An examination of how American Jews’ relationship with Israel has moved from unconditional support to critical engagement.
Delving into the many divisive camps of opinion that have developed over Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, settlements, a two-state solution, and so on, Waxman (Political Science, International Affairs, and Israel Studies/Northeastern Univ.; The Pursuit of Peace and the Crisis of Israeli Identity, 2006, etc.) explores how the American Jewish establishment is being challenged from without and within, to a productive rather than a polarizing end. The right-wing Israeli government’s unpalatable policies have galvanized much debate and ire within the American Jewish community, so much so that many rabbis in their congregations avoid discussion of Israel altogether. According to the traditional establishment, largely made up of older, Orthodox members, public criticism of Israel was taboo because it presented an appearance of disunity or weakness that Jewish enemies could exploit. Yet Waxman shows how robust criticism of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not new, although often stifled—e.g., the demonization of the Zionist group Breira in the 1970s, which urged negotiation with the Palestine Liberation Organization. Currently, however, the disenchantment over Israel’s policies have grown, as has the public outrage, which has been led by a younger, non-Orthodox cohort whose emphasis is on concerns of social justice and the environment—as evidenced by the growth of the Washington organization J Street, a group that is still often ostracized by the mainstream. Waxman looks at the surprisingly diverse makeup of American Jews, who still have a strong emotional attachment to Israel yet do not necessarily support the political actions of its government. The author dissects the so-called “Jewish lobby,” which is considered as indomitable as the gun lobby but is actually no longer speaking with one voice. In the end, Waxman regards the American Jewish relationship toward Israel as evolving rather than eroding.
A meticulous, precise, well-organized survey that takes into account the many different views and will certainly facilitate the heated conversation.