fbpx !-- Global site tag (gtag.js) - Google Analytics -->

How U.S. Jewry is redefining the term assimilation // By Boaz Gaon


On the eve of last Rosh Hashanah, Kineret Zabner, the unofficial coordinator of activities for the Jews in Iowa City, stood at the entrance of her home, surrounded by blossoming shrubs and crickets, and welcomed her guests with greetings of “Shanah Tovah” and “good to see you.” There was the scent of grass and chopped liver in the air. Above her head, a string of lights sparkled, with pearl-sized bulbs. Over her shoulder, behind the cotton drapes on the window, the Jews of Iowa City clinked glasses of California red wine, South African port wine and Cuban rum.     Inside the house, the guests were introduced to one another in accordance with the standard Jewish-American protocol, obligatory from the East to the West Coast. That is, they are not only introduced by their name or, heaven forbid, by their family relation to the hostess, but by their professional achievements, academic degrees or the grants they have received. It sounds like this: “This is Dr. Charles Brenner, Chairman of the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Iowa … and this is Dr. Gerald Sorokin, executive director of the local Hillel branch, who was formerly a professor in the University’s Department of Political Science … and this is Dr. Joseph Zabner, Director of the Emergency Medicine Department at the University of Iowa Hospital.” Dr. Zabner is also Kineret’s husband and has served as honorary consul of Nicaragua since he saved a Nicaraguan citizen from some medical complication.      After the introductions at the Zabner’s home, the meticulously combed children were sent off to a side room. The room was full of books, as well as a 200-year-old Torah ark Joseph Zabner’s father brought with him from Venezuela to the United States. With a flick of her wrist, Kineret lifted the cover from the challah bread to the sounds of astonishment at the way she had braided the dough. She recited the blessing over the candles, introduced Dr. Sorokin from Hillel (the Jewish-American student association), and he – wrapped in a gray suit, striped shirt, red tie and shoes as shiny as a bowling ball – recited the shehecheyanu blessing. The “het” was impressively guttural. Immediately afterwards, the guests – with their academic degrees, ties and earrings – formed a long line to the elegant buffet in the kitchen, where a huge bowl of hummus and a huge bowl of chopped liver were placed side by side. In the living room, with napkins on the knees of their pants (most of them black), the diners bemoaned the fact that of the approximately 400 Jews in Iowa City, only about 70 came to the Rosh Hashanah service at the synagogue. And then they complained about the American politicians who roll into Iowa about once every two weeks because it is the first state to conduct primary elections in the United States. (“My son,” Dr. Zabner told me, “has already met Barack Obama four times.”)

A day earlier, on the other side of the Iowa River, there was a completely different holiday meal – so different that one could think it involved a different religion. The house was bigger, but emptier. Instead of oil paintings or tapestries, a map of the U.S. hung on the wall, with tacks marking the states the owners of the home had visited. The hosts and their guests, all of them Jewish Israelis, did not measure each other by their achievements or academic degrees, but by their proximity to someone close them (“this is Yonatan, the brother of so and so … this is his wife, who served in the army with so and so”). At the entrance to the home, the hostess did not await their guests in elegant attire. Nor did her husband, who works in the defense industry. Instead, their three mischievous children greeted the guests by screaming their names down the street, as if Iowa City were a rural moshav in Israel’s Hefer Valley.

We ate the holiday meal at a long picnic table, elbow to elbow, with paper plates and plastic forks and spoons. The lighting was neon and spotlights, in contrast to the decorative lights and candles at the Zabners. And the loudest “amen” did not erupt after shehecheyanu, but instead after the verse “may our enemies and those who hate us and wish evil upon us be cut down” (“amen!!!”). While some of the Israeli diners were members of Iowa City’s academic-medical community, others came to the U.S. as representatives of Israeli defense industries, including the host, who works for Elbit, or Naftaly Stramer, a former Rafael employee who later worked in high-tech in the field of robotics. Stramer became the owner of Oasis, the most successful hummus factory in Iowa. (Kineret Zabner purchased the hummus she served to her guests from Oasis.)

At the Zabners’ party, they read a verse or two, and then whoever wished to dip an apple in honey was sent to another home down the street. At the Israeli home, on the other hand, they recited all of the various blessings over the food, with great intentness. The Zabners did not invite the Israelis, and the Israelis did not invite the Zabners or other members of Iowa City’s Jewish elite. Here and there, between chopped liver and hummus, some critical remarks were even lobbed into the air. The American Jews said that the Israelis have forgotten what it means to be Jews, the right-wing Israelis in particular, and that their Judaism is devoid of universal values and entirely nationalistic. The Israelis, on the other hand, said that the American Jews are snobs, fond of ceremonies and status, and that something in the communication between the two camps “simply doesn’t work.”

Ostensibly – the same holiday, members of the same people, the same prayers and technical accessories (yarmulkes, candles, mountains of food). In practice, two completely different Jewish teams – culturally, politically, economically and religiously. On the one hand, an elegantly dressed American team that emphasizes values, tradition and status, as well as a nostalgic longing for “the Israel that once was” – that is, Israel of the 1960’s and 1970’s. On the other hand, an Israeli team, dressed casually, in stockinged feet (the host asked them to take their shoes off at the entrance), reading the religious text as written, analyzing the psychological motives of the beheadings by ISIS militants and, more than anything – intensely longing for Israel of 2014. And between the two teams, symbolically and geographically, the Iowa River gurgles, flowing toward the Mississippi River.

How did this happen? In 2010, as nearly every American Jew who defines himself as such knows, Peter Beinart, then the editor of The New Republic, published an article in The New York Times Book review entitled “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment” – an article that raised all hell. Beinart argued then, to the sounds of blushing denials by the Jewish community’s official leaders and its nationalistic sponsors such as Ron Lauder and Charles Bronfman, that the next generation of U.S. Jews will flock more to Obama than to Netanyahu; will contemplate questions pertaining to global warming more than those concerning the heating up of the Israeli-Syrian border; will be more active in battles over domestic-American rights and in international human rights efforts than in the fight (for example) to add the words “capital of Israel” to the U.S. passports of Americans born in Jerusalem.

The sensitive coalition between the American Zionist camp, Beinart wrote, and the liberal American camp – whose views are held by about two-thirds of U.S. Jews – is about to disintegrate. The reasons include the nearly complete assimilation of U.S. Jews within the American society and the fact that Israel has become a hot potato, neither unifying nor romantic, particularly not for the young people who went out to hammer in “Obama 2008” lawn signs. The result is an erosion in the authority of the institutions that officially represent U.S. Jewry (the Conference of Presidents, AIPAC, the Jewish Federations of North America, Hadassah, and so on), most of which have right-wing tendencies. There is also a massive and accelerating withdrawal of an entire young Jewish-American generation from any Jewish-American discourse whatsoever. And this includes, of course, the discourse on Israel. Perhaps for the first time in the annals of Jewish-American history, most of which was written during the past 100 years, a generation has grown up on the banks of the Hudson, Potomac and Mississippi that sees itself as more American than Jewish, Beinart suggested. Much more American than Jewish. Thus, its views toward Israel will be determined solely by the question of whether it is good or bad for the United States, and whether it is good or bad in the eyes of the American president – more than in the eyes of the Israeli prime minister. This, with all due respect to Birthright trips, which many of those who have participated in the project call “Jewish sex camp” in reference to what transpires between the tour at Yad Vashem and the meetings with spokespersons from the IDF, the Yesha Council of Settlements or the government of Israel.

In October 2013, three years after Beinart’s polemic article, the Pew Research Center published a broad survey that supported his arguments. You cannot get through a dinner of chopped liver in the U.S. without hearing about this survey (though the Israelis living in the U.S. have never heard of it). In the framework of the survey, more than 70,000 American Jews in 50 states were interviewed in order to sketch an updated “Portrait of Jewish Americans.” “A key aim of the survey,” according to the editors, who have no declared political affiliation, “is to explore Jewish identity: What does being Jewish mean in America today?”

Here are the responses: 73% cited “remembering the Holocaust,” with its family repercussions, as the “essential part of what being Jewish means to them.” In second place in defining the essence of their Jewish identity, 69% of the respondents cited something called “leading an ethical/moral life.” Next, in third place, with 56%, was “working for justice and equality,” a declaration connected to the JewishAmerican liberal mythology, which places the Jews of the continent in the tumultuous period of about fifty years ago, in the forefront of the fight for equal rights and opportunities, shoulder to shoulder with Martin Luther King. “Caring about Israel” only follows these, 43%, almost the same as “having a good sense of humor.” This means that in the U.S. today, Sheldon Adelson, Ron Lauder and others have a tiny advantage of 1% over Larry David, Jerry Seinfeld, Woody Allen and Jon Stewart – in terms of their impact on Jewish-American identity.

The second (morality) and third (justice, equality) formative factors in the JewishAmerican experience today are related to the process that Beinart addressed in 2010 – that is, the disengagement of the American liberal camp from the Zionist camp. This does not derive from an anti-Zionist stance, but more from a lack of interest or a feeling of satiation from the incessant propaganda insisting that “the day will come” when the Jews of the U.S. will need to pack their bags and flee to Israel in order to avoid ending up like their grandfathers and grandmothers in Europe, a declaration that no one believes any more. Perhaps with the exception of Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, who is looking more and more (in the eyes of American Jews, even those who are right-wing) like an aged Vietcong fighter hiding in a trench under a rice paddy, because the Americans might return. According to the Pew Research Center, 70% of U.S. Jews identify themselves as Democrats and only 22% as Republicans; within the Republican Jewish camp, there is a decisive majority of Orthodox Jews (who comprise a minority among American Jewry, though their numbers have grown in recent years).

Let us summarize in light of the data: The 2014 model of the American Jew remembers the Holocaust and – in light of this – it is important for him to live an ethical life and work for justice and equality. He cares about Israel, but is more concerned about its morality and the values of justice and equality. All this, in comparison to his grandfather and grandmother, who were part of the “Greatest Generation” (a name coined by the journalist Tom Brokaw in his book published in 1998 about the generation that fought in World War II). Some 93% of the Jews from the Greatest Generation declared that they are Jewish on the basis of religion. Today, 68% of the Jews in the U.S. define themselves as “Jews by religion” – i.e., the Jewish religion constitutes a critical part of their Jewish-American identity. 32% declare themselves as “Jews without religion” – that is, the Jewish component in their American identity is defined by other values, more tribalcultural or value-oriented than religious.

You can guess what follows. The withdrawal of the American Jew of this generation from the religious discourse, and indirectly from the Israeli discourse, abandoning the arena of religious and political activity to the American Jewish minority, which is religious and nationalistic. The overwhelming majority of those who said they are “without religion” do not maintain any connection with Jewish institutions and are not raising their children in a Jewish atmosphere. Nearly six of every ten American Jews intermarry – the rate of intermarriage was 58% in the latest survey, compared to 24% in 1982 and 17% till 1970. So, it is true that most U.S. Jews think that the West Bank settlements endanger the State of Israel’s security (44% versus 17% who disagree), but this majority is not active in AIPAC in order to balance it politically; it is not active in J Street in order to raise the voice of the silent majority, and it does not take part in the internal-American struggle of the Reform and Conservative streams versus the Orthodox stream. In most cases, its connection to Israel begins and ends at “Jewish sex camp.” First of all, because it’s free. Secondly, because the Israeli soldiers are hunks, and the Israeli women, rumor has it, are obliging. Thirdly, because it is clear to everyone who travels and returns from these trips that it is a one-sided propaganda trip, tediously political, whose aim is to persuade Americans to drop everything, enlist in the IDF and immigrate to Israel. Similar to what happened to Steven Sotloff, an American Jew from Florida who “discovered” Israel after Birthright, made aliyah and studied in Israel, worked as a journalist, was captured by ISIS in Syria and murdered by them by decapitation.        All this breeds cynicism on the part of U.S. Jews who do not define themselves as Jews on the basis of religion. They see that the connection between American Jewry and Israel is not based on values, but more on interests, and that this is the reason why the great majority of Congressmen, who are not Jews, rise to applaud about 40 times every time an Israeli prime minister (and not only the revered rabbi Netanyahu) delivers a speech in Congress. Ironically, by the way, each appearance by Netanyahu, Moshe Ya’alon or Ron Dermer further distances the secular and liberal American Jews from the internal-American Jewish discourse and the pro-Israel Jewish discourse. Beinart was mistaken when he predicted the collapse of the long-established Jewish institutions. On the contrary, their monopoly is growing stronger as the audience we described withdraws from the AmericanJewish discourse. The main beneficiaries in the U.S. are the community’s more religious and rightwing leaders, who do not represent the majority of American Jewry and support the Israeli right. The primary beneficiary in Israel is Benjamin Netanyahu and the puerile right-wingers around him, such as Danny Danon.

In addition to all this, there is a trend that also underlies the growing distance between U.S. And israeli Jewry. From the 1920’s to the 1960’s, more or less, the status of the American Jew in the U.S. resembled that of the Israeli. He acted in a hostile atmosphere and had to fit into an environment that was culturally different from him; he remembered the Holocaust and muttered under his breath, in genuine fear: “Never again.” This is no longer the situation. Today, according to the Pew Research Center, 25% of U.S. Jews report a household income of over $150,000 a year, compared to only 8% in the general adult population. 58% of Jews in the U.S. are college graduates, twice the percentage in the general adult population (29%). It is the American dream come true.

All this puts the average American Jew in a place that contradicts, in nearly every parameter, the identity of average Jews of a different sort – those living in Israel. The latter are not wealthy, do not marry the blond shiksa or the Protestant from Connecticut; they think there is no connection between the settlements and Israel’s security, and their Judaism stems primarily from the Jewish religion and the Bible; they have no real interest in lives of justice, equality or morality – because there are more pressing matters at hand, such as reaching the protected space or bomb shelter within 30 to 60 seconds. The result is a growing American-Jewish discomfort vis-à-vis Israeli Jewry. Americans squirm uneasily in their chairs every time the Jewish-Israeli model is described (by Israelis, evangelicals or Christian members of Congress) as the desired Jewish model; and that anything that contradicts it is a betrayal of the Zionist movement, selfhatred and love of Arabs. Another result, as noted, is the erotic waltz the Israeli religious right dances with American-Jewish forces that view Israel as the rock of their existence and source of their Jewish definition. With all due respect to the hits of Neil Simon, ok?

You have to understand: All this is not an easy process for liberal American Judaism,which was educated to view Israel as a cultural cradle, as well as a source of pride because of its military, economic and artistic successes. This rift is painful for it, like a man married to a woman he once loved very much, and would really like to love again. But he has changed, and she has changed, and the young nonJewish woman on her way to a demonstration for Indian rights on reservations in New Mexico, gently pats him on his thigh, in the passenger seat.

Last summer, immediately after the latest frenzy between the Israeli and the Hamas leadership, which again illustrates to U.S. Jews that Israel is not a bastion of justice and morality – but rather a military bastion designed to provide security to its residents at any price – nearly all of the magazines of the American elite were filled with soul-searching articles. The liberal Zionist camp tore out its hair, felt pained by the process of separation we are describing here, between the liberal American Jewish team (which defines its Judaism by values) and the Israeli Jewish team (whose Judaism is religious-nationalistic).

In Harper’s magazine, Bernard Avishai convened a forum of Israeli-Palestinian spokespersons in Jerusalem under the title “Where to go from here,” a rhetorical question that was ostensibly asked about the Israelis and the Palestinians, but in fact represents the greatest quandary of U.S Jews today – in regard to their Judaism and the connection between it and the Jewish state. After 14 glossy pages that included mutual accusations by Labor party lawmaker and venture capitalist Erel Margalit, and ultra-right Likudnik Danny Dayan, chairman of the Palestinian Federation of Industries Bassem Khoury, pollster Khalil Shikaki and others, it seems that the answer was clear to everyone – that is, no one has a clue about where to go from here.

In the meantime, in The New York Review of Books, Jonathan Freedland tried to defend the concept of the “liberal Zionist.” Inter alia, he heaped praises on Ari Shavit’s book My Promised Land, which was published first in English and became an AmericanIsraeli bestseller precisely for the reasons described so far. That is, the desperate need of U.S. Jews, who are withdrawing from the religious-Jewish discourse, to find a Jewish value-oriented anchor to hang onto. All this at a time when Israel no longer provides this because it is militaristic in its actions, religious in nature, hyper-capitalistic and prefers Mitt Romney, the white billionaire, to the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Barack Obama, who twice won a decisive majority of the Jewish vote. Freedland’s article focuses less on defending Shavit’s book from attacks from left and right, and more on defending the thesis that it is possible to be liberal and Zionist – i.e., an American and a supporter of Israel. But a strenuous effort, beads of sweat and tears emerge from between the lines. Twenty years ago, he probably could have written this article in a quarter of the time, a quarter of the number of words, and Ari Shavit would not have written a bestseller.

Two weeks after this blitz of words, Connie Bruck published a long investigative report in the The New Yorker on AIPAC. Here too, in addition to impressive investigative work on the tensions between AIPAC and the Obama administration and on the way in which AIPAC became de facto a lobbying office for the serving Israeli prime minister, a bit of wishful thinking appears alongside the facts and quotes – that AIPAC is weakening.

In fact, AIPAC is still as rich, large and influential as before. How strong is it? Some years ago, I was shown a letter of commitment signed by Barack Obama, in his handwriting as a senator, before anyone dreamed of him as a presidential candidate – in order to receive AIPAC’s support. Obama committed to a series of topics related to the security of Israel that are not controversial in the American political culture, and still – it was called and felt like a contract between a candidate, who needs AIPAC, and AIPAC, which holds him firmly in a sensitive place. Without this document, Obama would have found it difficult to win the race for the Senate. In retrospect, this might also explain part of the bad blood between AIPAC and Obama.

Bruck’s article confirms what I saw in the document shown to me. That is, AIPAC, the ostensibly official representative of Israeli interests in the U.S., dictates to American candidates what they should and should not say, where and where not to stand, as a requisite condition for receiving support, or money, or amnesty from scathing political attacks. “When key votes are cast,” explained former Congressman Brian Baird, a Jew who represented the state of Washington’s 3rd district in Congress, “the question on the House floor, troublingly, is often not ‘What is the right thing to do for the United States of America?’ but ‘How is AIPAC going to score this?’ … There’s such a conundrum here, of believing that you’re supporting Israel, when you’re actually backing policies that are antithetical to its highest values and, ultimately, destructive for the country.” Baird also described Israelis’ disdain for Americans in general and American Jews in particular “because who are we to talk about moral values? … Whether it’s that we didn’t help early enough in the Holocaust, or look at what we did to our African-Americans, or our Native Americans— whatever! And they see us, members of Congress, as basically for sale. So they want us to shut up and play the game.”

Why is all this important for the question of ”Who is an American Jew?” It is because AIPAC, as evident in all of the articles cited above and those published after the war in Gaza, as well as in all the conversations we (my colleague Tal Kra-Oz and myself) conducted with Jews from New York to Iowa, is viewed by American (liberal) Jews as a raw nerve, a buck tooth, an embarrassing beer stain on their white Rosh Hashanah shirt. It is impossible to ignore it, and it apparently plays a part in the assessment of the purity of this entire business called “being a Jew and caring for Israel.” And, in particular, they, almost all feel without exception, that AIPAC transforms the question of “who is a Jew” into the question of “who is a stronger support of the Israeli Jewish right.” And as such, AIPAC can no longer speak in the name U.S. Jewry. Today, AIPAC is a code name for the distancing of most American Jews from “the subject of Israel.”

Liberal asked to interview AIPAC officials, who had been interviewed extensively by The New Yorker, and whose former spokesman, Josh Block, was interviewed many times by yours truly, sometimes over an excellent hamburger on K Street. AIPAC refused. We asked to interview their current spokesman, Marshall Wittmann, a proud Republican and former director of legislative affairs for the Christian Coalition in America. He refused. I asked Wittmann to call me in Iowa so that we could discuss this. He did not respond. So much for the “pro-Israel lobby” in America, which has no interest in returning telephone calls to a magazine whose name reminds them of “the wrong side” of the American political map, from their perspective. For some reason, I have a funny feeling that sould the editor of Israel Hayom call, Wittmann would roar: “Don’t hang up that call!”

“The question of Israel’s survival, yes or no,” says the executive director of Hillel in Iowa City, Gerald Sorokin, “is a non-issue.” We have both sunken into the deep sofas of the Zabners and are dipping crackers in chopped liver. “When did this happen? Primarily after 9/11. From that moment, when Americans – including American Jews – think about ‘the problems in the Middle East,’ they think of Iraq and Afghanistan, not about Israel nor about Iran. Another factor comes into play, and that is the fact that young Americans today are more concerned about their economic future than at any other period in history, and their energies in matters related to protests or demonstrations or political activity of any sort – are directed there. And all this from the viewpoint that Israel is not in danger, not now and not in the future. No one really buys Netanyahu’s prophecies.”

Around him, people were starting to tell jokes about lawyers, Jews and so on, and I asked the $100 million dollar question: If the Pew Research Center is right, and most of American Jewry is liberal, why are the official American Jewish institutions – like the political infrastructure of the Israeli right – funded only by the right-wing, religious and nationalistic minority?

“Because liberal Jews,” Dr. Joseph Zabner interjected, “feel it is shameful to interfere in the politics of another country, or to tell Israel what to do. If you give me $10 million and tell me ‘donate this to influence the politics in Israel, for Jewish reasons’ – I’ll tell you that this is demeaning.”

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, the organization that is trying to become the liberal counterforce to the right-wing AIPAC, wants to believe otherwise. The organization, he says, is growing by a million dollars each year (it currently stands at a few million, compared to the annual budget of AIPAC, which is nearly $70 million). The Conference of Presidents, which last year refused to accept the J Street Zionists into its ranks in a move that was seen as dictatorial and generated a lot of bad press, is today trying to formulate the wording that will allow it to accept the organization without portraying itself as the loser.

In addition to everything we have described here, Ben-Ami attributes the transformation of the Jewish-American identity to the time that has passed since the Jews of the U.S. and Israel maintained strong family ties. Today, he says, family ties between Israel and the U.S. are weak, even though everyone has some third cousin in Beit Shemesh or Kiryat Ono. All this creates a dynamic of drifting apart and an attempt to redefine Judaism – not as a religious or national experience, but as valueoriented and American. If this trend continues, he says, the American Jewish community will gradually stop acting as a single “coherent bloc” and will, practically speaking, break into three main camps: the rightist-nationalistic-religious camp, represented today in Washington by AIPAC; the liberal Zionist camp, which J Street purports to represent; and the radical and postZionist camp, which seeks to become immersed in Americanism and search within it to fulfill the values of equality, justice and morality – including, and sometimes primarily, by harshly criticizing Israel. This camp has gathered strength in recent years as a reaction to AIPAC’s ham-handedness and the Netanyahu government’s blatant intervention in internal American politics.

Ben-Ami opposes the anti-Zionist tactics and also believes, like Freedland, Beinart and others, that it is possible to renew the liberal-Zionist alliance and, consequently, rejuvenate the American Jewish experience. If not, he and likeminded liberal Zionists warn that the Jews of the U.S. will be stuck with AIPAC; and Israel will be stuck with the growing anti-Zionist Jewish camp, which is boycotting and ostracizing it. Steven Stern, a J Streeter in Washington says: “Before I left home in 1968, my parents took me aside and made it clear to me that I could only date Jewish girls. That stunned me and I opposed it, and I ended up marrying a non-Jew, who converted as part of a joint effort by both of us to return to the sources and live Jewish lives – but in a fundamentally different way than the experience of my parents. In 1967 I was an activist against the Vietnam War, and from that year, Israel  began to rule over another people and it was impossible to ignore this. My solution is to be involved in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, a Zionist stance that says that Jews in the world have a right to national self-determination, in their own state.” This basically sums up the liberal Zionist option as a means of defining Jewish identity in America.

Stern is a calm person, as is his wife Margaret, who recites the blessing over the candles every Friday night. (Their daughter, Sarah, lives in Israel.) Other liberal Zionists are less conciliated and readier to flash the good ‘ol Jewish temper. One such temperamental Jew is one of the leading Shakespeare scholars of our time, Prof. Jim Shapiro from Columbia University, whom I met when I was living in New York in the middle of the last decade. “I’m a Zionist,” Shapiro says in his Jewish Brooklyn accent that is anything but Shakespearian, as we converse in his sun-drenched office on the green 116th Street campus. “I went to school at the Yeshiva of Flatbush and one Baruch Goldstein was in the next classroom. I also went to a camp every summer that was run by the Beitar movement, where I waved my fists and recited songs of ‘Tel Hai! Tel Hai!’ Today I’m a Democrat, an American liberal Zionist, and I’m telling you that the Israelis don’t understand the American Jewish experience, almost as if we perhaps don’t understand the Israeli experience. Bibi does not live here now, and it’s been a very long time since he lived here, and he doesn’t understand that the overwhelming majority of U.S. Jews feel alienated from the views he represents. He is wagering on continued support of Israel by the Republican Party and the Christian right, and at the same time is developing relations with countries that don’t really care about human rights, such as China, and this has an impact on the American Jewish community, precisely like using John Kerry as a punching bag. It directly harms the Jewish support of Israel, and this is not only Bibi, because after him will come Bennett or Lieberman. So it’s clear to me that for the Israelis we are suckers and our role as American Jews is to provide monetary support and to persuade America to support Israel with money. But the support for Israel among Jews is declining. Among other reasons, because of AIPAC, which is like a drug dealer who gets right-wing supporters of Israel so “high” that they seem to lose their judgment. So what will you do when the support of American Jews is gone? Learn Chinese”?

Samuel Freedman asked to meet with my colleague, Tal Kra-Oz, at the 72nd Street branch of the Israeli café chain Aroma. He is the author of Jew vs. Jew: The Struggle for the Soul of American Jewry, a book published in 2000 that focused on the internal struggles among American Jews, including their relationship to Israel and Zionism. Freedman cites three main processes underlying the decline of Jewish identity among most of the liberal Jews in the U.S.: the Jews’ integration into American society, including intermarriage; the counterculture of the 1960’s, which rebelled against the conservative values of their Jewish parents’ generation; and the tight and hermetic coalition between the Israeli right, the official leadership of U.S. Jewry and the evangelists’ lobby. “More than any other person,” says Freedman, who visits Israel every year, “Netanyahu is responsible for the fact that Israel has become a polarizing political subject. The Republicans who support Israel are opposed to homosexual rights, abortion and immigration reform. This is contrary to the basic values the average American Jew believes in.” Lloyd Green is a yarmulke-wearing attorney, graduate of the Flatbush Yeshiva like Prof. Shapiro. He is a senior writer for The Daily Beast from a Republican perspective. He directs his interviewees to Wolf & Lamb, a kosher meat restaurant near Rockfeller Center. Most of the restaurant’s patrons are men in expensive suits, with black yarmulkes on their heads; it looks more like a synagogue than a steak restaurant. Green worked on the campaign of George H. W. Bush, served in his Justice Department, and was active in a number of Republican campaigns. Among the less successful of these was the campaign of Tea Party member Michelle Bachmann. On the eve of Israel’s establishment, Green’s mother listened on the radio to the voting in the UN, and he was educated in the spirit of the verse “because we were scorned and despised by non-Jews.” But in America, he says, something extraordinary occurred: The Jews succeeded. And succeeded greatly. In 1967, Israel was victorious in war, and the question of whether or not it would survive was placed on the shelf. He, like his colleagues on the right, identify Netanyahu as the one who changed the rules of the game in the political interaction between Israel and the U.S., primarily by meddling in the last presidential elections – which the conservative minority welcomed and the liberal majority viewed as outrageous. But Green, unlike Ben-Ami, Beinart or Freedman, does not identify here an opportunity for renewal of the liberal Jewish identity. He sees death throes. “They’re in a race against the clock,” he states. “Israel is undergoing a religious-Zionist revolution, and it will not be this thing that liberal Zionism wants it to be.” The Israel Project’s David Hazony, whom AIPAC recommended we speak with, agrees with Green. The liberals in America are pursuing a lost cause, in his view. He says he doesn’t know “what J Street is” and hints that many of the organization’s activists are not even Jews. He compares the soul-searching of the American Jewish majority to the frustration of Mapai [the precursor of Labor]supporters after Menachem Begin’s victory. “It’s as if they’ve stolen Israel from the liberal Jews,” he says. “that’s the whole story. Now try to explain to them that they are living in the U.S., and not in Israel, and that Israel is not their country.”

Hazony is right. Today, the Jewish state represents everything that the Republican camp believes in, Jews and non-Jews alike, just as at other times it represented what the Jewish liberal Zionist camp believed in. On this, it was said [in 1977]: Ladies and gentleman – a dramatic turnabout. But on the way there, don’t forget, the American Jew does not define himself by Zionism, nationalism or religiousness; he’s very American, but only a little bit Jewish

Research:Tal Kra-Oz