Unwarranted Optimism about the American Jewish Future

April 20 2017

While a great number of American scholars devote themselves to the study of Israeli Jews, comparatively few Israeli scholars have made careers of studying American Jews. Uzi Rebhun, author of Jews and the American Religious Landscape, is a notable exception. By including children with only one Jewish parent who identify themselves as Jewish in any way, he comes to some surprisingly sanguine conclusions about demography and the future of the American Jewish community more generally. In his review, Lance J. Sussman injects some pessimism:

Rebhun warns us, [for instance], not to misconstrue [statistics about declining religious observance], for, in the final analysis, “in terms of the strength of their relations with religious identification, Jews are much closer to mainline Protestants than to the unaffiliated.” From the vantage point of a clergyman in Philadelphia whose synagogue’s origins are not far from the Main Line, I find this less than reassuring. . . .

[Rebhun likewise presents] a surprisingly optimistic assessment of the impact of Israeli immigration to the United States. Constituting, he estimates, some 5 percent of the American Jewish population, Israelis remain intimately attached to their country of origin, continue—for the most part—to speak Hebrew at home, and “have begun to establish organizations and institutionalize their activities on behalf of Israel.” As Israeli immigration continues, Rebhun suggests, and as these organizations grow stronger and, perhaps, collaborate more closely with Jewish organizations, “American Jews’ ties to Israel may gather strength as well.”

I’ve met too many second- and third-generation Israeli Americans whose connections to Israel are weak and whose knowledge of Hebrew is close to nugatory to share fully in Rebhun’s optimism on this score. Nor am I prepared, on the basis of my long experience as a congregational rabbi and my even longer study of American Jewish history, to take much solace from his overall presentation of the current state of affairs, which stresses continuity over dilution and decline.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: American Jewry, American Judaism, Intermarriage, Jewish World, Yeridah

How the White House Can Bring Mahmoud Abbas to the Negotiating Table

April 28 2017

Next month, the Palestinian Authority president is expected to arrive in Washington to meet with President Trump, perhaps as a prelude to a summit between Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu under American auspices. A Palestinian delegation is currently in the U.S. to conduct preliminary meetings with administration officials. Eran Lerman discusses what can be accomplished:

The most important aspect [in the present discussions] may remain unspoken. It can be defined as “strategic reassurance”: the realization that after years of uncertainty under Barack Obama, the American administration . . . is once again committed without reservation to its friends in the region, the so-called “camp of stability.”

President Obama’s abandonment of [the former Egyptian president], Hosni Mubarak, regardless of the merits of the case, was catastrophic in terms of the loss of any residual political courage on Abbas’s part. Obama was sympathetic to the Palestinians’ cause, but his policies generated an acute level of uncertainty for the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, laced with what seemed like a measure of support on Obama’s part for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere. This was not an environment in which to take fateful decisions.

The Trump team seems to be working to restore confidence and reconstruct [alliances with] both Israel and the pro-Western Arab states. In this new environment, it could be safer for Abbas to take measured risks and enter into an open-ended negotiation with Netanyahu. The effort may still fall apart, if only because the Palestinians have fallen into the habit of posing preconditions. But there seems to be a better chance of drawing them in when they feel that their traditional patrons in the Arab world, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are once again basking in the sunshine of American strategic support. . . .

At least in theory, it should therefore be easier now for . . . the White House to persuade Abbas to accept a point of entry into negotiations that stays within the two-state paradigm but is no longer predicated on strict adherence to the June 4, 1967 lines.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Donald Trump, Hosni Mubarak, Israel & Zionism, Mahmoud Abbas, Peace Process, U.S. Foreign policy