Politics

The Great Rupture in American Jewish Life

For the last decade or so, an ideological tremor has been unsettling American Jewish life. Since Oct. 7, it has become an earthquake. It concerns the relationship between liberalism and Zionism, two creeds that for more than half a century have defined American Jewish identity. In the years to come, American Jews will face growing pressure to choose between them.

They will face that pressure because Israel’s war in Gaza has supercharged a transformation on the American left. Solidarity with Palestinians is becoming as essential to leftist politics as support for abortion rights or opposition to fossil fuels. And as happened during the Vietnam War and the struggle against South African apartheid, leftist fervor is reshaping the liberal mainstream. In December, the United Automobile Workers demanded a cease-fire and formed a divestment working group to consider the union’s “economic ties to the conflict.” In January, the National L.G.B.T.Q. Task Force called for a cease-fire as well. In February, the leadership of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the nation’s oldest Black Protestant denomination, called on the United States to halt aid to the Jewish state. Across blue America, many liberals who once supported Israel or avoided the subject are making the Palestinian cause their own.

This transformation remains in its early stages. In many prominent liberal institutions — most significantly, the Democratic Party — supporters of Israel remain not only welcome but also dominant. But the leaders of those institutions no longer represent much of their base. The Democratic majority leader, Senator Chuck Schumer, acknowledged this divide in a speech on Israel on the Senate floor last week. He reiterated his longstanding commitment to the Jewish state, though not its prime minister. But he also conceded, in the speech’s most remarkable line, that he “can understand the idealism that inspires so many young people in particular to support a one-state solution” — a solution that does not involve a Jewish state. Those are the words of a politician who understands that his party is undergoing profound change.

The American Jews most committed to Zionism, the ones who run America’s establishment institutions, understand that liberal America is becoming less ideologically hospitable. And they are responding by forging common cause with the American right. It’s no surprise that the Anti-Defamation League, which only a few years ago harshly criticized Donald Trump’s immigration policies, recently honored his son-in-law and former senior adviser, Jared Kushner.

Mr. Trump himself recognizes the emerging political split. “Any Jewish person that votes for Democrats hates their religion,” he said in an interview published on Monday. “They hate everything about Israel, and they should be ashamed of themselves because Israel will be destroyed.” It’s typical Trumpian indecency and hyperbole, but it’s rooted in a political reality. For American Jews who want to preserve their country’s unconditional support for Israel for another generation, there is only one reliable political partner: a Republican Party that views standing for Palestinian rights as part of the “woke” agenda.

The American Jews who are making a different choice — jettisoning Zionism because they can’t reconcile it with the liberal principle of equality under the law — garner less attention because they remain further from political power. But their numbers are larger than many recognize, especially among millennials and Generation Z. And they face their own dilemmas. They are joining a Palestine solidarity movement that is growing larger, but also more radical, in response to Israel’s destruction of Gaza. That growing radicalism has produced a paradox: A movement that welcomes more and more American Jews finds it harder to explain where Israeli Jews fit into its vision of Palestinian liberation.

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