Recent debate among American Jews over Israel and its policies has attracted increasing attention. Waxman, a professor of political science at Northeastern University, traces the development of this debate over decades and illustrates how it has become so passionate and divisive.
Using a number of polls, Waxman ably demonstrates that American Jews are much like Israeli Jews, whom he describes as “hawkish doves,” no longer believing a negotiated solution with the Palestinian Authority is possible though most would favor one if it were. When he attempts a breakdown of American Jewish political divisions, however, he is less successful. Waxman correctly declares that the so-called “right-wing camp” believes that Palestinian statehood will not bring peace since Palestinian Arabs seek to destroy Israel, not to live in peace alongside it. But if this is just a “right-wing” view, how should one explain what he himself points out on the basis of surveys, that three-quarters of American Jews also believe that Palestinian Arabs seek Israel’s destruction, not statehood.
Waxman’s explanation for the increasing distancing of young American Jews from Israel is also open to serious doubt. He believes that they are increasingly knowledgeable about Israel and estranged by what he ominously calls “the Occupation.” A far more likely possibility is that the younger generation of American Jews, increasingly assimilated, marinated in the politically liberal views of the media and their teachers, and less traditionally Jewish, simply knows less about, and subsequently, feels less for Israel. The experience in campus affairs of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), which this author heads, shows that once Jewish students learn the facts about the Arab and Islamic war against Israel, they become pro-Israel. ZOA professionals on campuses throughout the country have reported that many students who were previously ignorant or hostile to Israel joined ZOA campus efforts and organizations after attending pro-Israel events and advocacy sessions.
While Waxman speaks hopefully of today’s American dissentients as being a potentially benign source of pressure on the Israel government to work for the speedy creation of a Palestinian state, the opposite is more likely the case. It is far more probable that an American Jewry that drifts further from its pro-Israel moorings and the realities of Israel’s situation is likely to have decreasing influence on the views of Israelis and their government.
Ultimately, the book’s systematic flaw of conflating left-wing, anti-Israel activism with liberal Jewish idealism muddies rather than clarifies an important subject.
This article was published by the Middle East Forum and may be found here.