American Jewry is falling away from Zionism, making adversaries of US Jews

Most American Jews of all ages see themselves primarily as Americans; their engagement with Judaism is at best a part-time affair.

PETER BEINART: The notion of a state for Palestinians separated from a state for Jews, has failed.  (photo credit: FLASH90)
PETER BEINART: The notion of a state for Palestinians separated from a state for Jews, has failed.
(photo credit: FLASH90)
Two recent media events have resulted in the spilling of much electronic ink in the Jewish press. The first consists of two publications by journalist Peter Beinart. His first, an extended essay, was published in the spring issue of the politically left journal Jewish Currents; his second, a shorter op-ed, appeared in The New York Times. In both Beinart declares his divorce from Zionism and a Jewish state of Israel. The only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he argues, is the transformation of the State of Israel into a new state to be equally shared by two peoples.
Beinart is a well-known columnist and journalist whose articles have appeared in Time, The New York Times, The New York Review of Books and The Atlantic, among other periodicals. He is a sought-after political commentator on the Internet and he teaches journalism at City University of New York. Although some of his views are considered controversial he remains a popular and well-respected opinion shaper on the Left. Beinart is a Modern Orthodox Jew who lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Almost as if its broadcast was coordinated with the two Beinart articles for maximum effect, came the freewheeling, hour-long interview of popular Jewish actor and comedian Seth Rogen on Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast. Among Rogen’s provocative remarks was his assertion that he “was fed a huge amount of lies about Israel my entire life,” and that a state for the Jews “makes no sense.” While Rogen does not follow an Orthodox lifestyle he attended Vancouver Talmud Torah and Jewish summer camp. He is not bereft of a Jewish education.
In fact, similar views regarding Israel are currently held by many American and other Diaspora Jews. Nor are they new. In 2009, Prof. Philip Mendes published a lengthy essay entitled “The Strange Phenomenon of Jewish Anti-Zionism: Self-Hating Jews or Protectors of Universalistic Principles?” in the Australian Journal of Jewish Studies. However, he observed that “(although it) would appear on the surface that anti-Zionism has become a growing and significant phenomenon in Jewish life” when viewed within the context of the larger Jewish community Jewish “anti-Zionists remain a tiny, marginal and generally detested group within Jewish society.”
That was over a decade ago. Today, the views expressed by Beinart and Rogen may indicate that anti-Zionism among American Jews, even if still beyond the mainstream, is gaining popularity, and most markedly among Jews under 40.
Jewish millennials certainly carry no personal memories of the Holocaust. Neither do they remember Israel’s miraculous victory in the Six Day War, the anxiety of her near loss, but ultimate victory, in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and her fable-like rescue of Israeli and Diaspora Jewish hostages at Entebbe on July 4th, 1976. All of these historic events contributed to the formation of a strong, positive Jewish identity whose foundation was a gushing pride in the State of Israel. So pervasive was this experience that for more than a decade following the Six Day War American Jews’ adoration of Israel was accused of replacing Judaism as their primary form of Jewish worship.
In stark contrast to their parents’ and grandparents’ generations the Israel most familiar to many Jewish millennials is anything but a source of pride. This is attributable to their understanding of Israel being shaped mainly by mainstream media and popular culture whose bias, in all international conflicts, favors the perceived underdog. More and younger American Jews are adopting and sharing the Palestinian view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this narrative, the Jewish state is no longer heroic. It is undemocratic and oppressive, and being identified with it as Jews is a source of shame. For many younger American Jews “Zionism” has become a pejorative.
Beinart’s opining finds its audience among an intellectual elite. Rogen, currently one of America’s more popular comedians and film personalities, is followed by the masses. Regardless of how riddled with inaccuracies, even falsehoods, are Beinart’s articles, and irrespective of Rogen’s pedestrian and limited knowledge of the history of Zionism and Israel, what they write and say about the Jewish state impacts many. Although not in and of themselves game-changing, each one’s pronouncements makes a contribution to the creeping dissent over the existence of Israel among younger American Jews. And even older liberal Jews, who until now have been, at most, critical of the policies of Israel’s right-wing governments, are not immune to this thinking.
And why not? Today most American Jews of all ages see themselves primarily as Americans; their engagement with Judaism is at best a part-time affair. And as they understand the essence of Judaism to be “tikun olam,” the practice of social justice, the very notion of a sovereign Jewish nation-state is problematic. As Rogen said, it “doesn’t make sense.”
If in the coming decades the views of Beinart and Rogen regarding the State of Israel gain greater traction among America’s Jews it is not unthinkable that whatever remains of the steadily assimilating and shrinking American Jewish community will, tragically, exchange its historic role from Israel advocate to adversary.
The writer is the founder and director of iTalkIsrael in Efrat. His website is