In his book “The Jewish Century,” Russian-American historian Yuri Slezkine describes the enormous influence of the oppressed Jewish masses that lived in Russia at the turn of the 20th century – and comprised 60% of world Jewry – on the history of the world in general and of the Jewish people in particular. These Jews, huddled in poverty for the most part in the notorious Pale of Settlement, spawned the radicals who played key roles in the Communist revolution, the pioneers who established and created the State of Israel and the millions who emigrated to the United States and launched what is arguably the most successful diaspora in history, Jewish or otherwise. In Slezkine’s book, the American Jewish experiment is the most successful of them all.
But even if one rejects Slezkine’s ranking, the evidence is hard to deny: American Jews are the most educated, prosperous and recently best-liked religious group in the U.S. Even though they are less than 2 percent of the population, Jews make up more than half of America’s leading intellectuals, between a quarter and a third of its senior media figures and a half to two thirds of its movie and television producers and directors. One of every three of the 371 Nobel Prizes awarded to Americans was given to a Jew, including more than half of the Nobel Prizes for Economics.
The contribution of Jews to modern America culture is nothing less than astounding. Jews have left a deep mark on America’s culture in films, TV, literature, philosophy and journalism. They supported, spurred and sometimes led the struggles of women, African-Americans and the LGBT community for equality, the fight for freedom of expression, the concern for immigrants and the ongoing effort to maintain the separation of church and state.
Their direct political influence is no less remarkable. American Jews punch way above their statistical weight. They campaign, vote and, most significantly, donate to political causes more than any other group; in recent years, the level of their representation in Congress is three to five times bigger than their actual share of the population.
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Since 1967, American Jews have dedicated a large proportion of their political might to securing the very special relationship between Israel and the United States, including strategic cooperation, billions of dollars in military aid, close to unconditional diplomatic support, not to mention the successful campaign, led by American Jews, for the release of Soviet Jews, one of the main factors that jump-started the modern Israeli economy.
Most of these feats are registered under the name of the liberal component of American Jewry, the clear majority. Not everyone agrees, of course: Presumably, most of the quarter of American Jews who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 are less than enamored with the majority’s liberal bent, including the Orthodox, who comprise only 10 percent of the overall Jewish population but are its fastest growing part, as detailed in the latest report by the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI). No matter what their numerical share, however, these Jews won’t be the heirs to generations of Jews who flourished under the umbrella of the unique rendezvous between their Jewish heritage and American freedom and democracy. It is there that the modern American Jewish renaissance was born.
All of these facts are universally known, supposedly, and yet the State of Israel nonetheless allows itself to gaze with indifference bordering on criminal negligence at the unraveling of its ties with the greatest Jewish community the world has ever known. Israel seems completely oblivious to the poison which it regularly injects into its relations with American Jews, in its capitulation to the Orthodox monopoly, anti-democratic legislation, disdain for Palestinians, addiction to Jewish settlements, worship of Donald Trump and short-sighted reliance on Sheldon Adelson and evangelicals, who whisper in Trump’s ear. Small wonder that the headline over a hard-hitting opinion piece published by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post – “American Jews are watching Israel in horror” – barely garnered a yawn. Their time is up, our politicians opine, with a smirk of self-satisfaction and a shrug born of ignorance and arrogance.
The rupture, which, left unchecked, will grow into a schism, is dangerous for Israel. It corrodes a foundational stone of Jerusalem’s relations with the United States and feeds the growing disenchantment of the Democratic Party, which will eventually return to power. The breach is even more of a threat to the American Jewish community itself, which made support for Israel into a new religion and now finds itself adrift, without an anchor. Israel, despite its meaningless platitudes, is sabotaging the unity of the Jewish people. It is committing the crime against Jewish history, which, symbolically evokes the biblical story of Cain and Abel, the latter having been the better but weaker of the two brothers.