A correspondent comment on the state of American Jewry

August 23, 2021

In Letters To Finkelstein

[The correspondent prefers to remain anonymous) After reading your What Gandhi Says I bought and read Knowing Too Much, which I also found to be illuminating.  I must confess I read the book looking more for insight into domestic American politics than in American policy toward Israel and Palestine.  Jews in late 20th and early 21st century America have played an outsized role in politics, and changes in their political outlook and identification will have great influence on national affairs. You note on page 12 that “American Jews have been weaned on, and benefited from, the values of secularism and church-state separation, and more than half do not belong to a synagogue, do not participate in Jewish communal life and are taking the route of intermarriage.”  Don’t know if you have seen this Pew report: , but it reinforces much of what you wrote in 2012.  A couple of interesting highlights: 61% of Jews who got married between 2010 – 2020 married a non-Jew, and 3% who married in those years are in same-sex marriages (compared to less than 1% for all Americans).  Liberalism or Progressivism does certainly seem to be replacing ethnic traditions or religion.  Given that the rainbow flag now often flies from American embassies, it stands to reason that in any potential conflict between American and Israeli interests, American Jews will feel little “dual loyalty.”  I think the old fear of that suspicion will dissipate, and identification with Israel by people with Jewish ancestry will be something like Irish-American identification with Ireland.  Maybe less so without a day dedicated to ethno-nationalist drinking. The exception to this will be the Orthodox, who strongly identify ethnically and religiously as Jewish and who strongly support Israel.  They’re only 9% of American Jews, but 17% of American Jews age 18 – 29.  As the non-Orthodox melt into the American liberal pot, the Orthodox will be what recognizably Jewish people are in the USA.  I doubt, though, they will have the same influence secular Jews have had.  Maintaining a separate identity necessarily limits influence on the broader society.  The Amish are successful by their own lights, but have zero impact on the way the rest of Americans live. You make a strong case for the incompatibility of liberal principles and support for Israeli policy in the West Bank and Gaza.  We will see how the growing disaffection of American Jews with Israel alongside a general decline in American power affects Israel’s position and actions in the Middle East.  A growing sense of isolation might result in the rise of a De Klerk figure who decides the country must change and integrate within the international community and its norms.  On the other hand, Israelis might look at whites in modern South Africa and decide better Apartheid than irreversible decline. At any rate, thanks for the book and my apologies for skimming the appendix.  You convinced me the HCJ dissembled, but I can’t remember why.  The internet is destroying my powers of concentrating. Regards, L