As the story is usually told, U.S. Jews feel increasingly distant from the Jewish state because of Benjamin Netanyahu, or the settlements, or the failures of the “peace process.” This supposedly contrasts with the good old days when American Jews looked with admiration on their Israeli brethren. But this analysis, writes Amnon Lord, paints an entirely deceptive picture:
For many people in Israel, ties with American Jewry are a very personal matter. We met those same Jews years ago when they were young. They—and we—aren’t young anymore. Back then, a thousand years ago on the kibbutz, they were volunteers and students of Hebrew who got up early to harvest melons. Or to work in the cowshed. They learned to love the landscape, the fields, the pool, and the dining hall. There was virtually no argument about Israel in and of itself. . . .
Today . . . a considerable number of the volunteers from the late 1960s and early 1970s are furious with Israel. Back then, they experienced the country for themselves. They saw what a country looked like after a war. Today, they are experiencing Israel via infusions from the left-leaning media. . . . Some of the Jews we used to know have developed a knee-jerk anti-Israel reaction. All the existential threats to the country don’t bother them. . . .
[Since the 1970s], many American Jews have suffered a moral collapse, and based on what they read in the New York Times, they think the Jewish state has no right to defend itself because even if its existence is legal, it is no longer legitimate.
What is interesting is that the more complicated Israel becomes, the less it is understood by American Jewry. . . . American Jews were comfortable with the homogeneous, idealistic image of Israel. . . . Now that Israel has a much stronger presence diplomatically, economically, and in the media, it’s hard for them to accept. Independent policy and even opposition to the American president, such as existed in the time of President Barack Obama, has led to a crisis among the Jews. Under Richard Nixon, when Israel butted heads with the administration about Soviet Jewry, there were no political difficulties for the Jews; they were part of the Democratic opposition, Under President Obama, when Netanyahu was unafraid of conflict, the Jews—who were part of the Democratic coalition—were in trouble. The prime minister wasn’t counting on them as a base of support for his policies against Iran.