Norman Finkelstein on American Jews turning away from Israel

Why has the disillusionment emerged (via an interview in New Left Project)?:

There is a common misunderstanding here, because everybody just assumes that the one and only factor shaping American Jewish attachment to Israel, and also the inexorable one, is the ‘ethnic’ factor: if you’re Jewish you must be pro-Israel, in fact you must be fanatically pro-Israel. But the historical evidence shows that the relationship in fact depends on three factors.

One factor is ethnicity, for sure, because if you’re Catholic there’s just no particular interest from the get-go in Israel. It might develop, but as a point of departure it’s not there – it has to be created. In the case of Jews, the ethnic factor is the foundational factor. If you’re Jewish, you’re going to have an immediate connection with Israel. How powerful that connection is, that’s a secondary issue, but there will be something. So I’m not going to in any way deny or diminish the ethnic factor, but it has to be contextualised.

For example, there is an ethnic factor after 1948, but it is very seriously weakened by the ‘citizenship’ factor: the fact that Jews enjoy citizenship in the United States. After World War II, Jews were flourishing in the United States, and they didn’t want to jeopardise their standing as American citizens. Jews have always been burdened by the ‘dual loyalty’ bogey and have been historically identified with the Left (not without good reason – the American Communist Party was way disproportionately Jewish; the Bolsheviks were mainly Jewish; etc.). So Jews had to worry about both the historical legacy of the ‘dual loyalty’ charge, compounded by the fact that with the beginning of the Cold War they had to dissociate from the Soviet Union and the whole leftist tradition. Israel, moreover, was at that time seen as leftist – the ruling Mapai party was staunch Second International, and the main opposition party Mapam was staunch Stalinist. American Jews didn’t want much to do with that. And so the citizenship factor seriously diluted the ethnic factor, to the point where there was really no interest in Israel. If you look at the whole record, and I’ve read it carefully, from ’48-’67, there’s nothing on Israel there. You go through the issues of Commentary magazine, Israel would appear in about one issue out of every twenty, around article number thirteen headlined something like, ‘Bar Mitzvah in Israel’. Those were the kind of articles they would run about Israel.

The third factor, which I think is now the salient one, is ideology. American Jews have historically, at least for the past 80 years, been ideologically committed as liberal democrats. I go through all the evidence in the book – no point going through it now, but it’s clear. And I think that’s the factor that is most affecting American Jewish loyalties to Israel now. To put it simply: Israel has become an embarrassment. Its whole way of conducting itself, not to mention the whole mindset of its leadership, is illiberal: in its foreign policy, complete contempt and disregard for international institutions; in its domestic policy now, serious inroads on the most fundamental liberal principle of equality under the law and the rule of law; and in its treatment of the Palestinians and its neighbours, egregious violations of human rights on a systematic and methodical basis.

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