely defend Israel’s interests so long as they overlap with American interests. In the event of a clash, there is no doubt which identity will win: the American one.

The deepening remoteness of American Jewry is also reflected in their voting patterns. According to current American opinion polls, a record percentage of Jews plan to vote for Obama in the upcoming presidential election, despite the tension between him and Prime Minister Netanyahu. When the candidates of the Republican party go to great lengths to make pro-Israel speeches and statements in favor of an American attack on Iran, Jews of the large American cities listen with satisfaction, clap their hands, maybe even wipe away a tear — but they will continue to support the Democratic party and re-elect Obama. Why? Because they are “first of all and last of all” Americans. Therefore, when they have to choose between Netanyahu and Obama, they hug Netanyahu but will vote for Obama.

The younger generation of American Jews in their 20s and 30s vote heavily for the Democratic party. The dissonance between Bibi Netanyahu and Obama does not matter for them: they are for Obama.

Somewhat paradoxically, this younger group keeps closer track of what’s going on in Israel than their parents — but with a far more critical stance. The young Jewish student or lecturer in an American university has to be up on what’s happening in Israel because that’s what is required by his cultural environment. Israel is the subject of ceaseless discussions in the American academic community. The Jewish student is expected to be updated, so he makes sure to know what the settlers' representative said in the Knesset yesterday and what dodging maneuvers were adopted by the cabinet in response to the recent High Court of Justice decisions regarding the illegal West Bank outpost of Migron. Of course they have definite opinions regarding all these events — negative ones.

The abyss that separates the new generation of Jewish Americans from Israeli public opinion has nothing to do with conversion according to Halacha, or the issue of bringing the Falashmura (descendants of Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity under duress) to Israel or whether to support a strike on Iran. The most controversial subject is instead the settlement enterprise. While Israelis, even the leftists, have become accustomed to the existence of the settlements and view them as part of our lives — something like the high taxes on cars — young Jewish Americans view the settlements as an institutional black stain on the conscience of Israel. They view it as an imperialistic, colonial phenomenon that is simply indefensible, incompatible with the essential interests of Israel as the state of the Jewish nation. According to them, the settlements are not only a stumbling-block to peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but an obstacle to peace between them and Israel. Their anger at us deepens, and with it, our estrangement. The end result is the disturbingly emotionless statement of the moderate Jewish American intellectual who admits that the annihilation of Israel would cause him to feel “a lack of personal completeness.”

Found in: israel

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