A Great Schism or a Great Exaggeration?

Several people forwarded to me this week an article from the New York Times written by Jonathan Weisman, titled, “American Jews and Israeli Jews Are Headed for a Messy Breakup: Is the world ready for another Great Schism?”

Upon reading it, I was reminded of the brilliant quip from Mark Twain after newspapers reportedly published his obituary after hearing he had died: “The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” The quip is all the more wonderful because it appears that, while he offered remarks of similar sentiments, even the quip is a misquote.

Like Twain’s reaction to false reports about his death, so too do I think Weisman’s thesis is an exaggeration.

Weisman referenced author Yossi Klein Halevi, who explained recently: “Israeli Jews believe deeply that President Trump recognizes their existential threats. In scuttling the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal, which many Israelis saw as imperiling their security, in moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in basically doing whatever the government of Benjamin Netanyahu asks, they see a president of the United States acting to save their lives.”

He continues, “American Jews, in contrast, see President Trump as their existential threat, a leader who they believe has stoked nationalist bigotry, stirred anti-Semitism and, time and time again, failed to renounce the violent hatred swirling around his political movement. The F.B.I. reports that hate crimes in the United States jumped 17 percent in 2017, with a 37 percent spike in crimes against Jews and Jewish institutions.”

In addition to data about the majority of American Jews opposing President Trump and the same majority who disapprove of the actions and rhetoric of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Weisman laments the actions of the Orthodox rabbinate in Israel; the rise of BDS in the U.S. (with attention paid to Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib); and the virtual collapse of efforts toward a two-state solution.

Based on all of this, Weisman posits, “Now many American Jews, especially young American Jews, would say, Israel is Israel’s problem. We have our own … There are roughly 6.5 million Jews in Israel. There are roughly 5.7 million Jews in America. Increasingly, they see the world in starkly different ways.” He then concludes, “The Great Schism is upon us.”

Let me suggest, the rumors of death of the alliance between American Jews and Israel appear to be greatly exaggerated.

The author of the articles puts forth, I believe, an accurate portrait of where the differences are today, i.e., right now at this very moment in time. American Jews and Israelis are indeed significantly divided over their approval of the actions of the American president.

Moreover, for many Americans, President Trump is tamei (ritually impure); that is to say, anything that he touches becomes impure simply because the president supports it. Israel is – right now at this moment in time – suffering guilt by association.

Similarly, the forces of conservatism in Israel – a hawkish government and right-wing religious authority – frustrate the general American Jewish tendencies that favor peace negotiations and religious pluralism.

Nevertheless, the Jews’ longing for a safe, peaceful, Jewish sovereign nation is 2,000 years old. Most American Jews and especially those of us for whom the Holocaust is a not-so-distant memory, maintain that longing. The Jews who are most critical of Israel are, by and large, young and radically liberal. Over time, age has a way of tempering both those factors.

Moreover, many of those American Jews who vehemently oppose Israel are rapidly assimilating. The more tied into the Jewish community one is and the more one defines himself/herself as religious (no matter Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox), the more likely one is to affirm a strong bond with the Jewish state. The Jews most vocally anti-Israel often do not align with the organized American Jewish community and will probably find themselves far outside the folds of the community in the future.

Finally, President Trump’s time as president is finite. When he leaves office, the relationship between America and Israel and American Jews and Israelis will once again be re-defined. The landscape will shift once again.

Right now, relations between American Jews and Israelis might be more complicated than at other times. Nevertheless, the rumors of the death of the alliance between American Jews and Israel appear to be greatly exaggerated.

For me, my heart is in the east and I am in the uttermost west. The State of Israel is far from the messianic ideal, but it is a modern-day miracle. I invite you to do everything you can to support Israel, to purchase Israeli products and invest in her companies. I invite you to learn about Israel and speak out on her behalf.

Finally, I invite you to join me in praying for the peace of Jerusalem and the freedom of all Israel’s citizens, that Israel and all who love her should know prosperity, joy, security, and true and lasting shalom. Amen and Am Yisrael Chai.

About the Author
Aaron Starr is a rabbi at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield, Michigan. A member of the Conservative Movement's Rabbinical Assembly and the Michigan Board of Rabbis, Rabbi Starr is a past president of the Rabbinical Assembly-Michigan Region and the Metropolitan Detroit's Board of Jewish Educators. Rabbi Starr is the author of the book, "Taste of Hebrew," and the article in Conservative Judaism, "Tradition vs. Modernity: The CJLS and Conservative Halakhah."
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