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  • Irreconcilable Differences?The Waning of the American Jewish Love Affair With Israel
  • Gabriel (Gabi) Sheffer (bio)
Irreconcilable Differences? The Waning of the American Jewish Love Affair With Israel by Steven T. Rosenthal Brandeis University Press, 2003 252pp.

Today there is a widespread and growing agreement that current American-Jewish relations with Israel are very different than these relations in the early 1980s. While only a few American Jews, and in fact also gentiles, would question this observation, Israelis have yet to acknowledge it. It is no wonder, therefore, that many in the US ponder the almost unavoidable question, What have been the predominant factors contributing to these patterns in the relations between these two significant segments of the dispersed Jewish nation?

Some observers maintain that the profound change is not a result of one cause, or of one process. They would suggest that it has occurred partly because of developments on the global and international levels that affect most diasporas. It is also due in part to new structural and behavioral patterns in the US in general, and in the American Jewish Diaspora in particular, and partly, or according to various activists and analysts, even mainly, because of significant fundamental cultural, social and political changes in Israel.

The author of the book under review here, Dr. Steven Rosenthal, deals with these questions. As the title of his basically descriptive book indicates, he deals with that growing estrangement between the two Jewish "communities" (I put this term in quotation marks because its application to both entities is highly problematic) that used to be very close partners in the revival of the Jewish people after the disastrous Second World War. He does not content himself with the description and analysis of this major change, but he wonders whether the differences are irreconcilable. Thus, toward the very end of the book he makes some suggestions about [End Page 210] what should be done to stop the deterioration and improve these relations. Hence, from this point of view this is a timely book.

Though not visibly divided in the following manner, actually this book has three distinguishable parts. The first part—chapters 1-3—sets the historical background for the discussion of the upsurge and deterioration in Israeli-American Jewish relations. The second part—chapters 4-8 and the epilogue—examines the main turning points in the process of the waning of what he calls the "Israeli-American Jewry love affair" (the emphasis on the idea of turning points is one of the main arguments in this volume). The third part consists of one chapter—Chapter 10—and provides the much-needed analytical overview of the reasons for the development of the turning junctures in the relations, which is missing in the more historical descriptive chapters of the book.

Appropriately, Rosenthal begins his discussion of Israeli-Diaspora relations with the emergence of that love affair at the beginning of the 20th century, when noted and respected American Jews, like Judge Louis D. Brandeis, "converted" to Zionism and announced their determination to promote the movement's main goals—establishment of a Jewish national home, and later a nation-state, in Palestine, and the gathering of the Jews in that national home or state. The author rightly suggests that Brandeis and his colleagues, then only a small minority in the American Jewish Diaspora, were most significant contributors to the emergence of the close cooperation between some American Jews and the Yishuv, and later with the state of Israel. Another very basic ideological principle adopted by American Jews like Brandeis was their insistence on the compatibility of Zionism and American citizenship, and the desirability of integration into American culture, society, politics and economy.

This ideological principle has remained one of the main bases for an enduring close cooperation between the two important segments of world Jewry, and the only genuine basis for mutual support. Later, this basic tenet was complemented by the notion that there was no contradiction whatsoever between American interests, on the one hand, and the Yishuv and Israeli basic goals and interests, on the other. This principle was based on American Jews' adamant refusal to accept the Zionist, and later Israeli, essentialist assertion about...


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pp. 210-215
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