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American Jews’ Strong Ties With Israel Have Yielded To Increased Ambiguity

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
May-June 1998

On Israel’s 50th anniversary, writes Barton Gellman in The Washington Post (April 28, 1998), "American Jews are troubled by some of the same disputes that have riven modern Israeli society along political, social and religious lines. Among the results has been a shift in the politics of American support for Israel, with Christian fundamentalists picking up some of the slack left by a divided and uncertain American Jewish community. Beset by criticism of his peace policies and especially support for a strengthened Orthodox monopoly on Israeli religious life, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has chanced fewer live appearances before uncontrolled Jewish audiences here...More than once he has dodged important Jewish gatherings to attend a ChrIstian prayer breakfast or rally."  

Writing in USA Today (May 1, 1998), Daniela Deane reports that, "Israel’s 50th anniversary finds the world’s largest Jewish community—American Jews—caring less about the Jewish homeland and more about the future of their culture at home...For decades, American Jews equated Judaism with political and financial support for Israel. Today’s Jews separate religion from Zionist commitment."  

Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, states: "There’s been an enormous change in the American Jewish community. The Zionist era in American Jewish history has ended."  

Donations to Israel by American Jews total about $800 million a year. But the proportion of theIr total charitable giving that is donated to Israel has fallen from 50% in the early 1980s to about 40% today, says Bernie Moskovitz, executive vice president of the United Jewish Appeal. At the same time, donations to Jewish causes in the U.S. have gone up.  

Writing in New York Magazine (April 17, 1998), Craig Horowitz points out that, "...the comfort level for American Jews is such that they look less and less toward Israel—especially now, when the Orthodox Establishment that controls religious life in Israel seems intent on demeaning the religious practices of most American Jews. The refusal by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate to recognize the validity of Conservative and Reform Judaism—90 per cent of affiliated American Jews—has opened a wound that may not be healed."  

The gap between Israel and American Jews is growing and it is clear that Israel is not "central" to Jewish concerns, writes Yosef Abramowitz, editor of the magazine Jewish and Family Life. He states: "In nearly every dimension of American Jewish life that has been associated with Israel—from advocacy to fund—raising to education—Israel has lost its centrality."  

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