Guestpost: Thoughts on the American Jewish Community

I asked Mike to write his thoughts on the American Jewish community in the comment section of one of the posts and it is so thought-provoking I thought it should be an actual post where more folks would be likely to see it. Many thanks Mike for contributing these observations for discussion!
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Well, since the queen of the blog wants me to post, I suppose I have to post on some of my observations on the American Jewish community.

During the Gaza fighting last month, about a half dozen of us held a rally to counter one by our local anti-Israel group. I’ve never stood out on a street and protested for or against anything in my life, so this was new. Other than the anti-Israel people trying to bait us into a confrontation and some expletives murmured at me by one of their members, it was a really positive experience for me and I’ve heard this from others who were there too.

We got a lot of honks and waves from people driving by, many more than the other side. A woman passing by talked to us and said how much she supported us. She also said she was glad to see us out making ourselves heard. I think that’s when it dawned on me why going out was a good idea.

It’s wasn’t so we could inform people because we didn’t talk about Israel with most passersby. We tried to make jokes and seem pleasant and polite. So it was something else. Eventually, I realized that if we aren’t willing to stand up for ourselves, we can’t expect others, even if they support us and agree with us, to stand up for us.

I know this thought might seem a little far removed from a post on American Jews, but I if you stay with me I think you will see where I’m going.

If we look at polls we see that about 70 percent to 80 percent of U.S. Jews support Israel, about 15 percent don’t care and about 5 percent hate Israel. These figures have been stable over about 10 years and while there are some questions about younger Jews, other polls show younger Jews more attached to Israel than middle-aged Jews.

Of the 15 percent that don’t care, some assimilate out and some, as they get older and start having families reconnect with their Jewishness. Of the five percent who are anti-Israel, I think they are hard to define but I suspect for many of them, the only connection they have left to a Jewish identity is their hatred of Israel. SO in strange way Israel is helping them hold onto some shred of who they are and where that exists, there’s always the hope of return even if it’s rare and they do incredible damage to the Jewish people in the mean time.

But I want to mostly talk about that 70 to 80 percent who support Israel in some way or form. Some of these people will also assimilate out, some won’t. (We know assimilation rates run around 50 percent, so support of Israel alone isn’t enough to keep people from leaving, although it clearly helps.)

I’m a big tent kind of guy both in my Judaism and my Zionism, and I think most of these 80 percent are Zionists even if many wouldn’t identify themselves that way. SO far it’s hard to see the downside to this, but unfortunately, I don’t think a lot of this 80 percent is particularly well informed on issues relating to Israel (I have no idea on percentages, because I’ve never see polling data on it).

I suspect some members of the unquantified group of poorly informed Jews overlaps with another group, who while they support Israel, also see Israeli intransigence on issues like settlements as the reason for the conflict. Think Thomas Freidman at the Times. In the 1990s I suspect a lot of Jews, even in Israel held views like this but events caused us to shift our views. Unfortunately, some people remain stuck in the 90s as opposed to the anti-Israel Jews who seem more stuck in the 60s.

Some in this lost in the 90s crowd (I suppose it’s better than being lost in the 70s and having to wear bell bottoms and listen to disco) are prominent like Freidman, others aren’t. Regardless of status, I suspect that when these Jews talk publicly about Israel, whether in the NYT or to their friends, they rarely if ever utter a positive word about or even try to explain the Israeli point of view, this even though they support the continued existence of Israel and have some connection to the state.

And here’s where we come back to my little protest epiphany I talked about at the beginning of this long post. Just as standing up for ourselves empowers others to stand up for us, constant criticism of Israel by us gives other license to criticize Israel too.

“Certainly if my Jewish neighbor says such things about Israel I can too,” is what I assume some people think. I don’t think most of the non-Jews who think this way are anti-Semites, but because so much of the criticism of Israel runs on the rails of antisemitism, it’s inevitable that the comments drift into antisemitism.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. You often heard Israel’s criticism of West Bank road restrictions. They started out complaining about Jewish only road but eventually they had to admit they were Israeli only roads. The road restrictions are a valid point of comment and you can criticize them without being antisemitic.

But to do that you need to know the context for the restrictions. They were put in place after Palestinian terrorist shot a woman and her five children driving in the West Bank at point blank range (is this right Yaeli?). [Eds note from Yaeli: Actually, it was after approximately 30 people had been killed, including Arab-Israelis, and dozens more seriously wounded in constant shooting attacks and attacks with bricks and so forth thrown through the windshields on cars over a period of a couple of years. The woman and her children were killed after Israeli-only roads were built in the most highly trafficked areas for Israeli cars but they were on a section of road that was not Israeli-only]

When the anti-Israel crowd talks about roads, they leave out this context and use the restrictions to show Israel is some type of Jewish supremacist state. This works because our society has a built-in prejudice that Jews are clannish, keep to themselves and think they are better than everybody else (chosen). Even people who aren’t anti-Semitic are libel to unconsciously hold or be influenced by some of these prejudices.

Critical Jews spark the action and the anti-Israel crowd then takes advantage of the situation. That’s why I would never have the kind of conversation we are having here with non-Jews. It’s different. I might say I disagree with a specific policy, but then I try to at least give an Israeli reference point so people can understand.

Anyway, blame Yaeli if this post is too long and of course you are free to disagree.

12 responses to “Guestpost: Thoughts on the American Jewish Community”

  1. Lynne says :

    Mike, excellent post!!! I wish that there were Israelis who could come to the US to speak to some of the Jewish communities about Israel (this could be Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis). When I worked in Del Valle ISD, in Texas, the high school kids had fund-raisers in order to enable them to go to Dallas, Texas to see a presentation given by the Jewish community. The kids (none of them were Jewish) came back, even more supportive of the Jewish community than ever and so much better informed about the past and present issues. There need to be more efforts at educating the public, since unfortunately, the mainstream media in general distorts the facts.

  2. israeliminx says :

    You know, I think the thing that strikes me and just keeps striking me is the lack of understanding, even and maybe especially, among the Jewish community in the U.S. of the real situation here. A couple of days ago a girl who had recently made Aliyah wrote an opinion piece in Ynet about her experiences in Tel Aviv when the sirens sounded. She arrived here on the far left of the political spectrum with all the assumptions regarding us and the Palestinians that goes along with that, and after having been here for for something like 5 months was still in that space. After all, she’d been in the Tel Aviv bubble and so there was little to disabuse her of all the things I once too believed and thought I understood about the situation. She got slapped in the face a lot sooner than I did, or rather, the first time she got slapped she started to get the message. It took multiple slaps of reality for me. I’m a slow learner.

    It shouldn’t have to be the case, however, that you have to find yourself under physical threat, to have acquaintances killed, to need to dash for a bomb shelter because people simply want to kill you because you live here in a Jewish State. It shouldn’t take that to grasp that they want this not because of the “occupation” because they wanted exactly the same thing before the “occupation” and after they’ve been de-“occupied.” It shouldn’t take that to understand that they have no interest or intention of negotiating anything in good faith but a very real intention of seeing you dead and your country entirely gone. But it seems to.

    I’ve never been able to find a way to explain it to people who haven’t personally experienced this and who are off in lefty la la land.

  3. Mike says :

    First, I want to say I’m honored that Yaeli gave me a guest post spot. Now I wish I has spent more time editing — sorry for the typos.

    I also want to put in a plug for a great group called Stand With Us. It does all sorts of advocacy work including bringing Israelis to the US to talk to various groups. We were lucky enough to have one of these SWU volunteers with us for a few days last year. Our guest had served in an IDF special forces unit, was a lawyer, had been a Knesset staffer and was working on his MBA. He spoke to our youth group, after Saturday services and to several hundred high schoolers in town. I was driving him around and he did great.

    He spoke at an event in Olympia where Rachel Corrie’s parents attended. One of the anti-Israel people there, and Olympia may be the most anti-Israel city in the U.S., asked how anybody could be a proud Zionist and his 5-minute impromptu response evidently silenced the critics and made Israel supports cheer. Unfortunately it doesn’t sound like anybody got it on video.

    A very nice Druze woman also spoke with him, but she couldn’t come to my town. If you go to the SWU Website, you can see them being heckled at UC Davis. If you are looking to donate to a pro-Israel group, I would recommend Stand With Us.

    But beyond, SWU and some other groups, Israel in general does a poor job of getting its position out there. The poor communications practices are complicated by a lack of knowledge.

    The Israelis here will correct me if they disagree, but I assume E-1, which I still think is a bad idea, is important because it helps insure Israeli control of Jerusalem, which is important because of Jordan’s actions there and also recent PA actions about building apartments at the Kotel and other such statements.

    Yet I never read any Israeli official say we need to ensure the Arabs never kick us out of Jerusalem again. I should. But there’s also a problem in that most people don’t know what happened in 1948 or about the more recent statements and to inform people is almost a whole news story on its own. SO it’s much easier for the other side to say Israel is blocking peace.

    Israel needs to consider all this when considering its actions.

    • Lynne says :

      Mike, excellent, valuable information—Thank you! Yes, I will donate to Stand With Us, and I will talk to my friends about this group.

  4. 300yrs in America says :

    Though i am not Jewish i think the American Jewish people are fed the same msm tripe as everyone else. Seems the vast majority of elected officials who are Jewish are dhimmicrats. The so called community leaders that the msm parades in front of the tv cameras are hard left liberals and seemingly virulently anti Yisrael. Its no wonder when most of the famous people,elected officials,and purported community leaders are leftist,that many American Jews are lefties too.The same formula is used on Blacks,women,and Hispanics. I was a hard core socialist myself. Some time during the 80s i had my epiphany. I actually did my own research and eventually got to the truth.It was hard to admit i had been duped.Its hard to say you have been conned and tricked.As i told my daughters,the easiest person to con is the one who thinks he/she cant be conned.In America we have been fed revisionist history and propaganda for the last 100 yrs.Im glad i woke up but it is tough as being a useful idiot is EASY.

    • Lynne says :

      Hi, 300 Years in America! Yes, I, too, completely was indoctrinated with a Leftist/Liberal philosophy through my university education, and I still have some liberal beliefs today. But I was not thinking for myself—doing my own research in grad school changed that. Any philosophy which ignores the complexities of issues is unacceptable. The respected sociologist Max Weber pointed out the dangers of socialism—most significantly the dangerous bureaucracies that come out of socialism. It’s not a good system when used in its entirety. It is flawed and dangerous. We already have too much government, far too many government bureaucratic agencies in the US., and socialism would make it much worse.
      Most people get their news from the mainstream media, and accept it totally as “fact”; they are influenced and mislead in so many cases. Few people research on their own or think for themselves, or even know how to do that.

  5. SirJohn says :

    Very good contributions. Here is mine, if I may add. I have a few Jewish friends here in the US and I see the typical signs: they are very good people at heart, but completely fall for the biased media coverage. We cannot underestimate the power of the media here. My friends vote democrat. Why? Because they feel they have to side with the underdogs in the society (my friends actually are business owners and pretty rich). Of course they have no real clue what the underdogs in society here experience, and that usually BHO’s politics hurt them more than anything. No, they vote democrat.

    Same thing when it comes to Israel. Of course they are “for Israel.” Of course they “want peace.” But then they watch three of four sob-stories from Pallywood on our MSM and they think: “Israel needs to do more for peace, Israel needs to lessen the bad blockade, Israel needs to let have poor underdog palestinians have more of everything…”

    To sum it up: My friends here are not “anti-Israel” at all, they love Israel, support it morally and often also financially, they are good Jews, but they believe everything the leftist media tell them and accordingly they have a completely wrong picture of what really happens in Israel. In addition, none of them has any family in Israel or any other personal ties. Having been lifelong democrats out of the same “goodness” makes things worse, they simply don’t believe that BHO would be out to hurt Israel’s interests.

    Go figure.

    • Lynne says :

      Sir John, absolutely on target with your comment. The influence of the mainstream media cannot be over-estimated.

  6. WipeOutHamasOnceAndForAll says :

    When a country like Israel has been forced to create a wall inside its own country and even special roads used only by Israelis, then you understand that this wall and special roads are abominations that should NEVER EVER have been built and instead Israel should have tackled the reasons, the root causes why this wall and special roads were envisaged and, only then, they should first have found a solution to these reasons before planned to build these abominations!!!

    More, you also understand something much deeper that is that Israel instead of creating a wall and special roads should have expulsed the root cause of this wall and special roads, the Muslim Israelis living in the West Bank (and Gaza!) and Israeli should NEVER EVER have created this wall and these special roads.
    That these Muslims living in the West Bank are not Israeli per se does not matter at all, as they live daily among Israeli Jews and they are the main reason why this crazy wall and these crazy special roads were built!!

    Again, you do not solve a problem by avoiding solving the root cause of the problem. That is why this wall and these special roads will NEVER EVER solve the reasons why they were built in the first place.
    As a matter of fact, this wall is easily passed through by terrorists from the West Bank.

    Now, ask yourself the question:
    Would the USA or any other country in the world have created a wall and special roads in their own country just to protect their citizens without first tackling head on the reasons why this wall and these special roads were planned to be built?!!!!
    The answer is quite simple. NO COUNTRY ON EARTH would have created a wall and special roads in their own country just to accommodate evil Muslims who are the very reason why this wall and these special roads were built in Israel!!!!!

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