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The Economist on Jews and Israel

The Economist magazine has a long article on young Jews’ attitudes toward Israel. It makes a number of interesting points:

— Although Chaim Weizmann, the head of the World Zionist Organization, told President Truman that the choice for Jews was “between statehood and extermination,” Jews who had fled eastern Europe’s pogroms for America two generations earlier already felt safe and established there.

— When Israel was founded, Jews felt they had only two options: assimilate in the countries where they lived, or identify very closely with the new state, if not migrate there.

(The Economist article routinely cites “assimilation” as an evil for Jews outside of Israel. While there should be no pressure for Jews to give up their religion, why should it be good for Jews not to assimilate, but rather to think of themselves as Jews first and Americans second? Many do think of themselves this way, and particularly because of older Jews’ love for Israel, it means they put Israel first and America second, although they are American citizens.)

— Currently, however, Jews face the question of how should a conscientious Jew react to Israel’s new image as military giant and flawed oppressor. (Can you say Jimmy Carter?)

— The article says, “Most diaspora Jews still support Israel strongly. But … their ambivalence has grown. Many are disturbed by the occupation of the Palestinian territories…. The most radical say, as the Palestinians do, that the idea of an ethnically based state is racist and archaic.” (Can you say Jimmy Carter?)

— “In November, Ze’ev Bielski, the head of the Jewish Agency … got in hot water for saying that one day American Jews ‘will realize that they have no future as Jews in the US due to assimilation and intermarriage.” (Can you say Israel first and America second for American Jews?)

— “Nonetheless, Jewish Americans have long been Israel’s strongest supporters…. The main Jewish lobby groups have tended to back right-wing Israeli governments.”

— “The pro-Israel heavy guns still predominate…. In the long run [Mr. Cohen] predicts a polarization of American Jewry: a small group growing more pious and attracted to Israel, while a larger one drifts away.”

— “In Britain, even more than in America, Israel is an anchor of Jewish identity.”

— “Britain’s chief rabbi, Jonathan Sachs, … has cautiously criticized Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and recently chided it for lacking ‘a Jewish sense of ethics permeating the great institutions of society.”

— “France, by contrast, has more Jews than anywhere else in western Europe…. They are less attached to France…. Young French Jews … are also likely to more anti-Arab and right-wing. I think that Bibi [Netanyahu] is more popular in France than in Israel.” (So America is not the only country where Jews put their ethnicity ahead of their loyalty to the country of which they are citizens.)

— Most Jews in Germany have come from Russia recently. “Young Jews in Germany … are less likely to go to Israel than to England…. But Zionist activism … gets very little response.”

— “The world’s least-expected Jewish revival, however, is going on in Russia itself…. As many as 100,000 Russian-Israelis have gone back to Russia.”

(The article does not mention than many of the billionaire Russian “oligarchs” are Jewish. Although many of the oligarchs have left Russia, except for jailed ex-Yukos head Khodorkovsky, their success and financial help have no doubt encouraged other Russian Jews to return.)

According to a graphic in the article, there are more Jews in North America (5,650,000) than in Israel (5,314,000).

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