US and Canadian Jews' relationship to Israel

Impressions gained on a North American lecture tour.

Dr. Mordechai Kedar

OpEds Dr. Mordechai Kedar
Dr. Mordechai Kedar
Eliran Aharon

Anyone with minimal perception can discern the slow but steady decline in American Jewry's support for Israel, not of economic support per se, but of the feeling of shared destiny with the Jewish State. This decline is what allowed the United States government to come out publicly against the policies of Israel's elected government without having to deal with any backlash to speak of from American Jews. The decline of American Jewish clout was most painfully obvious when US Jewry was unable to prevent the Iran Agreement, even though the State of Israel declared that the agreement endangers its survival. Some US Jews even supported it.

Just recently, the US government decided to label goods manufactured in Judea and Samaria. Meanwhile, J Street pulls more and more weight, presenting itself as a pro-Israel and pro-peace organization, but actually acting to force Israel to accept policies that are diametrically opposed to those espoused by the majority of Israel's population, who lean to the right.

On university and college campuses, multiple anti-Israel activities are on the increase, pro-Palestinian organizations manage to frighten Jewish student organizations such as "Hillel" – some of whose branches have become "Open Hillel" societies that invite anti-Israel organizations to appear without feeling any pangs of conscience.  An Israeli or Jew who does not support the Two-State-Solution will not be invited to speak at these Hillel Houses, taken over in toto by political correctness.

Jewish students who support Israel feel more and more threatened, keep silent, are afraid that if they express their ideas they and their grades will suffer, since a good part of the academics in America identify with anti-Israel activities and opinions. Jews are even joining BDS organization activities, despite knowing that these groups wish to boycott Israel, pull  investments out of the country and hit it with sanctions. Some universities hold "Israel apartheid week" annually, a week whose goal is the de-legitimization of Israel, and there are Jewish students who actually join the activities taking place that week.

The standard excuse that anti-Israel Jews give for their behavior is that they support Israel but are opposed to its policies and behavior towards the "unfortunate Palestinians," its "settlement enterprise", the awful things allegedly done by hilltop youth, the government's refusal to offer concessions for peace, Israel's non-recognition of Conservative and Reform streams of Jewry and of their conversion system, and Netanyahu's appearance before Congress against Obama's wishes. Of late, there is a new excuse for being anti-Israel: Israel doesn't accept Syrian refugees…

The question that worries those who are conscious of the decline in support for Israel is what the root cause is – is it because of Israel's policies, mainly "settlements," or are there deep lying reasons that have to do with North American Jewry itself?  The answer to that questions leads to another: what can be done to deal with this decline and perhaps even stop it?

In my opinion, the decline in support for Israel on the part of North American Jewry has several causes, one of them primary and others secondary.They will be described here in general terms, while keeping in mind that there are exceptions to every rule:

1. The main reason for the decline is the aging of the Jewish population: those in their seventies or older generally support Israel without qualification, even if they are liberals about religious identification – Orthodox, Conservative, Reform or completely unaffiliated. For the older generation, the Holocaust is very much a living memory that continues to influence the way they view the world, a world where Israel is an absolute necessity, an insurance policy just in case Jews need a place of refuge once again. It is true that this does not really seem a realistic scenario in today's US and Canada, but in Europe, it does not seem so far off anymore – and remember, the Jews of the Weimar Republic of Germany did not predict the Nazi phenomenon.  

The younger the US or Canadian Jew, the farther away he is from historic and conscious memories of the Holocaust. It becomes less and less a part of his thoughts and this affects his attitude towards the necessity of Israel's existence. Young Jews see themselves as Americans first and Jews second, they are sure that their American identity will always protect them. You can even hear young American Jews who say that they might be better off if there were no Israel because that would relieve them of the dilemma over whom to support, Israel or the Palestinians. This horrendous thought was expressed out loud at a J Street event in 2011 when one of the organization's founding leaders said “If we were wrong, and a collective Jewish presence in the Middle East can only survive by the sword, it cannot be accepted, it is not about what we do – sounds familiar? - they (the Arabs or Muslims - MK) hate us for who we are, not what we do, if that's true, then Israel really isn’t very good idea…”

2. Concerning the cultural-religious variable and the traditional-liberal axis, it is a fact that the religious and modern Orthodox Jews of the US and Canada are the most ardent supporters of Israel, because it seems that religion is a powerful common denominator uniting this sector with the Jews in Israel. The coming elections will see many of these Americans voting for a republican mainly due to Obama's negative attitude towards Israel  and their fear that the democratic candidate will continue to espouse Obama's views. Many of the hareidim do not support Israel because it is not a halakhic state, but the safety of the Jews in Israel is important to them.

Support for Israel is less common among Conservative Jews and even less so among Reform Jews. To unaffiliated Jews - the group where intermarriage is most prevalent - both Israel and Judaism are almost irrelevant and if Israel should disappear, so be it.

3. The Jews of America are declining demographically due to intermarriage and low birth rates (not including the Orthodox and Hareidim), causing many Jews to feel vulnerable and to want to feel more American than Jewish. The decline has had a negative influence on their ability to have political and electoral clout.

4. The growth of the Muslim population, especially on campus, gives that sector the confidence to openly attack Jews, who are all Zionists in their eyes.  Muslim organizations under the umbrella of the Muslim Brotherhood, such as the Muslim Student  Association, are well aware of Jewish weakness and use it to push the Jewish student into a corner and make him fear for his safety. This leads students to hide their pro-Israel feelings and causes some to join anti-Israel activities in order to cleanse themselves of any suspicion that they are pro-Israel.

5.  A significant number of lecturers make anti American remarks and hint that most of the troubles besetting the world, especially those of the third world, are the fault of the USA.  Obviously, since America supports Israel, Israel - in their post-modern way of thinking - is a partner in the crimes perpetrated by the USA, especially in the Middle East. Any student worried about his grade will not dare take exception to remarks of this kind made by his instructor - and some students will even adopt them for lack of knowledge about the opposing point of view.

The inevitability of a situation where there is historical distancing and a concomitant lack of identification with the Holocaust is a result of the fact that history moves on. Add to that the inability of preventing Muslim immigration to the US and Canada and the impossibility of changing the views of the instructors that lambast Israel, it becomes clear that the precipitous rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Europe since the arrival of large numbers of Islamic migrants may happen in North America as well.

What can be done? The answer lies in educating our youngsters to know the following central points:

1. During the Holocaust, the nations of the free world stood by and did nothing, although they knew full well through their intelligence services that a genocide of the Jews was taking place. Britain bears passive responsibility for the mass murder of European Jewry because it did not allow fleeing European Jews to enter the land of Israel, despite the terms of the Mandate that made it mandatory to allow the Jews into their declared homeland. Other nations, such as the USA, bear indirect responsibility, for refusing to accept Jewish refugees

What happened in the 1940s could easily happen again. That is why Israel must exist as a place of refuge for Jews from any land they are forced to leave.

2. The State of Israel is the realization of the dream of a nation that remained faithful to its land while in exile for two thousand years, prayed facing Jerusalem, cited the holy city and the land in its prayers, in joy and in sorrow.

3. The Jewish people have the right to a land of their own, just like every other people on earth. Jew-hatred, even in North America, shows the need for a country where Jews can walk with their heads held high.

4. The Jewish State was established in the land of Israel. This land belongs to all the world's Jews, those who are its citizens and those who have not yet become citizens. This was decided by the international community at the San Remo Conference.     

5. The State of Israel is the state of all the Jews wherever they are even if they disagree with its policies. It is crucial for the continuation of the people of Israel, because it is the safe refuge for every Jewish community that feels the ground shaking under its feet – like France. And what happened in France can happen anywhere else, including North America.

6. The State of Israel is a true democracy, a peace loving state that protects its citizens and grants civil rights to minorities and ethnic groups of all kinds.

7. The State of Israel awaits the Jewish people with the patience of a loving mother. It suggests that young people come to home to their land, join the IDF and protect their fellow Jews, remain and build their lives in the country. Life in Israel is not easy, but there is something there that is to be found nowhere else: a chance to participate in the greatest project of the Jewish people since the destruction of the Second Temple, a people rebuilding itself, once again declaring its independence, sovereignty over its land and the re-establishment of its state.

The above concepts must become part of the Jewish educational system, for which system parents now pay up to 30,000 dollars annually per child from kindergarten to the end of high school and end up with a child who is not at all aware of these points. Their connection to the State of Israel is at least as important as physics, biology, literature, Talmud and halakha, and it should be a permanent, significant part of the curriculum with a set syllabus and available study units. The lecture I give once a year in several North American schools is the proverbial drop in the bucket.

My fear is that there are parents, even among the Orthodox, who are afraid of overly "Israeli" education which might persuade their children to make aliyah, join the army (dangerous), settle there, and leave their aging parents alone to deal with the difficulties of old age on their own.  This is a familiar scenario as every Orthodox congregation has at least one youngster who made aliya on his own and left his siblings in North America, with parents torn between their American and Israeli grandchildren.

Educating schoolchildren to absorb these concepts will strengthen them in the face of hostility on campus where they will be able to use the tools this study unit has given them. Still, this knowledge will not be able to prevent a hostile instructor from failing a Jewish student who defends Israel in the classroom. That problem can be solved by having pro-Israel adults, both Jews and non-Jews, attend the classes of teachers who take advantage of their classrooms to broadcast anti-Israel messages. Every retiree who is worried about what is going on in a classroom can register for the class given there (adult education is usually free or almost free in most universities) and deal with the instructor every time he uses the academic podium improperly. An adult does not need a degree and therefore is not afraid of his grades being lowered because of what he says in class and the challenge he poses for the instructor.

Those retirees who take on the important assignment of protecting Jewish youth from the open and subliminal propaganda against Jewish and Zionist Israel, will have to receive guidance so as to have the answers to questions they are asked. The internet has much helpful information  such as that found on this website.

To summarize briefly: Many developments are happening simultaneously:

a. The ageing of North American Jewry and the distancing from Holocaust awareness.

b. The decline in number and public clout of North American Jewry due to intermarriage

c. The rise of liberal and post modern views

d. The rise in the number and comparative weight of the Muslims in North America

e. The rise of anti-American and anti-Israel feelings (a form of anti-Semitism) on campus.

This explains the gradual but steady decline in North American Jewish support for Israel.  Israel's pubic and political situation in the US and Canada is faced by challenges that did not exists before, beginning with the BDS movement.

There is much to do, especially in the field of youth education, and it is incumbent on every organized community and the State of Israel to partner with American communities to save the next generations from sinking into the melting pot that has for years blurred their Jewish identity, and therefore, their support for Israel.

Written for Arutz Sheva, translated from Hebrew by Arutz Sheva Op-ed and Judaism Editor, Rochel Sylvetsky.