The Divide Among American Jews

This week was a sad awakening for me.  I attended a discussion group regarding the situation in the Mideast at my synagogue.  Of the ten attendees I was the only one to express concern about the level of anti-Semitism which was occurring around the USA.  Others that spoke expressed their concern about the aggressiveness of the Israeli government and negative treatment of Arabs.  I entered the room somewhat depressed that so many people will die because of the Oct 7th attack but left even more upset.  These people were approaching the issue based upon their dislike of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and admiration for the socialist origins of Israel rather than the present facts.

For 50 days I have been glued to the news.  I expected some young college students who have been indoctrinated by Marxist and progressive professors to support the Hamas attack, but I was not prepared for the level of Jewish support for the Palestinian Arabs.  The merging of Marxist ideology and Islamic theology is troubling.  Less than 80 years since the end of the European Jewish Holocaust seeing Jews carrying signs calling for “Free Palestine” demonstrates their ignorance of history.  But young, uninformed students should not be confused for middle-aged and older persons holding such uniformed views.  Last week the group protesting at the entrance to Binghamton University was composed of older persons carrying signs such as “Free Palestine” and “End Support of Israel”

Ultra-Orthodox groups such as the Satmar Hasidim and Neturei Karta (an offshoot of Haredi Jews that originated in Jerusalem in 1938) reject political Zionism and therefore reject the state of Israel.  They are waiting for a messianic period when the state of Israel would be created by God.  They are small in numbers, in the thousands, but quote Rashi (the great Talmudic commentor) as their source.  These people have never accepted the existence of Israel.  But to see them protest with the Pro-Palestinian Arabs groups is frightening.  They march with signs saying “Free Palestine, End Israeli Occupation.”  Israel has not had any presence in Gaza since 2005.  They have a presence in the West Bank.  They mean the elimination of the state of Israel.

The alliance between Marxism and Islam has encouraged young Jews to carry signs saying “Jews for Palestine” because they are ignorant of its meaning.  Classical Marxist philosophy never took hold in America because of the lack of official class status and the ease with which economic mobility exists in this country.  The migration of critical theory from the Frankfurt School via Columbia University in the 1930s allowed an approach that could be adapted to the American society.  Eventually its transformation into critical race theory has provided an avenue for student indoctrination.  The outcome is seen in the streets of our major cities where youth are marching for the Palestine cause with signs that say “From the River to the Sea.”  The meaning is clear, they advocate an Islamic state instead of the Jewish state of Israel.  The Jews and Christians living in Palestine would do so under Dhimmi in which they pay a head tax and have secondary status, though protected from annihilation. 

Christians regularly tell me of their support for Israel.  But among middle-aged and older Jews I find lukewarm support with some hesitant to express strong support for the Gaza incursion.  In my area many of the older Jews are retired academics and teachers, so I would expect a progressive orientation.  Years ago, I attended a series of lectures locally about the 1960s Columbia University uprisings led by the Student for a Democratic Society (SDS), many of whom were Jewish.  At that time, I was surprised to hear many in the audience stating that their parents were Marxists.  My father was a “soft socialist” as a youth, but became more conservative as an older adult.  I found myself a philosophical minority in the room during those meetings.  Generally, I find that I am politically alone in meetings, so I do not engage unless I am forced to do so. 

The bright spot is among younger Jews, who generally are Left of center politically, but see the attack by Hamas as intolerable and requiring retribution.  With the release of 40 Israeli hostages there is some hope that the Gaza incursion might be limited. If the elimination of Hamas is not accomplished, then Israel will be under threat indefinitely.  Destroying Hamas, though, does not mean that another radical Islamist group will not emerge.  Al-Fatah (the PLO organization governing in the West Bank) is hardly a comfort to anxious Israelis. 

In Irael it is apparent that some on the political Left has recognized that their strategy for “land for peace” and coexistence with Palestinian Arabs has not succeeded.  This will affect the political landscape for years to come.  Whether this reaches American Jews is not clear.  Golda Meir noted that “The world hates a Jew who hits back.  The world loves us only when we are to be pitied.”  Progressives have generally supported the little guy or the underdog.  Now Israel is the mightier player in the war game.  Will more Jews recognize that as Golda Meir also said, “We Jews have a secret weapon in our struggle with the Arabs; we have no place to go.”

Image: Ted Eytan

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