Many American Jewish leaders have recently delivered scathing — even hysterical — criticism of Israel, particularly targeting the Israeli government’s efforts to reform its judiciary and strengthen the country’s security.
It’s understandable for American Jews to care about Israel’s future, to feel protective about the world’s only Jewish state. It’s our heritage. It’s our refuge in case of disaster. By the same token, we must forgive Israelis if they are unimpressed with the recent American criticism. After all, it is they who deal with almost daily terror attacks and suffer the real experience of unjust, undemocratic treatment in their courts.
Nonetheless, Israelis welcome — and critically need — the help and support of American Jews. When dealing with international issues — such as antisemitism — we are stronger when both Israeli and American Jews stand together. Israel also values U.S. support in the United Nations and investment in Israel’s military might, which makes the Jewish state — and Jews everywhere — safer.
Tragically, however, the ability of American Jews to substantially assist Israel is rapidly fading. That’s because the influence of Jews in the United States — our political and social clout — is diminishing due to our weakening institutions, identity and solidarity.
While Israel has many challenges and flaws, a sober look at the dissipating state of American Jewry should evoke even greater alarm. Five major problems — all steadily increasing — threaten the very fabric of American Jewry, let alone our ability to support Israel. Until we address these critical issues in our own backyard, our opinions about Israel’s new government should perhaps remain muted:
1) Antisemitism and anti-Zionism are surging.
BDS on college campuses, anti-Israel lawmakers in Congress, critical race theory and intersectionality in our public schools, street attacks on Orthodox Jews — all threaten the well-being of Jews in the United States and Israel.
A 2020 Pew Research Center study found that three quarters of American Jews believed antisemitism had risen in the country over the past five years, and just over half (53%) say they feel less safe than they did five years ago.
Campus antisemitism and anti-Zionism in particular have also increased sharply. Late last year, a report by the AMCHA Initiative found that bullying and intimidation of Jewish students had tripled.
So far, we are failing to halt this trend, even as many American Jews focus instead on general social issues less critical to Jewish survival.
2) The American Jewish community and religious institutions are declining.
Waning Jewish institutional — and therefore political — strength in the United States endangers the ability of American Jews to influence government policy, media coverage and support for Israel.
In the past 20 years, more than one third of Conservative synagogues have closed, as have one fifth of Reform synagogues.
Active participants in Jewish Community Federations — regional organizations that represent the interests of American Jewry — are shrinking. Some local Jewish federations have either had to merge with other Jewish organizations to stay afloat … or shut down altogether.
What’s more, according to professor Chaim Waxman of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, “Diaspora Jewry tend more and more to donate to non-Jewish philanthropies than Jewish ones.”
3) The number of Jewish-identified Americans is dwindling.
Skyrocketing rates of Jewish intermarriage are shrinking the number of self-identified, committed Jews—which reduces the influence American Jews can exert on cultural phenomena, such as antisemitism, critical race theory in schools, financial support for Israel and the election of pro-Israel politicians.
While intermarriage among the Orthodox Jews in the United States is only 2%, intermarriage among non-Orthodox Jews is estimated at 75%. Intermarried Jewish parents are also much less likely to raise their children Jewish.
Only 28% of Jews married to non-Jewish spouses raise their children to be Jewish by religion. Another 29% of intermarried couples raise their children to be Jewish but not by religion. A whopping 30% of intermarried couples don’t raise their children to be Jewish at all.
4) Interest of young Jews in Judaism and Israel plummets.
Young Jews are losing their connection to Judaism, the Jewish people and Israel. Yet future American support for Israel will depend on them.
The 2020 Pew survey reports that 40% of Jewish adults between 18 and 29 consider themselves to be “Jews of no religion” — a rate higher than all other age groups.
This lack of affiliation to Judaism is reflected in young Jews’ support for Israel — or lack thereof. As of 2020, only 48% of Jews under 30 consider themselves very or somewhat attached to Israel, compared to two thirds of people 65 and older. In addition, just 35% of American Jews under 30 consider supporting Israel essential, while 27% say supporting Israel is “not at all” important.
5) American Jews fail to support pro-Israel politicians — or oppose Israel’s enemies.
Rather than making support of Israel a focal point of our political action, American Jews often back the Democratic Party. Rather than consistently judging politicians by their support of Israel, we instead favor party affiliation.
According to the 2020 Pew survey, 71% of Jews in the U.S. consider themselves Democrats — yet that party harbors known antisemites such as Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and a growing number of politicians who attack Israel.
Conversely, American Jewish Democrats are generally loathe to support any Republicans, despite their pro-Israel stances.
How Israel can help American Jews
Even as our Jewish population in the United States is losing many of its connections to Judaism and Jewish identity, Israel’s Zionist culture, influence and population are robust and expanding.
Indeed, Israel is one of the most successful nations on earth. It is one of the most economically successful countries, one of the most influential, one of the strongest militarily and one of the happiest. Israel was even recently ranked the world’s 23rd most successful democracy — ahead of the United States and 140 other nations.
Rather than counseling Israelis on their internal politics and society, American Jews would surely profit more by engaging and supporting the Zionist spirit to inspire us and strengthen our own community.
American Jewry faces daunting challenges. If we want to help Israel, we need to help ourselves — by focusing on the main issues threatening the health of the American Jewish community. Our Israeli brothers and sisters would no doubt welcome that kind of support.