In his book We Stand Divided: The Rift between American Jews and Israel—published today—Daniel Gordis roundly rejects the oft-heard assertion that the rift of the subtitle is the result of the “occupation,” or the supposed rightward drift of Israeli politics, or anything having to do with the government’s policies at all. Instead, Gordis suggests that the divide stems not from what Israel does, but from what Israel is. He first made this case in a 2017 essay in Mosaic, out of which the book grew:
The most obvious difference between the American and Israeli projects lies in the ethnic particularism at the core of the latter’s very reason for being. American universalism hardly denies the multiplicity of ethnicities that make up the American people; what it does deny is the notion that any of them should be politically central or defining.
Why the resulting chasm should have opened so wide in recent years is not entirely obvious. But one can list a few contributing factors. They include the abovementioned erosion of Holocaust memory, the stubborn perdurance of Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, and younger American Jews’ utter ignorance of when and how “the occupation” began. Add to these the skyrocketing rate of intermarriage in America, which in turn renders increasingly vexed any notion of Judaism as the faith of a single and singular people.
Add, as well, the American idea of the primacy of the universal over the particular and the ideological insistence on religion as strictly a private matter. The more American Jews think of Judaism only in religious terms, without the component of peoplehood, the less necessary and less justified Israel becomes, the more anomalous and abnormal. Religions, after all, do not typically have countries. Is there a Methodist country? A Baha’i state?
And then of course, making matters much worse, there are the current trends on American campuses. The pervasive anti-Zionism at many American universities, often a thin mask for anti-Semitism, triggers in many a young Jew an understandable impulse to lie low or to signal one’s dissociation from Israel lest one become tarred with the brush of ignominy. Nor, in a climate in which campus administrators exempt rabid anti-Israel speakers and demonstrators from the general ban on all sorts of lesser aggressions, is attachment to Israel likely to appeal to any but the hardiest souls.