Reprinted from To The Point Analyses
Part I -- A Flaw in the Ideological Outlook
Ideological movements, be they religious or secular, are demanding and Procrustean movements. By ideological movements I mean those that demand of their adherents resolute belief in some "deep set of truths" posited by a deity, by supposed immutable historical laws, or by some other equally unchallengeable source. Their followers, once initiated, or even just born into the fold, are expected to stay there and, as the saying goes, "keep the faith."
However, in cultural, political and religious terms there are no eternal deep truths. History has an abrasive quality that erodes our beliefs in this god and that law. Though the process might take a longer or shorter time to manifest itself, yesterday's faith will at some point start to ring less true. At some point followers start to fall away.
What happens when ideologically driven leaders start to lose their following? Well, they get very upset because those who are supposed to affirm everything the movement stands for are now having doubts. Such doubters are dangerous to the supposed true faith and so are usually dealt with in one of two ways: (1) the ideologues in charge attempt to marginalize the disaffected by denigrating them and then casting them out of the fold or (2) if we are dealing with totalitarian types, they send the dissenters off to a gulag, or worse.
Part II -- Zionism Unravelling
This sort of unraveling -- the loss of growing numbers of traditional followers of an ideological movement -- seems to be going on within the Zionist community, particularly among American Jews. Zionism is an ideological movement that preaches the God-given Jewish right to control and settle all of historical Palestine. Since the founding of Israel in 1948 the Zionists have also claimed that the "Jewish State" represents all of world Jewry, thus self-aware Jews owe allegiance to both Israel and its prevailing Zionist philosophy.
However, in the last 10 or so years that allegiance has been breaking down. In the U.S. a growing "disconnect" has been noted between the outlook and actions of the ideologically rigid leaders of major U.S. Jewish organizations (who remain uncritically supportive of Israel) and the increasingly alienated Jewish American rank and file whom, at least up until recently, the leaders claimed to represent. This gap has been repeatedly documented by several sources ranging from Pew Research Center surveys, to the Jewish Forward newspaper, and the organization of Reform Judaism.
As characterized by the Jewish Forward the situation is that ordinary American Jews are "far more critical of Israel than the Jewish establishment." Almost half of the American Jews surveyed by a Pew study in 2013 did not think the Israeli government was making a "sincere effort" to achieve peace with the Palestinians. Almost as many saw Israel's expanding colonization of the West Bank as counterproductive. Thus, this disconnect is not a sudden or new situation. The numbers of questioning American Jews have continued to grow, and things have only gotten worse for the Zionist leadership. Indeed, just as many young American Jews may be joining pro-peace activist groups as are cheering on AIPAC at its conventions.
Part III -- Leadership Reactions in the U.S.
Following the two-option scheme described above, the main reaction of the leadership of American Jewish organizations is to try to marginalize these questioning Jews -- to dismiss them as "uninformed, unengaged, or wrong." To that end American Jewish officials are now conveniently asking if they really need to represent "the disorganized, unaffiliated Jewish community ... the 50% of Jews who, in a calendar year, do not step into a synagogue, do not belong to a JCC [Jewish Community Center], and are Jews in name only."
This sort of marginalizing of all but the true believers was articulated by Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. He told the Jewish Forward, "you know who the Jewish establishment represents? Those who care." Here Foxman was engaging in a bit of circular thinking: the important constituency are those represented by the establishment. How do we know? They are the ones who still "care" about Israel. How do we define caring? Caring means continuing to believe what the Jewish establishment and the Israeli government tell them. Eventually Foxman goes even further, concluding that Jewish leaders aren't beholden to the opinions of any aspect of the Jewish public. "I don't sit and poll my constituency," Foxman said. "Part of Jewish leadership is leadership. We lead." It would appear that, over time, he is leading diminishing numbers.
Part IV -- Leadership Reactions in Israel
Reaction out of Israel to reports of the growing alienation of American Jews has been aggressively negative. After all, Israel is the centerpiece of Zionist ideology -- its grand achievement. Being the subject of criticism by growing numbers of Jews, in the U.S. or elsewhere, is utterly unacceptable to those now in charge of Israel's ruling institutions.
These leaders, both secular and religious, have begun to write off critical and skeptical Jews as apostates, even to the point of denying that they are Jews at all. Seymour Reich, who is a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (such folks always wait till they retire to speak out critically), has recently described Israel's current leadership as alarmingly anti-democratic. He writes of "the Israeli government's assault on democratic values" and its use of "legislation and incitement to strike down dissent," be it expressed through "speech, press, religion [or] academic freedoms."
He goes on to quote the Israeli Minister of Religious Affairs, David Azoulay. "Speaking about Reform and Conservative Jews," who happen to make up the majority of Jews in the U.S., are often of liberal persuasion, and increasingly alienated by the ultraorthodox policies of Israel's religious establishment, Azoulay said, "I cannot allow myself to call such a person a Jew," and, "We cannot allow these groups to get near the Torah of Israel." Things appear potentially even worse when we hear Israel's Intelligence Minister Israel Katz calling for the "targeted killing" of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) leaders. In the U.S. many of these leaders are Jewish.