The Decline Of American Zionism

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Peter Beinart, writing in the New York Review of Books, has an essay that gets at the heart of the challenge facing groups like Young Judea, Birthright Israel and AIPAC. Zionism in America is on the wane, and this decline is most sharply evident among American Jews under the age of 35. Beinart argues that this decline is a moral one, not just a generational one–a failure to accept a vision of Israel in America that can incorporate the multicultural ethos of the United States. He writes:

Morally, American Zionism is in a downward spiral. If the leaders of groups like AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations do not change course, they will wake up one day to find a younger, Orthodox-dominated, Zionist leadership whose naked hostility to Arabs and Palestinians scares even them, and a mass of secular American Jews who range from apathetic to appalled. Saving liberal Zionism in the United States—so that American Jews can help save liberal Zionism in Israel—is the great American Jewish challenge of our age. And it starts where [Frank] Luntz’s students wanted it to start: by talking frankly about Israel’s current government, by no longer averting our eyes.

Luntz was hired in 2003 by a group of Jewish philanthropists to explain why American Jewish college students were not more vigorously rebutting campus criticism of Israel. Read Beinart’s entire piece here.

Out of fear that you won’t click the link and read the entire piece, let me cut and paste just one more excerpt.

On its website, AIPAC celebrates Israel’s commitment to “free speech and minority rights.” The Conference of Presidents declares that “Israel and the United States share political, moral and intellectual values including democracy, freedom, security and peace.” These groups would never say, as do some in Netanyahu’s coalition, that Israeli Arabs don’t deserve full citizenship and West Bank Palestinians don’t deserve human rights. But in practice, by defending virtually anything any Israeli government does, they make themselves intellectual bodyguards for Israeli leaders who threaten the very liberal values they profess to admire.

After Israel’s elections last February, for instance, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice-chairman of the Presidents’ Conference, explained that Avigdor Lieberman’s agenda was “far more moderate than the media has presented it.” Insisting that Lieberman bears no general animus toward Israeli Arabs, Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that “He’s not saying expel them. He’s not saying punish them.” (Permanently denying citizenship to their Arab spouses or jailing them if they publicly mourn on Israeli Independence Day evidently does not qualify as punishment.) The ADL has criticized anti-Arab bigotry in the past, and the American Jewish Committee, to its credit, warned that Lieberman’s proposed loyalty oath would “chill Israel’s democratic political debate.” But the Forward summed up the overall response of America’s communal Jewish leadership in its headline “Jewish Leaders Largely Silent on Lieberman’s Role in Government.”