A cogent exploration of the evolving relationship between Israel and American Jewry, from early Zionism through to the present day.
Rosenthal (The Politics of Dependency, 1980) presents a remarkably even-handed account of this ever-shifting interdependence through the analysis of certain key events in Israel’s history (viz., the invasion of Lebanon, the Pollard affair, the Intifada, and the “Who is a Jew” controversy). The author argues that the past two decades have seen a radical transformation in the nature of American Jewish support for Israel. Although America’s Jewish diaspora traditionally presented a public face of unconditional support and uncritical generosity, Rosenthal argues that there is now a great deal of fragmentation and dissent. He explains this shift as the consequence of mounting debate over Israel’s defense and security policies, its increasing wealth, its changing population, the intransigence of its right wing, and the efforts of Orthodox authorities to relegate Conservative and Reform Judaism to second-class status. This two-pronged argument suggests not only that American Jews have become disenchanted with Israel, but that the passing of time has exorcised the specter of the Holocaust (and thereby removed Zionism’s primary raison d’être). It is this combination of events in the early 1980s that lifted American Jewry’s decades-old gag rule on public criticism of the state and opened the floodgates for political dissent, a transition that Rosenthal terms “a natural reflection of the fragmentation of Israeli politics.” This work is notable first and foremost because it introduces a fresh and much-needed social perspective into a field that is overrun with political and historical analyses, and secondly because the author has labored so effectively to present a balanced story.
At once a studied academic investigation and a highly accessible contribution to popular debate, Rosenthal’s account treads a careful path though a polemical minefield.