The Special Relationship
Foreign Policy gathered eight prominent figures in the Jewish community to discuss Peter Beinart's recent essay, and whether the ties that bond American Jews to Israel remain strong.
The Many Israels
Until 1948, American Jews were a unique ethno-religious group in the American mosaic. They did not have an "old country." They came from everywhere -- but essentially from nowhere specific that they fondly called "home."
American Italians, Irish, Poles, Chinese, Mexicans, Greeks and others all had a homeland which they had left, and some -- notably the Italians and Irish -- tended to heavily idealize and romanticize the old country. Jews idealized America. Jews fled rather than immigrated. They left persecution, anti-Semitism, and near-permanent discrimination behind decades before the Holocaust, and came as refugees after World War II.
Take a look at late 19th and early to mid-20th century Jewish-American culture: literature, poetry, political associations, education. How often did Jews dream or fantasize about returning to Russia or Poland? Have you ever seen a cheap oil painting of a beautiful shtetl in Lithuania in a Jewish home or deli? In comparison, how many paintings of Napoli or Venice do you still see in Little Italy?
Then, in 1948, American Jews got the great ethnic equalizer: a homeland.
The State of Israel. A motherland that they had never been to, chose not to emigrate to, knew hardly anyone there except for a recently discovered distant cousin who lives in some strange socialist arrangement called a "kibbutz." They loved it from afar, feared for its fragile existence -- a short five, 10, and 20 years after the Holocaust -- and regarded it as a source of pride and a potential insurance policy.
Then came the second formative experience, or miracle. The 1967 Six-Day War. Israel was victorious, powerful, seemingly invincible, and on the verge of an extraordinary strategic alliance and political partnership with the United States. Jews felt they could contribute to strengthening that trend and lubricating the evolving relationship. But just as 1967 contained the seeds of Israel's dilemmas and predicament ever since, it also charted the beginning of a different course for a majority of American Jews, who were preoccupied with civil rights and a fuller integration into American society and power structure.
American Jews will not "abandon" Israel per se, but their perceptions of Israel, the majority of which were forged after the watershed year of 1967, may very well impel them to a redefinition of relations.
Alon Pinkas is Israel's former consul general in the United States.