Monday, January 2, 2017

Why Are American Jews Losing Their Love for Israel? Blame It on the Lure of the Hellenistic and "Tikkun Olam"

It's an age-old conflict, one that's perhaps best exemplified by the Channukah story: Hellenized Jews longing to blend in with the non-Jewish majority versus Jews like the Macabees, who insist on the right to their own particularism, and who are determined to fight for it.

Here's Elliott Abrams discussing two new books which examine the widening divide between Hellenistic Jews in America, who want to drop the tribalism and embrace the "tikkun olam"/"social justice" agenda for the greater good of mankind in general, and Israeli Jews, who, like the Macabees of old, insist, dammit!, on their right to Jewish particularity and self-determination:
[T]hese concerns about exclusively Jewish problems and threats to Jewish communities abroad did not override, or sit comfortably with, the liberal and universalist impulses that remained powerful among American Jews. The American Jewish Committee (AJC) and other leading organizations had created a synthesis that was meant to substitute for Jewish parochialism. In this conception, the particular interests of  Jews would be best protected not by tribalism, i.e., by focusing exclusively on fighting anti-Semitism and rescuing endangered Jews, but by creating a more just society, in which all forms of bigotry would be countered and destroyed, and by forging a world order built on peace, justice, and law. Thus, the AJC, in an internal memo quoted by Barnett, resolved “as a matter of enlightened self-interest, to interest ourselves in situations involving other minorities, even though Jews are not primarily affected.” During the 1960s, Barnett writes, the AJC’s American Jewish Year Book “often gave more prominence to the civil-rights movement than to Israel.” 
This cosmopolitan outlook was itself consonant with the “prophetic Judaism” that had long been the hallmark of the Reform movement; today, it is increasingly the religion of all non-Orthodox American Jews. Tikkun olam, “repairing the world” through action for “social justice,” is regarded by many American Jews as more important than actually observing Jewish rituals or supporting Israel. It is also necessarily in tension, sometimes more and sometimes less, with the need and the desire to protect Jews who are in danger. When Israel or some other community of Jews seems at risk—as during the 1973 Yom Kippur war, for example, or when the Soviet regime was sending “refuseniks” to Siberia for the crime of seeking to learn Hebrew and move to Israel—the tribal instinct may appear to dominate, at least for a time. Still, that impulse is itself often framed in terms of universal themes like the concern for international human rights, the right to emigrate, the right to freedom of religion, and so forth. 
Today, Barnett writes, when fewer Jews seem to be in physical danger, certainly in this country, and with Israel regarded as a major Middle Eastern power, many American Jews see no need whatsoever for the tribal approach. After all, “in 1914, 76 percent of all Jews lived in illiberal lands . . . [but] now a minuscule 3.5 percent live in authoritarian countries [while] 96.5 percent live in liberal democracies.” No wonder, then, that the “prophetic” or “cosmopolitan” outlook has prevailed, or that to some extent (again, Barnett is cautious about the “accepted wisdom”) American Jews are “losing their love for Israel.” He puts it this way: “there are forces at home and in the world that are leading American Jews to return to a political theology of prophetic Judaism, and an Israel that is increasingly acting like an ethnonational state is not the best outlet for such cosmopolitan longings.”
Add to that the most recent inter-marriage stats, which are, to say the least, alarming, and there's little doubt that non-Orthodox "tikkun olam"-orientated American Jews are fated to become, sorry to have to say it, the latest of the Jews' lost tribes.

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