Photo Credit: Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest
Folk dancers at the University of Minnesota Campus celebrate Israel's 34th anniversary

An academic paper written by Alon Pinkas, former Consul General of Israel in New York and foreign policy advisor to four previous Israeli Foreign Ministers, indicates that Israel is no longer in the top five issues that influence American Jewish voting patterns in US elections.

Published by the Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies at the University of Haifa, the study claims that Israel plays neither a distinctively unifying nor patently divisive role in American-Jewish life, and while the bond between American Jews and Israel remains strong, the ties are fraying and recurrent friction on important issues has weakened the link over the last 10 to 20 years.


The study also cites a shifting mindset of Israel among the new generation of American Jewry. Memories of Israel’s heroic and miraculous victory in the Six-Day War and tragic remembrances of the Holocaust are simply further removed from today’s young Jews, who therefore see Israel in a different light than their parents and grandparents. Now, Pinkas claims, “US Jews concerns are specifically American and that their lively involvement and participation in American politics is not usually motivated by Israel-driven causes.”

“The American Jewish community and Israeli society exist in very different realities and these differences have been shaping the worldviews of these two communities,” said Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “Despite the differences between American Jews and Israelis, the two communities are intimately connected as the two largest Jewish communities in the world, which mutually benefit each other. As we move into a new political era it is more important than ever for Israelis and American Jews to try to better understand each other and treat each other with mutual respect.”

In the study, Pinkas finds that most American Jews were relative latecomers to Zionism and only reluctantly embraced the movement. Well into the 1930’s most American Jews were outright hostile to the idea of Zionism, which they saw as a form of socialism alien to their attempt to assimilate in America and saw no compelling reason to support the ideology before 1948.

The self-image of American Jews, along with their self-perceptions, cosmopolitan approach, and value systems all developed before the birth of Israel. Their cultural development, socialization, and assimilation into American society and culture were their own and had nothing to do with Israel, whether as a place or an idea.

The study notes that before 1948 American Jews occupied a unique situation as the only ethnic and religious group in the United States that had no “homeland” no “old country” to idealize, wax romantic about, and yearn for, as other immigrant groups could. This fact, combined with the Holocaust, is of tremendous importance for understanding the evolution of American Jewish perceptions of and relations with Israel.

1967 was a watershed year for the relationship and American Jews’ view of Israel. Haunted by guilt for their failure to influence U.S. policy during the Second World War, American Jews now experienced another existential alarm: the weeks before the Six Day War, when Israel’s survival was perceived as hanging by a thread. The “miracle” of the resounding military victory, against the background of the Cold War and Soviet support for Egypt and Syria, drew American Jews much closer to Israel.

Concurrently, American Jews’ increasingly deep involvement and integration into American politics turned Israel into a major rallying cry.

The events of 1967 transformed Israel into what might be described as a “Secular religion” encompassing the entire mainstream Jewish establishment. It led to the emergence of a new slogan: “We Are One.” Used as a call for action and sales pitch to solicit contributions and commitment to organizations and projects, it also had a major substantive consequence—turning Israel into the unifying cause and almost the raison d’être of all the organizations and their activities.

Today, however, as numerous surveys have shown, Israel is not among the top five issues that influence American Jewish voting patterns in U.S. elections. Israel-related and pro-Israel activities, organizations, projects, and rallies proliferate, but American Jews tend to cast their ballots on the basis of other considerations. Their concerns are specifically American; their lively involvement and participation in American politics is not usually motivated by Israel-driven causes.


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