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Monday, May 17, 2010

Is Israel too Jewish?

Peter Beinart indicts America's 'Jewish establishment' for not being critical enough of the Israeli government. In Beinart's view, the lack of support for Israel among young people in the US is a result of the 'Jewish establishment's failure to present a critical view of the State of Israel. Instead, argues Beinart, the establishment adopts the view of the Israeli government which, he laments, represents a long-term trend to the Right, both politically and religiously (Hat Tip: Memeorandum). Essentially, a key part of Beinart's argument is that Israel is too strongly (I think he would term it parochially) Jewish. Beinart is wrong on so many counts that a line by line 'fisking' would go on for pages and pages (his article goes on for three very long pages). But please allow me to present a few data points.

The reason American Jews don't support Israel has more to do with their lack of commitment to Judaism than with their lack of commitment to Israel. Among more committed Jews - including among committed Jews who are non-Orthodox - support for Israel is significantly higher. There is nothing Israel can do to win over people who lack a Jewish commitment other than to try to get them committed to some form of Judaism.

Second, any survey of American Jews necessarily includes people who are not Jewish under Jewish law. If those people were excluded, the surveys would show a higher level of commitment to Judaism and to Israel. It is questionable whether the 'Jewish establishment,' which is funded by the Jewish community across the board, ought to be including and providing services to people who are not Jewish. I would argue that other than welfare services they should not.

Third, among Jews who live in Israel, the commitment to Judaism is much higher. That includes the fact that there is a much higher percentage of Orthodox Jews in Israel than in the United States. In fact, for at least the last 30 years, the vast majority of immigrants from the United States have been Orthodox. It should be obvious why this is so. People who move from the United States to Israel usually make a significant sacrifice in their standard of living in order to do so. If one is not really committed to living in Israel, one is unlikely to be motivated to move here. It's not like moving from Boston to Baltimore. People who are committed to living specifically in Israel are more likely to do so because they feel a strong Jewish connection.

Beinart is correct that Judaism as a whole - both in the United States and in Israel - is becoming more Orthodox. That's both because of the higher birth rates among the Orthodox and because Orthodox Jews - whether of the moderate or the ultra flavor - are less likely to leave the fold than their non-Orthodox counterparts. There are two solutions to this - and only two: Marry Jews and have more children. Otherwise, the only Jews left 50 or 100 years from now are going to be Orthodox. Is anyone really surprised at that?

As I have noted several times recently, I have stopped worrying about the level of American Jewish support for Israel. American Jews make up 1.7% of the population of the United States. While they do donate disproportionately to political campaigns, and they do make a difference in certain key cities and states in certain elections, they are not the reason that the United States supports Israel. The United States supports Israel because of shared values (much as Beinart criticizes our democracy, we are by far and away the most democratic country in this region), and because of religious Christians.

Beinart tries to indict Israel because our democracy is not the same as the United States. This is an issue that Daniel Gordis discusses at great length in Saving Israel. Gordis concludes that ultimately, we may need to recognize that Israeli democracy cannot be the same as the United States' because of where we live, with whom we live and the fact that Israel is meant to be a Jewish - and not just a democratic - state. For example, Gordis suggests that if we are going to be open to the idea of expelling Jews from their homes to create a 'Palestinian' state, we should at least be open to discussing the idea of transferring Arabs - or transferring territory on which Arabs live in exchange for territory on which Jews live - to a 'Palestinian' state. That's essentially what Avigdor Lieberman - who is lambasted by Beinart - proposed when he wanted to transfer the 'triangle area' to the 'Palestinians.' I'm not sure I agree with him, but I would not brand him a racist for suggesting it as Beinart has done. By the way, Gordis is clearly middle of the road and does not advocate transferring Arabs. He just says that the idea is one that is worthy of discussion and cannot be roundly dismissed as happens in politically correct circles.

Finally, Beinart's article is full of bias against Israel in nearly every story he tells. For example, he somehow manages to discuss Human Rights Watch (and to condemn the vast majority of Israelis who believe it is horribly biased against us) without mentioning Sarah Leah Whitson, Joe Storck or Marc Garlasco. As an exercise, you're each invited to find three more instances of bias in Beinart's article and to post them in the comments.

Sorry, Peter. The times are changing. I'm not happy that only strongly committed Jews are identifying with Israel. But the way to fix that isn't to change Israel. It's to get Jews to be more committed to being Jewish.

The picture at the top may have something to do with why most Israelis loathe the 'Palestinians.'

Jeffrey Goldberg weighs in here.


At 8:32 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I now it is probably am exception to the rule, but I am moderately unobservant Jew with a strong connection to Israel. And I have a lot of friends that are the same. The common factor among us all is that we have been to Israel on Birthright. This program is essential to bringing secular Jews back into the fold. For me at least, once I stepped foot on the the land of Israel, I will never be able to shirk my responsibilities to the Jewish people and the Jewish state.

At 8:41 PM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...


You're 100% correct. The problem is that the average non-Orthodox American Jew is far more likely to visit Las Vegas than to go on Birthright.

At 8:55 PM, Blogger biorabbi said...

Interesting post, though it hits me hard. I am half Jewish(Dad). My wife is Jewish, though she is probably not representative since she is ultra conservative as a result of having grown up in the old Soviet Union.

My own passion for Israel comes from my passion for history... especially Jewish history. I also visited Israel at the age of 15 which made a huge impression on me.

I would make the following observations about Carl's piece:

1. He's generally right with a few carve outs such as the Russian Jews who are generally conservative politically, very pro-Israel, and non-religious. This is a sizable subgroup among the liberal, secular majority of US Jews.

2. My own, limited impression with reform rabbis has been quite negative due to their staunch liberalism and questionable stance on Israel, but that the older crop of liberal Jews such as my father is much more zionist than their grandchildren. I'm no longer comfortable visiting or praying in reform temples as I've grown older, but have to interest in offending my parents with my viewpoint(The great A Heschel being a notable exception-although he had, I believe, a strong orthodox background).

3. The Israeli population I have met in the US... a sizable component is much more zionist in orientation than the average American Jew.

My one "quibble" with Carl's thesis is one. The solution may be to not to lose Jews to the forces of secularism and intermarriage(myself as an exception) and I agree with this. But I also see great value with educating Jews through trips to Israel at a young age. I believe this has a major effect on orientation to Israel. Any objective visiter cannot be unmoved by a visit to Israel and to understand the land of their forefathers. Birthright is one example. Another example might be to have teenage Jewish camps in Israel(not is Wisconsin).

At 9:01 PM, Blogger biorabbi said...

Danny, weird, I just posted the same thing. My trip to Israel was in the summer of '82 on the eve of the war in Lebanon. I remember touching down, seeing Jerusalem, feeling at home. I've never felt more at home than in Israel, never so proud of having a Jewish identity. I find it impossible to criticize Israel sitting in America. The very notion of Judaism is quixotic, fantastic, uplifting in every way one can imagine. My brother and sister never went on such a trip and do not have the connection I have with Israel.

At 9:04 PM, Blogger biorabbi said...

Carl, don't make me feel guilty. I've just reserved a room for memorial day weekend at the Luxor(not in Egypt, but in Las Vegas). If I hit the jackpot, I will send you and your wife to Venice as penance for my vacation choice=)

At 9:10 PM, Blogger Kae Gregory said...

Are we sure he's talking about this planet? That is over the top for vacuity. We're going to need a new word.

At 9:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whenever I hear a leftist say "nation X is too patriotic, they're bigoted/racists/xenophobic/you name it," I autotranslate it to "nation X has a stab at the future instead of going down the trashcan of history like the multicultural utopias so beloved of the left." What's all this openness benefited Britain and France? Nothing but racial "equality" quotas (instead of the time-honored concept of choosing the best person for the job) and constant terrorization (even without actual jihadi terror) from the Muslim hordes. It's often said Israel is the canary in the West's coalmine, but it's equally true that the West, the multicultural West, is the canary in Israel's coalmine, giving Zionist Jews warning of the consequences of caving in to the fashion of multiculturalism.

At 9:45 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

I guess i am dating myself as an old fart, but my eldest went on Birthright ( yeah we are observant and he had visited Israel with us for his younger brother's bar mitzvah) for its first special needs tour.
What I found interesting in Beinerts article was that he is Jewish. Having been a subscriber to the New Republic for ( again I date myself) over 30 years I have seen it gradually lose what qualities initially endeared it to me, and have seen its fate as a reflection on American Jewish liberalism.
Confession, the only reason I still get TNR is because my wife accidentally renewed it. I also get the Standard and happily will renew that.
The TNR that I remember was a predominantly Jewish liberal ( and still is) mag that was zionistic, when Jewish libs still were. Peretz (who I think married the WASP heiress to Singer Sewing machines) ran a forward thinking journel that included moderates-Kondreacke and Kaus- and conservatives Fred Barnes, Krauthhammer, and its liberalism was not partisan apparatchik. They endorsed Anderson, and G-d forbid trashed RvW as usurping the legislative process!.
Since Peretz retired it has mophed into a typical knee-jerk liberal (Jewish) apparatchik rag. I don't need a weekly NYT -which I did cancel.
Beinart laments what people like him have sown. Jewish libs have always put liberalism first nad Judaism/Israel last. Just read Medoffs book "A Deafening Silence".
Not only are Jewish libs more likely to visit Las Vegas that Israel, they are more likely to have a gentile spouse than visit Israel. And yet they lament their loss of connection to Israel. In fact while they want Israel to make concessions that would be orgasmic to American Jewish liberals, they almost never make aliyah.
I got a kick out of " the language of liberal Zionism—with its idioms of human rights, equal citizenship, and territorial compromise". Why have territorial compromise if you can have equal rights? Why not have a "One State solution"? That would be equal rights? Or are the Beinert's admitting that equal rights only has meaning if there are only a few of them(Arabs).
While I miss the loss of the non-liberal but secular supporters of Israel, I do not lament the loss of American Jewish liberals to assimilation.

At 10:04 PM, Blogger Benyaminov Shamil said...

Dear Carl....whats your perception on soviet jewry in general. btw i am one of them in NYC. I have a brother in Israel and a few other close family remembers in Israel. Overall i cant tolerate American jews. I get along fine with Orthodox jews here in NYC

At 10:10 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

If Jews were more Jewish, they would move to Israel. Assimilated American Jews are never going to do it. Orthodox Jews are. That is exactly why the Far Left in Israel wants to consummate the "peace process" since the balance of power is inexorably swinging against them. Unfortunately, the Palestinians are not cooperating with them in their plans to cut Orthodox Jews in Israel down to size.


At 9:25 PM, Blogger Reliapundit said...

Who Burned the Second Temple?

Not really a mystery.

Roman Legionnaires of the Xth Legion, inter alia.

But who commanded them? Their direct commander was not Vespasian, who left Judea to become Emperor shortly before the siege of Jerusalem was concluded.

Nor was their commander Vespasian's son Titus, although as the overall commander of the war against the Jews, he is usually accorded most of the blame.

The actual commander of the troops who burned and sacked the Holy Temple was the former Prefect of Egypt, Tiberius Julius Alexander -- later Prefect of the Praetorian Guard.

Tiberius Julius Alexander was a Greek-speaking Alexandrian Jew -- and the nephew of the Jewish philosopher, Philo.

Based on the way he is described by the historian Josephus, many believe that Tiberius Julius Alexander was an apostate -- a secular, unbelieving, assimilated Jew.

There are many of his type abroad in the land today. To ingratiate themselves with the current overlords of the world, they are quick to deploy all of their skills, energies, and talents against the people from which they come.

The Tony Judts, Peter Beinarts, Rahm Emanuels, Noam Chomskys are the inheritors of a sadly long and ignoble tradition.

The Roman Empire is no more. The glorious power to which Tiberius Julius Alexander devoted his energy and his life has become dust. No vestal virgin tends the Roman hearth fire. No sacrifices are offered to the Roman gods.

But the Priestly Blessing is still chanted before the site of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Posted by Punditarian @ 8:59 PM



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