Recently, Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America and former CEO of Hillel International, reported that a new level of antisemitic intensity has been reached. Whether antisemitic sentiment itself has increased or merely has just become more acceptable, he isn’t sure. Regardless, the reality of overt Jew-hatred in the US and Canada is being felt more intensely – to say the least.
It wasn’t that long ago that public disparagement of Jews and Israel was not acceptable in the US, although it has long been so in Western Europe. For example, in December, 2001, the French Ambassador to the UK blurted out: “That shitty little country Israel…” while attending a political function in London. Actually, many from the UK, France, and other countries shared the sentiment. But back in 2001, it was considered impolitic to express it in public.
Things have worsened in the 20 years since that diplomatic gaffe. In the last two years, Jews have been gunned down in synagogues, have been shot in their homes or on the streets, and have been beaten up on the sidewalks when wearing a skullcap or carrying a Jewish flag.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that these are just horrific, but isolated, events. When numerous members of the House of Representatives routinely disparage Israel, they are vilifying all Jews. How so? Israel is the ethnoreligious Jewish state. Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948, “Hereby proclaim[s] the establishment of the Jewish state in Palestine, to be called Israel.” The new state was duly recognized by, and accepted into, the United Nations.
In fact, Israel is the “Jew” among nations and Jews are identified with it, whether they feel the connection or not. Concurrent with that is the vilification of Zionism and Zionists, although it is just one of many enthnoreligous movements in the world, Islamic-designated countries being the most vehement examples. Nearly one-third of national flags have religious imagery – see chart from Pew Research.
Just as the Jews are a tiny minority of the world’s population (one-fifth of 1%), Israel is the only Jewish state of the 193 UN countries. Just as Jews are stigmatized by many (“Jew” is often used as an insult), Israel is stigmatized as a terroristic, racist, apartheid, war-mongering state by many countries.
Back in the USA, the Congressional “Squad,” which consists of “progressive” female Democrats, loathes Israel and will go to any lengths to defame and destroy it. Because of the connection (wanted or unwanted) of Jews with Israel, American Jews are endangered by the rhetoric coming from these progressive left wing sources, as well as threatened by rhetoric and attacks from militaristic far right groups. But the latter aren’t a force in the federal government, while the Squad is making quite an impact.
With that in mind, what can we make of the many Jewish Americans who align themselves with the progressives to malign Israel? The Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA), an organization that describes itself as “the voice for Jewish Democrats and socially progressive, pro-Israel and Jewish values,” recently funded and released disturbing poll findings.
28% of those polled (38% of whom are under 40) agreed with the statement that, “Israel is an apartheid state.” 23% of those polled (33% of whom are under 40) agreed that “Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians,” and 20% of American Jews under the age of 40 agreed with the statement that “Israel doesn’t have the right to exist.” From the above poll findings, future prospects for American Jews appear dismal.
(https://www.jpost.com/diaspora/antisemitism/us-jewry-failed-to-teach-its-youth-about-israel-here-is-the-result-673846) Note: poll questions are often specifically worded to produce a desired result, especially political polls.
There is little doubt that Israel could do a much better job explaining its military acts. A recent example is the demolition of the high rise in Gaza where AP had its offices with no immediate explanation. While all the news agencies piled on about Israel’s destruction of a prime news source, the IDF was mum. When it finally released its rationale for destroying the tower (Hamas had many intelligence activities originating there) it was way too little and way too late. There’s no excuse for this lack of clarification, especially when it has happened many times before.
Israel could also have a heavier footprint in the social media world, where many young people’s convictions are formed. It currently spends a tiny proportion of its budget on global outreach and opinion-forming (hasbara). Yes there are numerous groups promoting Israel, but there is no comprehensive, coordinating umbrella entity, no popular movement to match and refute for example, BDS. We experience the dismal results.
Nor are American Jewish parents and grandparents doing enough to improve the situation. If there is little interest shown in Judaism’s incredible heritage, it won’t be discovered by the younger generations.
In general, Americans have little or no curiosity about learning things beyond what their environment puts in their faces. Since the vast majority of “news” today has an animus towards Israel (see NY Times, Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, FaceTime, Twitter, BLM, etc., etc.) and few go beyond them to get a broader view, the future for Jews in the US looks bleak.
The Birthright trips to Israel are a good example of a proactive program to influence young people about Israel. Birthright’s mission is to give every Jewish young adult around the world, especially the less connected, the opportunity to visit Israel on an educational trip. More than a half million American and Canadian young adults have taken advantage of these nearly free educational and social journeys. Actually, the participants’ almost unanimous and enthusiastic response to Birthright makes me a bit leery about the poll results mentioned above.
In a world where Jew-hatred is becoming increasingly commonplace and acceptable, will Judaism endure? If we look at world history, we see that Jews have struggled to maintain their place for millennia. While our numbers are few, our influence is massive, which fuels more hatred. Yet, we endure. The example of the re-founding of a Jewish State is miraculous in itself.
Perhaps, and this is my pet theory, Jews in every generation experience a sort of “natural selection” among ourselves. We are an extraordinary group by any definition. I needn’t list the multitude of Nobel prize winners, etc. Those who leave the fold purposefully, or just by indifference or intermarriage, meld into the “ordinary” society. This might be the cause of the Jews’ enduring strength against all odds, albeit as a small minority.
In conclusion, it’s clear that Jew-hatred has become more prevalent and accepted and that the trend is not good. Zionism is not a dirty word. Those who choose not to join (at least vicariously) their fellow Jews in Israel may regret. It happened in Europe – not that I think the US is anything like Germany a hundred years ago. But America and the West are going in that direction. Think about it!