Is the golden age of American Jews really ending?

(RNS) — American Jews are suffering serious agita from the manifestations of antisemitism at pro-Palestinian rallies on the very college campuses where we have been welcomed as students and professors ever since the Jewish quotas came down after World War II.

Don’t we, most of us, condemn Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his alliance with Israeli’s extremist religious right? Don’t we, most of us, lament the civilian casualties in Gaza? Don’t we, most of us, hope for a two-state solution?

But most of us are also Zionists whose identity is ineluctably connected to the 76-year-old country that’s home to almost half the Jews in the world and a lot more than half the vitality in contemporary Jewish culture. How can people who should know better fail to understand that the genocidal assault carried out by Hamas on Oct. 7 was an assault on us?

So is the golden age of American Jews ending, as Franklin Foer prophesied in The Atlantic two months ago? Let’s take a deep breath and recall that this is not the first time in the golden age that erstwhile allies have seemed to turn on us.

Before the Six-Day War in 1967, as Egypt massed its troops on the Israeli border, secured the withdrawal of the United Nations peacekeeping force and barred Israeli passage into the Gulf of Aqaba, another Holocaust seemed in the offing. While American Jews offered unprecedented aid to the Jewish state, conspicuous by its absence was support from the leaders of American Christianity, who for years had joined us in interfaith amity under the banner of “the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

When, after the war was over, leading rabbis criticized the lack of support, they were greeted with sharp replies, such as this from Henry P. Van Dusen, the then-recently retired president of New York’s Union Theological Seminary and one of the country’s foremost ecumenists: “All persons who seek to view the Middle East problem with honesty and objectivity stand aghast at Israel’s onslaught, the most violent, ruthless (and successful) aggression since Hitler’s blitzkrieg.”

Monsignor George Higgins, secretary of the Catholic bishops’ Commission for Catholic-Jewish Relations, called the rabbis’ criticism “a form of ecumenical or interreligious blackmail.”

It’s worth noting that the Vatican did not recognize Israel until 1993, three decades after the Second Vatican Council issued its historic declaration “Nostra Aetate” condemning antisemitism.

Christian ambivalence toward Israel has been obscured in recent years by the enthusiastic pro-Israel stance of white evangelical Christians, whether motivated by their literal reading of God’s promise of the land to Abraham’s descendants in the Book of Genesis or an end-times belief that the ingathering of the Jews in the Holy Land is a precondition of Christ’s return. But across the spectrum of American Christianity, the ambivalence has persisted, notably in mainline Protestantism’s embrace of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, often referred to as BDS.

In part, this is attributable to Christian universalism, which has long fueled opposition to nationalism — opposition that has not spared the Jewish national movement. The vexing question is whether that anti-Zionism equals hostility to Jews as such.

What President Joe Biden termed on Tuesday “a ferocious rise in antisemitism” seems evident in the increased number of reported incidents over the past few years tracked by the Anti-Defamation League. That there’s been a general change for the worse in the way Jews are regarded is not at all clear.

As recently as a year and a half ago, a Pew survey showed that Americans view Jews more positively than any other religious group in America, with 35% having a very or somewhat favorable view of us versus just 6% having a very or somewhat unfavorable view. (By contrast, the percentages for Catholics were 34%-18% and for evangelicals, 28%-27%.) 

Americans also view Israelis positively, but much less so. Two years ago, 25% viewed Israelis favorably and Palestinians unfavorably, as opposed to the 10% who viewed Palestinians favorably and Israelis unfavorably, according to Pew.

Twenty years ago, Pew found that only Jews and evangelicals favored the U.S. supporting Israel over the Palestinians. A new survey by YouGov shows that support for the pro-Palestinian protests at 28%, significantly less than the 47% who oppose them, but still a substantial number. 

So Americans are less enamored of Israel than they are of American Jews. That doesn’t sound like the end of the golden age to me.

Source link

Related Articles

Back to top button