A Kaleidoscopic Community
Are American Jews abandoning Israel? If by "abandoning," one means "worrying, talking, reading, watching, arguing ceaselessly and from every angle about; visiting, pointedly not visiting; giving money to, specifically not giving money to; embracing; rejecting; holding at a distance and then rejecting; holding at a distance and then embracing," then yes, I suppose this is what American Jews are doing.
This is, in some ways, the curiosity about Peter Beinart's recent essay, in which he drew a contrast between the views ostensibly held by a monolithic Jewish organizational world and those of a monolithic majority of American Jews. I'm sympathetic to his quest to organize the universe in this way. Indeed, as the editor of a magazine covering Jewish life, I've often yearned for the same (it would make my virtual rolodex more manageable, for starters). But there is no monolithic Jewish community, and no monolithic Jewish establishment.
What does exist, however, is a tendency among Jewish intellectuals and activists on both sides of the political spectrum to conjure up this dichotomy, in often wildly distorted ways-to imagine the existence of cultural monoliths oppressing them and preventing them from speaking out; if only this or that monolith didn't exist, the saw goes, everyone would hold the exact same views I do. For the right wing, it is a Jewish establishment that fails to stand up to Obama, donates overwhelmingly to liberal causes, exiles conservatives to the political and communal margins, and keeps their op-eds from appearing in the New York Times. For the left, it is a Jewish establishment that worships Netanyahu, encourages right-wing feelings, marginalizes progressive voices, and keeps their views from appearing in the New York Times.
In contrast, the American Jewish community itself is marked by nothing so much as diversity, nuance and internal shades of difference (two Jews/three synagogues, anyone?) There have been changes, some marked, in the attitude of certain demographic groups towards the state of Israel -- changes that must be acknowledged and addressed and understood. But they must be understood as they, and every other Jewish view of anything, exist in reality, which is to say: in a diverse, historically fractious and uncommonly engaged community-one that has been, above all else, eternally fluid. That divergent voices exist -- with avenues accessible for their expression and methods available for action -- is a reality that must not be oversimplified. It muddies the debating waters, yes, but it has also always been our salvation.
Alana Newhouse is editor-in-chief of Tablet Magazine.