Are American Jews losing interest in Israel?
There are signs of an uneasiness as a result of increasing disenchantment within the Jewish community in the US
About six million Jews in the United States constitute the second largest Jewish gathering in the world after “Israel”. While many preferred and still prefer to stay in the US, despite the Israeli temptations, they continued to support Israel, like other ‘Diaspora Jews’, through the media, politically and economically. According to a study published last year by Israel’s Diaspora Ministry, such support accounts to “6.35 per cent of the Israeli economy linked to the activities and donations of Diaspora Jews, equivalent to about 25 billion shekels a year (around Dh25.74 billion), which means that in the event of cessation of American Jewish contributions and donations, Israel will lose an important resource of support”.
Since the middle of 2017, there have been clear differences between the Jewish community in the US and Israel on the issues of the Western Wall (of Al Aqsa Mosque), the Immigration Law and the related conversion issue. On the first issue, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to freeze a “compromise” on the Western Wall under pressures from the ultra-Orthodox parties opposed to women leading prayers at the site, as well as mixed-gender prayers that contradicts with the positions of liberal reformist American Jews. On the second issue, Netanyahu’s government froze the special Conversion Law where American Orthodox rabbis were allowed to carry out a process of embracing Judaism for many people in the US. This law is very important for American Jews, because anyone who converts to Orthodox Judaism can become a citizen of the Israeli state under the so-called Law of Return. Now Israeli institutions do not recognise Americans who convert to Judaism according to the above-mentioned law and will not allow them to immigrate to Israel and acquire its nationality.
“Israeli fears stem from the loss of interest in Israel by American Jews — especially the young people” ”
Moreover, a new poll conducted by the American Jewish Committee also revealed deep divisions between Israeli and American Jews, especially with regard to the policy of US President Donald Trump. The poll highlighted the growing chasm between the two largest Jewish groups, the Orthodox Jews and reform and conservative Jews, who make up the vast majority of American Jews. According to the poll, “77 per cent of Israeli Jews agree with Trump’s approach to US-Israeli relations, while only 34 per cent of American Jews agree”. Also, “57 per cent of American Jews rejected Trump’s handling of the relations, while only 10 per cent of Israeli Jews rejected it”. In a related move, 170 Jewish researchers from American colleges and universities signed a statement expressing “dismay” at Trump’s recognition of occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. “Jerusalem is of great religious significance to Jews, Muslims and Christians alike. The Trump announcement, which appears to support the individual Jewish ownership of [occupied] Jerusalem, adds to the ongoing wounds and ignites the violence and it is imperative (that the United States) clarify the legitimate share of Palestinians in the future of [occupied] Jerusalem,” the statement said.
Warning of a deep crisis growing as a result of American Jews increasingly abandoning Israel came in a recent article by the Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky who said, “this phenomenon is very dangerous, as it encourages the loss of the Jewish identity of millions of American Jews, integrating in societies where they live at the expense of their sense of belonging to Israel”. He went on to say: “We need to work against it all the time.” Israeli journalist Chemi Shalev believes “the problem is that, at the hands of Netanyahu and Trump, these relations necessarily take on a prominent national, rightist Christian character, which does not express the consensus in Israel, and less so than the liberal Jewish spirit of the United States.” Political analyst Amnon Lord explains these developments: “Part of the elite institution of American Jews turned to avoid Israel … In the years following the invasion of Iraq, a campaign of incitement against the Jews of the United States began under the pretext that their advisers and thinkers were the ones who led the United States, encouraged by Israel to the war in Iraq.” In April 2008, he went on to say ”J Street, a Jewish pro-Israel organisation, but against its right-wing extremist policies, was established and influenced by the figures who lead it. For a time, there was a united voice for American Jews on issues related to Israel or US strategic issues related to Israel, but the emergence of ‘J Street’ broke united ranks”.
Today, many Americans are turning to the Right. One year after the establishment of J Street, the tea party was formed as the most conservative movement within the Republican Party, although its members consider themselves to be part of the party, which for many years has become increasingly radical and right-wing and currently control the White House and Congress. Transformation within the Democratic Party is not moving towards liberalism either, but towards the centre and shifting more to the Right. Still, Israeli fears stem from the loss of interest in Israel by American Jews, especially young people. “Will we be able to stop the massive drift of the quiet disappearance of American Jews from the Jewish people,” asks Israeli columnist Dror Idar. “The identity issue of the young generation hovers over us.”
Professor As’ad Abdul Rahman is the chairman of the Palestinian Encyclopaedia.