Where do American Jews stand on Israel and how are these positions linked to their attitude toward the American administration? Examining this issue is crucial in light of both the U.S. midterm elections and the reform program for the Jewish Agency initiated by Chairman Natan Sharansky.
First, it must be recognized that American Jewry is not a homogenous community. There is a core, which includes those who emphatically identify as members of the Jewish faith and nation, but the number of Jews who have completely integrated into American society and who stand on the fringes of the Jewish nation is growing. Half of American Jews define themselves as ethnic Jews, and not Jews by faith. These two facts have great meaning for the positions of Jews in general, and specifically regarding Israel.
Many Jews in the core group feel an emotional tie to the Land of Israel, but not necessarily to present-day Israel. Most of these Jews are convinced that Israel is not the center of the Jewish people and that it has no right to interfere in their affairs, including on issues related to Jewish education. They believe there are at least two centers of Judaism: Israel and American Jewry.
According to polls not cited in Israel, most Jews who have completely integrated into American society display total apathy for events that unfold in Israel. Only 30 percent of American Jews care deeply about what happens here.
Most Jews who do care clearly support a solution involving two states for two peoples. What's more, an increasing number of Jews back the division of Jerusalem and turning half of it into the capital of Palestine (not only Jews in the United States, but also in Canada, France, Britain and even Australia, which was considered the Diaspora group most closely tied to Israel ).
Not only are more and more individual Jews coming to hold such views, but the number of organizations pushing these positions is also growing. J Street, which has come under harsh criticism from the Israeli political establishment, is not the only group with such a stance. Many people in the Reform Jewish community support its views, and similar organizations are being established, and not only in the United States.
It can be cautiously stated that many Diaspora Jews do not support the policy of the Israeli government. Put more bluntly, they oppose most aspects of Israeli government policy, not only in the political-military sphere, but in many other areas, including policy connected to defining the national Jewish-Israeli identity. Undoubtedly, more than half of American Jews who identify as such will not support a religious definition of the Jewish nation and the State of Israel.
In terms of American Jews' attitude toward the Obama administration, it is vital to understand that few of them will stop supporting their president solely because of his positions on the Middle East peace process. The positions of a great many American Jews are and will be determined by the social, political and economic situation in the United States, since American Jews feel they are an integral part of the country in which they live.
In light of all this, it is very important to examine carefully what is being said and written by members of Jewish organizations in the United States whose positions and interests are similar to those of Israeli governments, as well as the words of professional politicians and bureaucrats in Israel whose work and livelihood are linked to relations between Israel and the Diaspora.
The author teaches political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
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