When Rosner is wrong

by Rabbi Eric Yoffie
Originally published on The Jerusalem Post


Jerusalem Post Blogger Shmuel Rosner has written a book about relations between American Jews and Israel. I have not yet seen the book, written in Hebrew and entitled “Shtetl, Bagel, Baseball,” but I have just seen an English excerpt that appeared in the Jerusalem Post on March 10.

Rosner is one of the more interesting commentators on this well-worn subject. While he trends conservative, he has an original, quirky, iconoclastic approach, and one never knows where he will end up. In the March 10 article, he follows this pattern, arguing that the rift between American Jews and Israelis is best explained not by differences over Israeli policy but by differences over American policy.

According to Rosner, liberal American Jews–who are the majority–hated President George W. Bush while Israelis and their leaders loved him. Jewish Americans, therefore, decided they could not possibly identify with an Israel that embraced the hated Bush and his unpopular policies on Iraq (and other things). Once again, Rosner is thought-provoking and unconventional–and in this instance, wrong.

First, American Jews deserve more credit than Rosner gives them. They are a pretty sophisticated bunch. Yes, the polls indicate that they did not like Bush and his Iraq war, but they are able to make distinctions. They know full well that Israel needs American support, no matter who its president and no matter what American Jews think of him. They don’t blame Israel for cozying up to America.

Second, Rosner implies–without really saying so–support for the idea that the Bush/Republican position on Israel is fundamentally different from the liberal/Obama/Democratic position on Israel. In fact, the differences are mostly incidental. American policy has been remarkably consistent for 2 decades: a Palestinian state alongside Israel, under conditions that will guarantee peace and security for both–and that will enable Israel to remain both Jewish and democratic. And American Jews know this as well. Those who think that a Republican President will fundamentally change the rules of the game are misreading the political realities. Recent events, including popular uprisings throughout the Arab world, will only reinforce the basic pillars of American foreign policy on the Israel-Palestinian question.

Third, the war in Iraq may or may not be good for America, but it has been disastrous for Israel. Iran is a major threat to Israel today because America deposed Saddam Hussein, who fought a long but inconclusive war with Iran and for decades was a counterbalance to Iranian power. American Jews did not oppose the Iraq war because of Israel, but they surely know it has done Israel no good.

And finally, American Jews really do not like Israel’s settlement policy. Anyone who has spent an hour with non-establishment American Jews on campus or in any American city is aware this. It is not the only factor that determines American Jewish attitudes toward Israel, but it is a significant factor and foolish to ignore.

I don’t question the Rosner observation that Reform Jews are insufficiently committed to Israel. This is a point that I have made many times. I also acknowledge that until I have read his book, I can’t be certain that the short excerpt in the Post accurately reflects his views. But in my opinion the argument that I did read was convoluted, unconvincing, and wrong.

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Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie

About Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie is president emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism. He speaks and writes frequently about Israel, religious life, social justice, and other topics of interest to the Jewish community. Read his full bio and writings on the URJ website.

2 Responses to “When Rosner is wrong”

  1. avatar

    Do you really think that “Reform Jews are insufficiently committed to Israel”? That may have been true half a century or more ago, but today, in my experience, it seems that they are absolutely obsessed!!! “Israel, Israel, Israel” is all one ever hears about anymore, to the near-total exclusion of other important topics. Even many who hold rather liberal positions on Israel-related issues just can’t talk or think about anything else. It’s starting to get really annoying, and even downright hurtful. In a recent conversation with some relatives, I got frustrated and said there were more important concerns than Israel at the moment, and they actually called into question my Jewish identity and loyalty! This is a serious problem…

  2. avatar

    Yes, liberal Jews, including Reform, are less attached to Israel than the traditional, religious communites. Compare the % of Orthodox Jews who have been to Israel to the liberal movements. Should be no argument there.
    Relatedly, there is a growing, fundamental divide between conservative (political and religous) and liberal communities and their view of Israel, with the former much more supportive. Resner is correct.
    Finally, the Israel’s settlement policy does not affect dispositions towards Israel. People aren’t going to “like” or “dislike” Israel based on settlement policy.

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