A Historian Reflects on American Jewry’s Political Future

In a wide-ranging interview, the historian Jonathan Sarna discusses American Jews’ relationship with Israel, the changing role of the major denominations, the recent presidential election, and whether U.S. Jewry will maintain its long-standing alliance with the Democratic party. (Interview by Dror Eydar.)

The truth is that anyone who studies Jewish history knows that the extremes on both sides are dangerous for Jews. Very often, there is a convergence of the extreme left and extreme right. My concern is that this election has given certain fodder to the extremes. Hillary Clinton was trying to find a more centrist path. The failure of that path has led some elements in her party to say that this was a big mistake, and that they should have run a campaign aimed at the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic party, which would have focused on real change, and would have succeeded, in their opinion. I am not sure that is true. Those people, whether you are talking about Sanders or Senator Elizabeth Warren or Representative Keith Ellison, are very [hostile] toward Israel, although some of their domestic proposals find favor in the eyes of many American Jews.

It will be very interesting to see four years from now which wing of the Democratic party wins. I would not be surprised if the somewhat anti-Israel left-wing rises. Then it would be very interesting to see which Jews say they absolutely cannot vote for its candidates and which Jews say, “I am an American citizen and I better agree with the domestic policies of these candidates. Nor am I fond of Israel’s policies.”

I expect that Jews would tend in both directions. I would be very surprised if in the 21st century the Jewish community is as strongly Democratic as it has been for the 80 years or so since Al Smith, [the Democratic nominee who lost the 1928 elections to Herbert Hoover]. My guess is that in the years ahead, we will see a voting pattern among Jews similar to that of the 19th century, when everybody understood that the Jews were divided politically and that they were also willing to shift back and forth depending on the candidate.

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More about: American Jewry, American politics, Democrats, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Jewish politics

Israel’s Nation-State Law and the Hysteria of the Western Media

Aug. 17 2018

Nearly a month after it was passed by the Knesset, the new Basic Law defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” is still causing outrage in the American and European press. The attacks, however, are almost uniformly incommensurate with this largely symbolic law, whose text, in the English translation found on the Knesset website, is barely over 400 words in length. Matthew Continetti comments:

Major journalistic institutions have become so wedded to a pro-Palestinian, anti-Benjamin Netanyahu narrative, in which Israel is part of a global trend toward nationalist authoritarian populism, that they have abdicated any responsibility for presenting the news in a dispassionate and balanced manner. The shameful result of this inflammatory coverage is the normalization of anti-Israel rhetoric and policies and widening divisions between Israel and the diaspora.

For example, a July 18, 2018, article in the Los Angeles Times described the nation-state law as “granting an advantageous status to Jewish-only communities.” But that is false: the bill contained no such language. (An earlier version might have been interpreted in this way, but the provision was removed.) Yet, as I write, the Los Angeles Times has not corrected the piece that contained the error. . . .

Such through-the-looking-glass analysis riddled [the five] news articles and four op-eds the New York Times has published on the matter at the time of this writing. In these pieces, “democracy” is defined as results favored by the New York Times editorial board, and Israel’s national self-understanding as in irrevocable conflict with its democratic form of government. . . .

The truth is that democracy is thriving in Israel. . . .  The New York Times quoted Avi Shilon, a historian at Ben-Gurion University, who said [that] “Mr. Netanyahu and his colleagues are acting like we are still in the battle of 1948, or in a previous era.” Judging by the fallacious, paranoid, fevered, and at times bigoted reaction to the nation-state bill, however, Bibi may have good reason to believe that Israel is still in the battle of 1948, and still defending itself against assaults on the very idea of a Jewish state.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel's Basic Law, Israeli democracy, Media, New York Times