The Divide Between American Jews and Israel
Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism and the state of Israel, envisioned the idea of Jewish immigration to Palestine to create a Jewish state. In 1898, he published his book Der Judenstaat (The State of the Jews), which dealt with the “Jewish Question”, where he argued that the only way to avoid anti-Semitism is for Jews to leave Europe and create a state of their own. In contrast, Martin Luther King Jr. advocated for equal rights for blacks in America. He rejected the notion that blacks were better off moving somewhere else and opposed the idea of moving to Africa. Most Jews did not accept Hartzell’s vision of a Homeland, and moved to America instead of Palestine or Israel. Currently, American Jews have diametrically different values than Israeli Jews.
Israeli Jews believe in Herzl’s vision of avoiding anti-Semitism by having a Jewish state. They view Israel as a safety net and define it as a “Jewish Democracy”. They oppose intermarriage and segregate themselves from Palestinians and Muslims. They believe in projecting military and economic strength to deter challenges to their existence as a Jewish State. On July 1, 2019 Israel’s minister of education Rafi Peretz, compared intermarriages between U.S Jews and non-Jews to a “second Holocaust”.
American Jews, on the other hand, align themselves with Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision, and define themselves as Americans. Presently, most American Jews were born and educated in America. As children, they pledged allegiance, “to the Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”. American Jews are far more immersed in American than Israeli values. They generally support Israel, but do not live and breathe it in the same way as their parents. They support civil rights and equality. They practice intermarriage and find segregation an anathema.
While American Jews are a minority ethnic group, in Israel, Jews comprise a majority of the population. Israel’s recently passed Nation-State law proclaimed that the State of Israel belongs to the Jewish people, demonstrating the willingness of the majority to enact legislation directly at odds with the rights of the minority. American Jews may well conclude that the idea of a country belonging to an ethnic religious group is highly problematic.
This accentuates and accelerates the divide between American and Israeli Jews and opens up an array of other issues: the Israeli occupation of the Palestinians, the failure to bring a just conclusion to Palestinian refugees, the blockade on Gaza, Israel’s settlement policy; and the lack of peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Gradually, American Jews lost sight of Israel being threatened by the Palestinians and its segregation policy makes less and less sense to them. They increasingly feel that Palestinians are the victims in the conflict.
In short, American Jews have opposite values from Israeli Jews. They simply would not see the need nor the merits of defending Israel. Historically, Jews in America stood for civil and human rights. When it comes to Israel Palestine, they will not be any different. They will oppose Israel’s policy and are likely to become its most vociferous critic.
Israel’s Law of Return states that Jews in America, or outside Israel, have a right to a second option of living in Israel. The justification is that American Jews need a safe haven, as there is always the possibility that they will be subjected to hatred and violence. Ironically, the cornerstone justification by anti-Semites in America is that Jews are not loyal and cannot be trusted, evidenced partially by the “second option “given to them by Israel. The Law of Return validates the notion that Jews do not belong anywhere else except in Israel.
The Law of Return is not good for Israel either. It prevents Israel from moving forward, especially in its relationship with the Palestinians. Her failure to act as a secular democracy and insisting on selective democracy, while continuing to control the Palestinians, is the exact thing that will alienate it from Jews in America. In the big picture, Israeli’s failure to find a democratic formula with the Palestinians will only preserve the conflict.
There is; however, a silver lining. Instead of becoming a vociferous critic of Israel, American Jews could spearhead a challenge to both Israelis and Palestinians to come up with a formula which would respect concerns of both the Israelis and the Palestinians, while at the same time, adhere to acceptable democratic principles.
About the author
Josef Avesar is the founder of the Israeli Palestinian Confederation, which advocates for a mutual third government for Israelis and Palestinians. An American-Israeli of Iraqi background. He practices law in the U.S., but travels frequently to Israel and Palestine. His email address is [email protected]