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Focus on Israel Is Driving Young People — and Others — Away From an Increasingly Intolerant Jewish Community

Allan C. Brownfeld
Winter 2014

In recent days, panic is the only proper term to characterize the reaction of some sectors of the American Jewish community to evidence that young people are increasingly disaffected and are disassociating themselves.  
The first major survey of American Jews in more than ten years found a significant rise in those who are not religious, marry outside the faith and are not raising their children Jewish. When it comes to Israel, 48 per cent of those polled do not think Israel is making a sincere attempt to move toward peace. A quarter of all Jews ages 18-29 believe that the U.S. is too supportive of Israel.  
The survey, by the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project, found that the largest gap between young and old was about attitudes with regard to Israel. Among those 65 and older, 53 per cent said caring about Israel is essential to being Jewish. Among Jews younger than 30, 32 per cent feel this way.  
Less Supportive of Israel  
Steven M. Cohen, a professor of Jewish social policy at Hebrew Union College and a consultant to the Pew poll, says, “Younger Jews are considerably less supportive of Israel and the differences are very large. I think we’re seeing a shift, not just a gap.”  
Jane Eisner, editor of The Forward, said the results are “devastating” because, “I thought there would be more American Jews who cared about religion. This should serve as a wake-up call for all of us as Jews to think about what kind of community we’re going to be able to sustain if we have so much assimilation.”  
Some seem to lament that a lack of anti-Semitism and a complete freedom of choice in the American society with regard to religious identification represents a danger to the future of Judaism.  
Author Jonathan Tobin, senior online editor for Commentary, noted that, “… the acceptance of Jews at every level of American life might be the ultimate proof of American exceptionalism. America is not insisting in any way that Jews assimilate, give up religious practice, or do anything differently. It is Jews themselves who are choosing this path.” The lead article in the November 2013 Commentary had this headline: “Loving Us to Death: How America’s Embrace Is Imperiling American Jewry.”  
Community Contracting  
A fund-raising appeal from Samuel Norich, president and publisher of The Forward, began this way: “By now, you have probably heard the statistics: 32% of Jews under age 30 say they have no religion, and the majority of those without religion have Christmas trees. Fully two-thirds of the Jews with no religion are raising their children without any Jewish identity at all. After reading the latest survey of American Jews, historian Jack Wertheimer told The Forward, ‘It’s the story of a community contracting.’ If young Jews were choosing some kind of secular engagement over a religious one, Jewishness itself would not be at risk. But even ethnic and cultural identifiers are disappearing. America’s full acceptance of its Jewish citizens has led many more to leave their Jewish identity entirely behind.”  
What neither The Forward nor Commentary, nor others engaged in this exercise of shock and dismay are asking is exactly why so many American Jews, in particular young people, are alienated from Judaism and the Jewish community.  
Sadly, the organized American Jewish community has made identification with the State of Israel the centerpiece of its activities. Israeli flags are to be found in synagogues, aliyah, or emigration to Israel, is promoted as a virtue, and young people are told that Israel is their “homeland” and that they are in “exile” in their own country. This is clearly a form of idolatry, making a sovereign foreign country, rather than God and the responsibilities of a moral and ethical life, the object of worship and the focus of attention.  
“Dual Loyalty”  
Things have gone so far that the idea of “dual loyalty,” once a forbidden concept, has come to be embraced by some of Zionism’s most vocal advocates.  
Recently, there was a plan to distribute a questionnaire polling American Jews and Israeli immigrants in the U.S. to determine, among other things, which country American Jews would side with in the case of a serious confrontation between Israel and the U.S. The poll was planned by a Los Angeles organization called the Israeli American Council, with the initial collaboration of the Israeli Embassy in Washington.  
This poll, wrote Hillel Halkin in The Forward (Nov. 8, 2013) in an article with the caption, “Embracing Dual Loyalty,” was “… rightly criticized for conjuring up the specter of ‘dual loyalty’ that Jews in America and elsewhere have been accused by their enemies.”  
Anyone who ever dared to suggest that Zionist organizations which lobby in behalf of Israel are in any way guilty of “dual loyalty” has been harshly criticized for using an ancient “anti-Semitic” canard. As a result, few have ever made such a charge using that term. Now, however, judging by Halkin and, evidently The Forward, which prominently published his article, things have changed.  
Urges Emigration  
Halkin is the author of the recently republished book, Letters to an American Jewish Friend, which urges American Jews to emigrate to Israel — the only place, he argues, where a “full Jewish life” can be led. He urges American Jews not to criticize those who charge “dual loyalty,” or to resist the concept but, instead, to openly embrace it.  
Of course, Halkin notes, American Jewish supporters of Israel talk themselves into the notion that Israel’s interests and those of the U.S. are the same. “If one is honest about one’s motives,” he writes, “one will admit that there is more to them than that. It’s a convenient myth to tell oneself that what’s good for Israel will always be good for America and vice versa, but a great myth is all it is. We live with dual loyalties in many spheres … why insist that only your loyalties to countries should be immune? Why shouldn’t an American Jew be able to say … ‘Yes, America’s and Israel’s interests may diverge on this point, and Israel’s are more important to me’ … As a Jew, and to the extent that one is more of one rather than less of one, one’s loyalties are inevitably divided.”  
Halkin was born in the U.S., grew up as an American, and decided to emigrate to Israel. He does not have “divided” loyalties. He openly proclaims his loyalty to Israel, which he has every right to do, and urges other Americans to join him. Surprisingly, more and more Jewish publications seem to be embracing such a notion. Responding to Halkin’s call for emigration to Israel in Mosaic (Nov. 14, 2013), Professor Ruth Wisse of Harvard, long an outspoken Zionist advocate, defended her decision to remain in the U.S. in a way that embraces Halkin’s vision.  
Need to Defend Israel  
“Dear Hillel,” she writes, “Don’t you think that Israel needs American Jews to help it withstand the campaign of hate it faces … I am immensely grateful that ‘Letters To An American Jewish Friend’ is being republished … because I so fully share your conviction that Israel is the center of any meaningful Jewish history and the place where Jewish life can be lived most completely … I am hardly the first Jew to live in the West with at least part of her heart in the East … You in Israel may need more reinforcements from us than you anticipated in the battle to counteract the effects of Arab propaganda … AIPAC does more to expose Arab disinformation than a ministry in Israel.”  
Thus, for Wisse, the reason for Jews to remain in America is so that they can serve the interests of Israel, not because they are Americans and this is their home. She writes to Halkin: “In 1977, in the first of your letters, you wrote: ‘If a Diaspora Jew and an Israeli are to talk to each other meaningfully as Jews, there is only one relevant question with which such a conversation can begin.’ That question: ‘When are you coming here to settle?’ Three and a half decades later, with Israel’s Jewish population now equal to or greater than America’s, the question is still pertinent but another question may be more urgent: ‘What are you doing to help reverse the momentum of the Arab war against the Jews?’”  
At least Halkin is honest in his contempt for American Jewish life. He declares that, “American Jewish life had always seemed to me one big rationalization … Even as a boy it had always struck me as a kind of play-acting. Israel was genuine. Jews were fighting there for a country of their own, living in it, building it and defending it … From the time I was little, I instinctively wanted no part of it. Living as a Jew in America never made any sense to me.” Do The Forward, Mosaic and other publications which promote Hillel Halkin and his book share these views? If they do not, they should provide us with an explanation for the time and space they are devoting to alienating American Jews from their own country, promoting the idea that, “Living as a Jew in America never made any sense …”  
Interfering In U.S. Internal Politics  
At the same time that the notion of putting Israel’s interests — and there is a legitimate debate about whether what militant Zionists advocate is really in the best interest of Israel — above those of the U.S. seems to be growing, the Israeli government, with the assistance of American Jewish organizations, appears to be involving itself in internal American political life.  
In November 2013, the largest American Jewish organization, the Jewish Federations of North America, held its 65th General Assembly in Jerusalem. The group was addressed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called on American Jews to “stand together with us” to stop any agreement with Iran. Stating that American Jews had a responsibility to stop the agreement, he declared, “That’s what I expect from every one of you and it’s achievable.”  
Netanyahu argued that the task was urgent “in light of the Holocaust, when we were silent” in the face of genocide, and that Jews hadn’t come through 4 millennia “to have the likes of the ayatollahs threaten our life.” He referred to a collective “us,” the Jews, and declared: “The purpose of the Jewish state is to enable Jews to defend themselves. This is something we could not do before we had the Jewish state.”  
Political Marching Orders  
Giving his American audience their political marching orders, Netanyahu stated that “it is possible right now, given the precariousness and vulnerability of the Iranian economy, to press forward the demand for Iran to dismantle its nuclear bomb-making capacity. That’s what I expect from every one of you … When I think of the challenges the Jewish people have undergone … I know that we have the inner strength to guarantee the Jewish future … Together we’re going to achieve exactly that — to defend and secure the Jewish state. I say that here in our eternal capital, Jerusalem, and I know, I know that you stand with me.”  
Netanyahu, as ever, was not content to speak in the name of his own citizens — but insists on speaking on behalf of all Jews, something he has no mandate to do. And his supplicants in the U.S. began to do their best to thwart the agreement with Iran. USA Today (Nov. 12, 2013) declared that, “In the U.S. Senate, where Netanyahu enjoys more influence than any foreign leader should, key senators were threatening to move ahead with legislation that would tighten sanctions, an in-your-face response that would almost certainly kill the Iranian attempt at outreach.”  
According to The Washington Post (Nov. 19, 2013), the dispute that has emerged between the U.S. and Israel over Iran “reflects a more profound divergence of U.S. and Israeli national interests. For the war-weary U.S., a deal that halts Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon in exchange for partial sanctions relief … would greatly reduce the possibility that the U.S. would be forced to take military action against Iran … If a long-term accord can be struck … the dangers of a new Middle East war and an Iranian bomb could be alleviated.”  
Not Just Hired Lawyers  
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman argued (Nov. 13, 2013) that, “We, America, are not just hired lawyers, negotiating a deal for Israel and the Sunni Gulf Arabs, which they alone get the final say on. We, America, have our own interests in not only seeing Iran’s nuclear capability curtailed, but in ending the 34 year-old Iran-U.S. Cold War which has harmed our interests and those of our Israeli and Arab friends. Hence, we must not be reluctant about articulating and asserting our interests.”  
Writing a week later, Friedman added, “Never have I seen Israel and America’s Arab allies working in concert to stymie a major foreign policy initiative of a sitting U.S. president, and never have I seen more lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans — more willing to take Israel’s side against their own president’s. I’m certain this comes less from any careful consideration of the facts and more from a growing tendency by many American lawmakers to do whatever the Israeli lobby asks them to do in order to garner Jewish votes and campaign contributions.”  
While there may be legitimate disagreement about the merits of the interim agreement with Iran, few have inquired about the motives of the Israeli government, which already possesses an arsenal of nuclear weapons, in launching its campaign. As New York Times columnist Roger Cohen explained (Nov. 26, 2013), “Israel’s over-the-top ‘nyet,’ its insistence that a deal heading off escalation makes the region more dangerous” comes because “Israel is the status-quo Middle East power par excellence because the status quo cements its nuclear-armed domination. Any change is suspect, including Arab uprisings against despotism. As changes go, the U.S.-Iranian breakthrough is big, almost as big as an Israeli-Palestinian peace would be.”  
Best Deal  
Cohen is no blind optimist about the future. “This is the best deal that could be had,” he argued. “Nothing, not even sustained Israeli bombardment can reverse the nuclear know-how Iran possesses. The objective must be to ring-fence the acquired capability so its use can only be peaceful … Diplomacy involves compromise; risk is inherent to it. Iran is to be tested. No one can know the outcome. Things can unravel, but at least there is hope. Perhaps that is what is so threatening to Netanyahu. He has never been willing to test the Palestinians in a serious way — test their good faith, test ending the humiliation of the occupation, test from strength the power of justice and peace. He has preferred domination … Obama and Kerry have invited Netanyahu to think again — and not just about Iran. Nothing, to judge by the hyperventilating Israeli rhetoric, could be more disconcerting. Nothing is more needed. Cheap allusions to 1938 are a poor template in the 21st century.”  
It is not only AIPAC and its allied groups which have responded to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s call to scuttle any agreement with Iran. According to The Forward (Nov. 1, 2013), pressure also is coming “from the local level, district by district, where Jewish groups are engaged in a push that is almost unprecedented in its intensity and breadth … the political price of defying the grassroots pressure is unmistakable for many members of Congress.”  
At the same time, we are witnessing increased limitations upon free and open debate within the Jewish community, a growing intolerance of diversity, which is alienating an increasing number of men and women, particularly younger people.  
Thought Police  
In an article headlined “The American Jewish Thought Police On Patrol,” Marshall Breger, a professor at Catholic University, writes in Moment (Nov.-Dec. 2013) that the organized American Jewish community, in the recent past, has imposed “increased pressure for conformity and ‘orthodoxy’ in political views: recent bans on the use of Hillel facilities by Jewish students who support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement; efforts to cancel Jewish Federation funding of theater groups that mount controversial plays drawn from conflicts in Israeli society; and efforts to deny a communal voice to Jews who oppose settlements on the West Bank. This is troubling for anyone who cares about the American Jewish community and the future of Israel.”  
The desire to project a picture of “Jewish unity” with regard to Israel, argues Breger, now “encompasses the rejection of controversial political positions even when they are held by a substantial number … of Israel’s population. It is passing strange that even where 35, 40 or 49 per cent (let alone 51 or 55 per cent) of the Israeli population is prepared to criticize specific actions of the Israeli government, the American Jewish thought police will censor similar discussion. Even more absurd, any semblance of the robust political debate one can see daily in Israeli newspapers and Israeli plays, books and movies is verboten in the American Jewish establishment’s vision of a Jewish polity.”  
The examples of such efforts to stifle free speech are many. The Jewish Student Union at the University of California, Berkeley, rejected the membership application of the student arm of J Street, J Street U. Thus, the student branch of an organization whose annual conference is attended by Israeli ministers and members of the Knesset, including Likud members, was deemed outside the Jewish consensus. At Binghamton University, a Hillel student leader was forced to resign after showing a film about Palestinians and inviting the filmmaker’s brother to speak.  
Visiting Ariel  
Recently, there was an effort to have the Boston Jewish Federation cut its ties with Leonard Fein, the co-founder of Moment, a columnist for The Forward, and a veteran Labor Zionist leader. His crime was writing a column advocating that American Jews not visit Ariel, a settlement 15 kilometers into the West Bank whose location makes territorial contiguity for any future Palestinian state virtually impossible. Leading Israeli intellectuals, including Amos Oz, David Grossman, actors of the Israeli National Theater Habima, as well as many average Israelis, have refused to visit or perform in Ariel for the same reason.  
In Washington, D.C., a group calling itself Citizens Opposed to Propaganda Masquerading as Art sought to force the acclaimed Jewish theater group, Theater J, to cancel a performance of a controversial play by the award-winning Israeli playwright Motti Lerner. Citizens Opposed claimed that the script of his play, “The Admission,” defamed Israel by drawing on disputed claims of a 1948 massacre of Palestinians. The group urged Washington Jews to withhold their contributions to the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington unless the Federation cancelled its grant to Theater J.  
On American college and university campuses, Hillel, the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, has attempted to sharply limit debate about Israel.  
Lex Rofes, a senior at Brown University and a student representative on the board of Hillel, and Simone Zimmerman, a senior at the University of California at Berkeley and president of the J Street U National Student Board, note that, “Throughout our four years in college, Hillel has been our home on campus. We have been involved extensively, with one of us serving as president on campus on the Hillel International Board.”  
Not Always Welcoming  
In an article written for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and published in Jewish newspapers across the country, the authors write that, “While we both found in Hillel a supportive community, when it came to our relationship with Israel, Hillel was not always as welcoming. One of us often avoided expressing political views in Hillel board meetings for fear of losing credibility. The other openly expressed her political views, which was met at times with harsh criticism.”  
While Hillel strives to ensure religious pluralism, they point out, “On Israel, the same pluralism is lacking. Students who express ambivalence toward Zionism, or support boycotts of Israeli products often feel they are not welcome in their campus Jewish community. Hillel International’s guidelines contribute to the problem … While the guidelines appear reasonable on paper, in practice they often restrict meaningful discussion and send a strong signal to some Jewish students that they do not belong.”  
While the guidelines state that Hillel will not host programs that deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure borders, Rofes and Zimmerman report that, “Some Hillels have hosted speakers that reject the possibility of compromise with the Palestinians, rendering that future unfeasible. Meanwhile, proposed events with former Israeli combatants critical of their service are often met with requests to keep the event ‘private,’ requirements that a less critical voice ‘balance’ the presentation or outright refusals to host the discussion. Such requests are rarely made of more right-leaning speakers.”  
Prohibit Co-Sponsorship  
Beyond this, they write, “… the guidelines prohibit co-sponsorship with groups that delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel — terms that are highly subjective. For instance, does B’Tselem’s documentation of human rights abuses in the territories constitute a ‘double standard’ against Israel? Do the soldiers of Breaking the Silence, in describing their service in the West Bank, ‘demonize’ Israel? Such terms are used frequently to slander both organizations. The wide room for interpretation is evidenced by the fact that while some Hillel directors welcome these groups, others cite the guidelines in denying those same voices a platform.”  
While the authors have both campaigned actively against divestment efforts on their campuses, they believe that, “… restrictions on events with any groups supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement … prohibit much-needed discussion. Though Hillel professes support for dialogue, the guidelines effectively eliminate any possibility of co-sponsorship with Palestinian student organizations … Our community cannot champion intellectual rigor and inclusivity while avoiding public conversations with those with whom we disagree.”  
The authors conclude: “Too many of our friends left Hillel because they felt alienated and stifled in raising questions or voicing their views on Israel. Too many have opted to disengage entirely rather than conforming to a community that tells them they do not fully belong … If Hillel fails to make political pluralism a priority, we fear the ominous vision some have about the Jewish community’s future will become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Those alienated will choose to build their families and communities outside of what they see as outmoded institutions or, worse, check out of Judaism entirely. This is not a price anyone who cares about Hillel and Jewish life on campus should be willing to pay.” (Washington Jewish Week, May 30, 2013).  
Open Hillel  
Early in 2013, the Progressive Student Alliance at Harvard University launched an effort, Open Hillel, to challenge Hillel’s guidelines. Its petition was signed by 800 Jewish students from diverse perspectives and was presented at a recent Hillel International Board meeting.  
In December, Swarthmore College Hillel declared itself to be the first “Open Hillel” — that is, the first Hillel to reject the guidelines established by Hillel International concerning discussions about Israel. These guidelines, students at Swarthmore asserted in a resolution passed Dec. 8, 2013, present a “monolithic face pertaining to Zionism” and “stifle healthy debate around Israel.”  
In response, Eric Fingerhut, CEO of Hillel International, declared that, “Anti-Zionists will not be permitted to speak using the Hillel name or under the Hillel roof, under any circumstances.” One wonders if he knows anything about the long history of Jewish opposition to Zionism — by Orthodox and Reform Jews alike. Hillel was established to promote Judaism — not Zionism — but its mission seems to have changed dramatically.  
At issue, in part, are attempts by certain groups under the Hillel umbrella to co-sponsor events with the Palestinian Solidarity Committee, a campus organization that advocates for boycotts against Israel. At Harvard, in November 2013, Avraham Burg, the former speaker of Israel’s Knesset, spoke in an undergraduate dormitory after being barred from speaking at Harvard Hillel. Burg was allowed to attend an invitation-only dinner at the Hillel building, but was forbidden from hosting the event there since it was co-sponsored by the Harvard College Palestinian Solidarity Committee. Other co-sponsoring groups included J Street U Harvard and two Hillel-affiliated groups, Harvard Students for Israel and Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance. Burg, who is a harsh critic of Israel’s occupation policies, spoke in the Quincy House Junior Common Room instead.  
Open Discussion  
“It’s such a shame that Harvard Hillel would not allow an open discussion about Israel to take place within its walls,” said Sandra Korn, who helped organize the talk. “Hillel should be a space for students to engage with Jewish issues, regardless of religious or political beliefs.”  
Yoav Schaefer, a Harvard student and a veteran of the Israel Defense Force, writes in Tablet (Dec. 17, 2013), “The Jewish community in general and Hillel International in particular need to recognize that the younger generation of Jews demands a new paradigm for engaging with Israel that reflects both their deep commitment to the Jewish state and their awareness … of the very real problems of the ongoing occupation and settlement growth. These are policies that many young Jews see as both morally indefensible and inimical to Israel’s future … I have often been disappointed by the one-dimensional discourses about Israel among my American peers … If the Jewish community and Hillel do not promote a more sophisticated conversation about Israel, they risk alienating a growing number of young Jews who want to be engaged but who are frustrated or simply turned off by the tenor of the existing debate.”  
At Swarthmore, said Hanna Kipnis-King, “Hillel is attracting significant new Jewish membership as a result of its resolution.” Jacob Adenbaum said, “Swarthmore has a definite and distinct community of very, very progressive Jews. A lot of these people weren’t interested in being part of Hillel because of the fact that they didn’t feel their political views were welcome.”  
The board’s decision has succeeded in pulling many liberal students back to Hillel. “We’ve had students who lean more toward the left who are coming out of the woodwork” since the decision,” said Josh Wolfsun. (The Forward, Dec. 27, 2013).  
Supporting Petition  
A petition supporting Swarthmore Hillel earned more than 1,100 signatures in a week. Criticism has been fierce. On Dec. 16, John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, said Swarthmore Hillel “will deserve to be spat upon” if it hosts speakers who are critical of Israel. Podhoretz declared that, “… the notion that a Jewish organization should host a speaker of a group that explicitly defines itself as anti-Zionist … is a group that deserves to be considered not only anti-Israel, but anti-Jewish and ultimately anti-Semitic.”  
In a letter to The New York Times (Jan. 2, 2014), Michele Sachar, whose grandfather, Abram Sachar, originally built Hillel, and whose father, the historian Howard Sachar, was a leading scholar of American Jewish history, writes that, “For centuries, the strongest (Jewish) communities … have been those that encouraged discussion and debate. Our willingness to engage dissenters rested on logic and morality. I fear that the trend to stifle legitimate criticism of Israel comes from a collective fear that the occupation of the West Bank has forced Israel and those who unquestionably support it to cede the moral high ground. For Israel’s sake and our own, we must re-embrace the tradition of open discussion of any topic with intellectual vigor.”  
What the organized Jewish community is presenting, and what young people are increasingly rejecting, is not Judaism, but something quite different. Making the sovereign state of Israel the virtual object of worship, focus and attention is a form of idolatry, replacing God with a secular, human enterprise. For religious organizations to be engaged in political activity, such as promoting military attacks upon Syria and Iran, is to dangerously confuse the realm of religion and politics. It has corrupted Judaism. As one of the leading Jewish theologians and philosophers of the 20th century, Abraham Joshua Heschel, said, “Judaism is not a religion of space and does not worship the soil. So, too, the State of Israel is not the climax of Jewish history, but a test of the integrity of the Jewish people and the competence of Judaism.”  
Majority Rejected Zionism  
Prior to the mid-20th century, the overwhelming majority of all Jews rejected Zionism. In 1929, Orthodox Rabbi Aaron Samuel Tamarat wrote that the very notion of a sovereign Jewish state as a spiritual center was “a contradiction to Judaism’s ultimate purpose.” He wrote: “Judaism is not some religious concentration that can be localized or situated in a single territory. Neither is Judaism a ‘nationality’ in the sense of modern nationalism, fit to be woven into the three-foldedness of ‘homeland, army and heroic songs.’ No, Judaism is Torah, ethics and exaltation of spirit. If Judaism is truly Torah, then it cannot be reduced to the confines of any particular territory. For, as Scripture said of Torah, ‘Its measure is greater than earth.’”  
Sadly, many Jewish Americans are being driven away from the organized Jewish community because of its focus on Israel and its intolerance of diverse and dissenting points of view.  
Discussing the recent Pew study and the alienation of growing numbers of men and women, Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, wrote in The Forward (Oct. 26, 2013): “The irony here is the subset of Jewish Americans who are in fact strongly connected by every measure to Jewish life, but are being actively pushed out of it. Let’s take my own story as a case study. I was raised in a Conservative synagogue … I grew up to marry an Israeli and lived in Israel for three years. I belong to a synagogue … and I am actively raising my children Jewishly … But part of my Jewish identity … has always been political activism and has ranged from economic justice to fighting for an Israel that would value the equality, dignity, freedom and security of all people in the region, Israeli and Palestinian. Because of these views, I and others like me, are being shut out by the self-appointed leaders of the Jewish community — solely because our political perspective on Israel and Palestine falls outside the acceptable parameters they have unilaterally decided on.”  
Loss to Jewish Community  
Vilkomerson notes that, “This voluntary jettisoning of politically engaged Jews is creating a huge loss to the Jewish community, one it can ill afford. Over and over again, I have seen how betrayed young people feel when the same Jewish community that nurtured them and taught them values such as justice and tikkun olam, rejects them when they apply these principles to Israel and the Palestinians … Jewish leaders are claiming to speak for a community that doesn’t agree with them … Any organization that cares about Jewish continuity needs to understand that for a growing number of us, holding Israel to a standard of equality, justice and security for everyone — whether Jewish or Palestinian — is one of the most important ways of expressing our Jewish values … It is time to end the litmus test on Israel.”  
The evidence that established Jewish organizations do not represent the people in whose name they speak is made abundantly clear by the Pew research, particularly with regard to the confusion of religion and politics with regard to Israel. To reverse the trends they lament, the Jewish establishment should come to understand that a focus upon Israel and a growing intolerance toward free speech and a diversity of opinion is what is driving people away. As long as this continues, American Jewish life is likely to decline, and genuine Judaism, and the important contribution it could make to our troubled world, will be the victim. •  
Allan C. Brownfeld is a nationally syndicated columnist and serves as Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and Editor of Issues. The author of five books, he has served on the staff of the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President.

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