Chaim I. Waxman

Are we still one?

The well-known journalist, Amit Segal, is a staunch supporter of Binyamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition as well as Netanyahu himself. After the firing of Yoav Gallant as Minister of Defense, Segal had enough. He twittered: “It takes extraordinary talent to win an overwhelming victory in the elections, to spend everything in two months of crazy negotiations, to unite the opposition in three months, to lose the Minister of Defense, to set up protests against you the likes of which the country has never known, to go to war against the authority of the Supreme Court, to invalidate a normal law that ended in legitimacy of half a people to invalidate fundamental laws”.

But there is more. Netanyahu has managed to severely damage the longstanding strong emotional ties between America’s Jews and Israel. In a paper which I gave this past August, at a session of the World Congress of Jewish Studies in conjunction with the Association for the Social Scientific Study of Jewry, I showed that a series of representative surveys conducted between 1967-2021 found that approximately two-thirds or more of those surveyed express strong to very strong emotional attachments to Israel (“Who Says American Jews are Detaching from Israel, and Why?” In the published version that is currently on-line and will shortly be in-print, I included a note shortly the recent election results became known, and I indicated that how they “will affect American Jewish attachments to Israel remains to be seen and should be of serious concern to all those committed the future well-being of the Jewish State and the Jewish people.” (Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, DOI: 10.1080/23739770.2022.2145539)  I put it that way out of respect for the memorable manager of the New York Yankees baseball team who, among many others of his gems, cautioned: “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.

Developments in Israel since the last election made me think more of an old fable that of Yogi Berra. The fable tells the frog and the scorpion who were trying to cross a river in the Middle East. The scorpion couldn’t swim and the frog was lost, so the scorpion offered thee frog a deal: Give me a ride on your back and I’ll show you the way. The frog agreed and everything was going well until they got to the middle of the river. All of a sudden, the scorpion stung the frog. As they were drowning, the frog, in his dying breath, asked the scorpion: “Why would you do that?” to which the scorpion replied, “because this is the Middle East.”

Just 2 days ago, I spoke with a prominent Israeli who served in various senior government and quasi-government positions, who travels frequently and widely, and is intimately involved with the leadership of the American Jewish community. Being that he just returned from a trip to the US, where he met with a variety of Jewish leaders there, I asked him how he views the relationship between American Jewry and Israel. He replied that the situation is very serious and very troubling. This from someone who has always had a positive, optimistic perspective. I asked if he thought that we will survive this crisis, and he replied that we will because we have no choice, but the gravity of the current crisis should not be underestimated.

I have always associated Israel and Israeli Jewry with what the German sociologist, Ferdinand Toennies (1855-1936), termed a “gemeinschaft”, a community whose people are deeply and intimately intertwined, who are essentially united despite all that separates them. Are we still?

About the Author
Chaim I. Waxman is a sociologist of Jews and Judaism. He is former chair of the Behavioral Sciences Department at Hadassah Academic College in Jerusalem and professor emeritus of Sociology and Jewish Studies at Rutgers University. His most recent book is Social Change and Halakhic Evolution in American Orthodoxy (Littman Library of Jewish Studies and Liverpool University Press, 2017). He and his wife, Chaya, live in Jerusalem.