Has Abe Foxman lost confidence in American Jews?

ADL National Director Abraham Foxman

Justin Hoch Wikimedia Commons

Abraham Foxman, the national director of the pro-Israel group the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), has angrily rejected the mildly critical views of Israel revealed in a major survey of 3,500 American Jews conducted by the Pew Research Center.

The survey found that about half (48 percent) of American Jews “do not think the current Israeli government is making a sincere effort to bring about a peace settlement and three-quarters say the same about the current Palestinian leadership.”

Only 38 percent thought Israeli peace efforts were sincere.

Almost half (44 percent) agreed that “the continued building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank hurts Israel’s security.”

But those holding those views are either “uninformed, unengaged, or wrong,” officials of major American Jewish organizations told the Jewish Daily Forward.

Foxman was particularly dismissive of the apparent disconnect between organizations like his, which function as apologists for the Israeli government, and even the mild dissent revealed in the survey.

“You know who the Jewish establishment represents? Those who care,” Foxman told the Forward. “This is a poll of everybody. Some care, some don’t care.”

“I think it’s interesting, we need to be aware,” Foxman said. “But I’m not going to follow this.”

Foxman’s reaction is reminiscent of Bertholt Brecht’s ironic poem “The Solution,” written after the 1953 uprising in East Berlin:

After the uprising of June 17th
The Secretary of the Authors’ Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Which said that the people
Had forfeited the government’s confidence
And could only win it back
By redoubled labour. Wouldn’t it
Be simpler in that case if the government
Dissolved the people and
Elected another?

In other words, it is not the leadership of Jewish communal organizations that is out of step, but Jewish communities, who need to get back behind Foxman’s Israel-right-or-wrong approach.

Generation gap

Overall the Pew survey found fairly high levels of “attachment” to Israel among American Jews, but these varied with the highest levels reported among those who were more religious.

Age differences are particularly significant given that many major pro-Israel groups see the future of US support for Israel depending on their ability to attract young Jews toward their positions.

The Pew survey says:

Older Jews are more likely than younger Jews to see caring about Israel as an essential part of what being Jewish means to them. More than half of Jews 65 and older say caring about Israel is essential for their Jewish identity (53 percent), as do 47 percent of Jews aged 50-64. By comparison, 38 percent of Jews in their thirties and forties and 32 percent of Jewish adults under age 30 say caring about Israel is central to what being Jewish means to them. It is hard to know whether these age differences suggest that US Jews’ attachment to Israel will weaken over time. If younger Jews retain their lower levels of attachment to Israel, then overall attachment to Israel may weaken with time. Alternatively, if Jews become more attached to Israel as they get older, then attachment to Israel overall could hold steady or even grow in strength.

It is the fear that younger Jews will not gain an attachment to Israel as they age that has driven efforts like Taglit-Birthright which provides free trips for younger North American Jews.

Taglit-Birthright has been criticized for promoting an “exclusivist” and “settler-colonial” ideology among the constituency it targets.

It is also concern over younger American Jews’ lack of identification with Israel that animates the Israel lobby group J Street.

J Street tries to put a younger and cooler spin on traditional anti-Palestinian messaging which includes opposition to the right of return for Palestinian refugees as well as viewing the births of Palestinian babies as a “demographic threat” to Israel.