It’s Not Benjamin Netanyahu or the West Bank That Divides American Jews from Their Israeli Coreligionists, but Something Much Deeper

Nov. 13 2019

According to the conventional wisdom on the American Jewish left, Israel’s continued presence in the West Bank, together with the policies of the Likud, have alienated U.S. Jewry from the Jewish state. The Israeli right, too, has its own variation on this narrative—namely, that American Jews can’t possibly understand the security challenges Israelis face. In Divided We Stand, Daniel Gordis argues that the profound differences between the two Jewries go back a century and revolve around issues far more fundamental than conventional wisdom assumes. Haviv Rettig Gur suggests an additional explanation for Jewry’s great divide:

Perhaps the most fundamental gap . . . is rooted in the all-encompassing influence of American Protestantism on every aspect and wrinkle of American life. . . . This notion of the centrality of selfhood in producing our most authentic identities and religious truths would grow from a narrowly Puritan religious concept into a habit of mind applied throughout American social and political thought and life, and would become one of the most distinctive aspects of American culture. . . . American democracy as conceived by its founders was a struggle equally against both the privileged and the masses in the service of the only freedom that really mattered, that of the individual.

That’s why American Jewish Zionists seems so maddeningly strange to the Israeli observer. European Zionists sought to forge a new collectivist consciousness to rescue the Jews from never-ending persecution. Louis Brandeis constructed American Jewish Zionism as an expression of individual commitment, one of many overlapping, voluntarily undertaken obligations that make up the web of belonging of the individualistic American.

This is why, [for instance], American Jews view the ḥaredi monopolization of the Western Wall in such visceral terms, leaving Israelis startled and sometimes offended by their vehemence. To an American, Israel’s acquiescence in ultra-Orthodox control over official religious expression—indeed, the very idea that there can be an official religious expression—is an abomination, a violation of the most basic purpose of religious life, which is granted its validity through individual choice.

In Israel, of course, ḥaredi control over Israeli religion is only natural, many Israelis believe, because that is what religion is. It obtains its authenticity and power from outside the self, from experts and spiritual leaders and the institutions that appoint and empower them.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: American Jewry, American Religion, Israel and the Diaspora, Judaism in Israel, Western Wall

The U.S. Is Trying to Seduce Israel into Accepting a Bad Deal with Iran. Israel Should Say No

Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its quarterly report on the Iranian nuclear program. According to an analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security, the Islamic Republic can now produce enough weapons-grade uranium to manufacture “five nuclear weapons in one month, seven in two months, and a total of eight in three months.” The IAEA also has reason to believe that Tehran has further nuclear capabilities that it has successfully hidden from inspectors. David M. Weinberg is concerned about Washington’s response:

Believe it or not, the Biden administration apparently is once again offering the mullahs of Tehran a sweetheart deal: the release of $10 billion or more in frozen Iranian assets and clemency for Iran’s near-breakout nuclear advances of recent years, in exchange for Iranian release of American hostages and warmed-over pious Iranian pledges to freeze the Shiite atomic-bomb program.

This month, intelligence photos showed Iran again digging tunnels at its Natanz nuclear site—supposedly deep enough to withstand an American or Israeli military strike. This tells us that Iran has something to hide, a clear sign that it has not given up on its quest for a nuclear bomb.

Meanwhile, Antony Blinken today completes a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, where he is reportedly pressing the kingdom to enter the Abraham Accords. This is no coincidence, for reasons Weinberg explains:

Washington expects Israeli acquiescence in the emerging U.S. surrender to Iran in exchange for a series of other things important to Israel. These include U.S. backing for Israel against escalated Palestinian assaults expected this fall in UN forums, toning down U.S. criticism regarding settlement and security matters (at a time when the IDF is going to have to intensify its anti-terrorist operations in Judea and Samaria), an easing of U.S. pressures on Israel in connection with domestic matters (like judicial reform), a warm Washington visit for Prime Minister Netanyahu (which is not just a political concession but is rather critical to Israel’s overall deterrent posture), and most of all, significant American moves towards reconciliation with Saudi Arabia (which is critical to driving a breakthrough in Israeli-Saudi ties).

[But] even an expensive package of U.S. “concessions” to Saudi Arabia will not truly compensate for U.S. capitulation to Iran (something we know from experience will only embolden the hegemonic ambitions of the mullahs). And this capitulation will make it more difficult for the Saudis to embrace Israel publicly.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Antony Blinken, Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship