Why Many American Jews Are Reluctant About Israel

Copyright: Project Gutenberg text 10940 [Public domain]

When It Comes to Their Voting Patterns And Their Support For Israel American Jews Must First Answer The Question Of Whether America Is Home Or Place of Exile

Editor’s note: This is an insightful piece by a new contributor the site, Mike Siegal, on a topic that we have covered here before and one that certainly deserves further coverage. The question that Mike’s piece poses goes deeper than the voting patterns of American Jews or even their support or lack thereof for Israel. The core of the question, if we allow ourselves to be brave enough to ask it is this: can Jews living outside of Israel ever be home or is any place of residence other than Israel simply a place of exile?

For fourteen of fifteen centuries of exile, the answer would have been unequivocal: no place on the planet could ever be home. All were places of exile. This is recorded in thousands of pages of prayers asking the Almighty to gather the exiles back home to Israel. It was only for the last 100 years or so that Jews in places like Germany, the USSR, Western Europe, and America decided to feel at “home” in their places of exile. We all know what happened in Germany and it can certainly happen again. Anywhere.

It may be tough for American Jews to accept this fact, but they are now faced with a choice: accept that America is not their home, but rather their place of exile with everything that this realization entails, or assimilate and stop being Jews. Most will choose the latter. This will not be unprecedented. Throughout history, most Jews assimilated rather than remain true to their ancestors who had chosen not to. America, like 1492 Spain or 1933 Germany does not live outside of history; it is very much part of it.

Please enjoy Mike’s take on the critical questions facing America’s Jewry below.

Over the years, I have had numerous members of the Non-Jewish Community ask me why I think the Jewish community in America seems so liberal and hesitant to express passionate support for Israel.

The question is simple but has a complex array of answers. One insight may come from an academic study I participated in that involved the Jewish community in Salt Lake City.

I was working on my Ph.D. in Communication with a colleague. We were asked by our committee chairman to assist with a perplexing question faced by the 2 synagogues in that community. One was a Reform synagogue and the other was Conservative.

The leadership in both religious communities were concerned that they might evolve out of existence because there were only 125 families in each of these religious communities. They wanted to know if it would be feasible to merge the 2 synagogues to avoid an end to the Jewish community as they knew it.

My colleague, Dr. Jerry Gephardt and I took on this challenge to see if we could find an answer.

We interviewed each of the families who were members of one of the synagogues after formulating a series of questions presented to each and designed to reveal their attitudes about their religious affiliations and beliefs.

We started with the hypothesis that the Reform Jewish Community (less religious) would be more likely to agree to a merger of the 2 synagogues because they were more open-minded and accepting of a wider range of values and beliefs. They were not seen as being intolerant as a result of being more liberal.

The completion of this hypothesis was that the Conservative Jewish Community (more religious) would reject the idea of a merger with a Reform synagogue. Simply put, the hypothesis was based on the assumption that Conservative Jews would be uncomfortable with the idea of non-kosher food at events, lack of wearing a Yarmulke at religious services, having services done in English instead of Hebrew, and other similar more liberal religious rituals.

When we computerized the results of the study, we were frankly taken aback. The results did not show what we expected. How could the more religious Jews support the merger and the less religious Jews not?

The answer became clear. The Reform (liberal) Jewish Community desired to be part of the larger community in Salt Lake City. They wanted their identity to be determined by the community at large and not by their “Jewishness.” So, the idea of a merger with the Conservative (more religious rituals) Jewish Community was highly discomforting.

On the other hand, the Conservative synagogue members realized that the Jewish community in Salt Lake City could become extinct because of its small numbers and the merger of the 2 synagogues would be a means of saving the organized Jewish culture.

Thus, the Conservatives would be willing to compromise on religious rituals in order to save the religion in Salt Lake City itself.

How does this research connect to the question of the Jewish community throughout the United States being generally lukewarm at best toward Israel? The lesson to be learned is that the liberal Jewish population of America, substantially over half the Jewish population in this nation, simply wants to assimilate into the larger American culture and avoid too much connection to Israel for fear of detaching themselves from their non-Jewish friends and neighbors. There is also the fear of reprisal from anti-Semites such as Congresswoman Omar. Rather than stand up to this bigotry, many in the Jewish community prefer to “go along to get along.”

The left’s verbally abusive behavior has thus intimidated the largest portion of the Jewish community into silence on Israel. When Omar used her venomous rhetoric regarding the nationality of Americans should not be allowed to support another nationality, it no doubt sent chills down the collective spine of liberal Jews. Although this silence on Israel among many Jews has been an issue for a considerable period of time, the latest flurry of anti-Israel rhetorical extremism has added to this dilemma.

Ironically, the more Conservative Jewish Community and especially the Orthodox Jewish Community are more steadfast in their support for Israel. Particularly the Orthodox stand strong with Israel, but they often live in a single community together and are not living in multi-cultural communities so they gain reinforcement and strength for their views from their fellow community members.

The voting patterns of approximately 2/3 of the American Jewish community become affected by this need to assimilate and the Democrats typically gain their votes as the party perceived to be more inclusive of all groups, though this perception is seriously flawed.

We can see this intransigence in the liberal Jewish Community regarding the policy decisions by President Trump. He has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel by moving our Embassy there; he has recognized the Golan Heights as part of Israel; he has cut off funding of taxpayer dollars to the Palestinian Authority since Abbas uses those funds to pay families of homicide bombers as a reward for killing Jews: he has reduced funding to the UN Refugee program because those funds were going to the terrorist organization Hamas.

Yet, in spite of this series of historic moves favoring Israel, we see little or no evidence that the liberal Jewish community has recognition or appreciation for these courageous acts.

It is too soon to know how the Jewish vote will impact the 2020 presidential election, but if the Jewish vote stuck with Barack Obama, a known opponent of Israel, do not expect much from the Jewish community in 2020 when it comes to the candidate who supports unequivocally the State of Israel. Sad but true.

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MIK July 23, 2019 at 9:25 am

The need to assimilate described in this piece is a denial of one fundamental truth — that Judaism is not merely a religion; to be a Jew is to be part of a nation that has endured for thousands of years and will continue to endure. I think that it is this identification as a nation that frightens many American Jews because it suggests that the very canard thrown at Jews over the years — they cannot be loyal to the country in which they live — is indeed true.

The Sages recognized this dilemma, I think, in ruling that every citizen of a state other than Israel was obliged to be faithful to the laws of the country in which he or she lived — dina d’malchuta dina.

What is described in this article is far more than just assimilation. It is denial of the fundamental truth of what Judaism is. The Conservative Jews in Salt Lake City understood this; that is why they welcomed those less observant than they. The Reform Jews do or did not.

I do not know what the result of this divide will be but I am confident that as the Jewish nation has survived while those who have sought to destroy it have themselves been destroyed, our nation will continue not just to survive but to thrive and prosper.

Alan Potkin July 23, 2019 at 2:12 pm

Interestingly, some months after the 2016 presidential elections, the now-vaporized Word Press website “Chateau Heartiste” —not known for having a soft spot for the Joooos (au contraire!) published a seldom-cited polling-places exit survey indicating that of self-identified “married Jewish males”, something like 58% voted for Trump. Wow, if true!

Unsurprisingly, however, amongst self-identified Jewish women, only 10-15% voted fro Trump. with their stats not notably different between the married and unmarried respondents.

Could this stunning disparity in values, political perceptions, and larger sensibilities regarding ethnicity —and what was essential towards protecting/conserving it— be no small part of the reason for unsustainable levels of out-marriage and cultural abandonment; at least outside the Orthodox Jewish community?

James Settles July 23, 2019 at 4:36 pm

Liberals are liberals are liberals. Doesn’t matter the religion, doesn’t matter the country as geography has nothing to do with the philosophy of liberalism. They don’t destroy things quickly, rather it’s a slow, painful pot of water coming to a boil on the stove. Then they, finally, realize what they’ve done and move away from the destruction they have wrought to start the same insanity over again.


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