The Jerusalem Post reports that the Jewish People Policy Institute, a Jerusalem-based think tank, has given a warning to the Israeli cabinet via JPPI Co-Chairman Dennis Ross and President Avinoam Bar-Yosef.
According to the JPPI’s findings:
The liberal, Reform, Conservative and secular parts of the American Jewish community may become more distant from Israel as the country’s demography becomes more Orthodox and nationalistic …
Bar-Yosef explained that while there is significant support for Israel in North America, it isn’t compensating for “the young generation of liberal and secular American Jews [which] is increasingly critical of the Jewish state, and concerned that Israeli society is becoming more religious and more right wing.”
Israel, it should be pointed out, is diverse, and generalizing about it is tricky. Those looking for liberalism could find it at the 2016 Gay Pride Parade in Tel Aviv, in which 200,000 Israelis and foreign visitors took part. Tel Aviv is the focal point of Israeli secularism and political leftism (or what’s left of it) — but here, however, is a report on female pilots in the Israeli air force, including combat pilots and combat navigators. Also, here is an article covering Israel’s first transgender army officer, addressing a Gay Pride Month event at the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C.
Israel is not exactly a hidebound, ultraconservative society.
On the other hand, young, liberal American Jews observing Israel are noticing ideas they reject.
For instance, the current Israeli governing coalition includes three religious parties — one Orthodox and two ultra-Orthodox — which comprise 21 of the Knesset’s 66 seats. Right-of-center governments have been elected three times consecutively since 2009, and in most elections since 1977. Polls consistently show the vast majority of Israeli Jews affiliating with the political right or center — and as few as eight percent affiliating with the left. Israeli Jews consistently give very low ratings to Barack Obama, who for many young, liberal American Jews remains a revered figure.
With these realities, it may seem understandable that young Americans feel alienated from the Jewish state. However, the notion carries a contradiction.
In 1993, Israel took a sharp turn to the political left by launching a “peace process” with veteran terrorist Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Many American Jewish conservative supporters of Israel were dismayed — but these conservative supporters did not talk in terms of alienation or of turning their backs on the Jewish state.
Instead, they mustered understanding — mixed with regret — for why a society subjected to so much war and terrorism might grasp at what was, indeed, an illusion of peace.
Today, Israelis keep electing right-of-center governments in what could be called “nationalism.” But these elections also reflect the country’s experience of watching the peace hopes of the 1990s go up in the smoke of suicide bombings and thousands of rocket attacks.
Likewise, the political power of Orthodox — and especially ultra-Orthodox — Jewry in Israel may not be to the liking of non-Orthodox American Jews in general. However, American Jewish conservative supporters of Israel are not threatening to sign off from Israel altogether because of their rise.
That political power, after all, stems both from the Israeli parliamentary system (which, no doubt, needs reform) and from the greater demographic strength of Orthodox Jews in Israel than among American Jewry.
In other words, there’s no getting around it: Israeli Jewry is different from American Jewry.
Its history and demography are different, as are aspects of its culture and political culture.
It may then seem a contradiction to hear JPPI claim that American Jewish liberals — for whom “diversity” is a watchword — increasingly have trouble accepting an Israel that is not a mirror in which they see themselves.
It isn’t a contradiction, though. It has been a long time since “liberals” embraced diversity rather than celebrate their own narrow, intolerant worldview. While Israel has nothing to lose by reaching out to them, there may be nothing Israel can do to please young American Jews.