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Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Jewish problem in America

Yair Sheleg reviews the problems and progress of the North American Jewish community over the past year and the centrality of Israel to American Jewish life.
Sheleg believes that the existential threat posed by Iran eclipsed the question of assimilation and intermarriage at the Jewish People Planning Policy Institute (JPPPI) in Jerusalem two months ago. The ascendancy of the survival issue is bad news for those who advocate Israeli centrality, claims Sheleg, since the major threat is the threat to Israel by Iranian nuclear weapons.  
Sheleg's thesis has one major flaw. Following the conference, one did not get the impression that alarm at assimilation is flagging. The question of centrality of Israel certainly did come up, but the arguments against centrality didn't seem to have much to do with fear of Iranian nuclear attack. The objections to the centrality of Israel were mostly those of Jews who were interested in assimilating, or worried about spending too much money on Israel rather than concentrating on charities "at home." 
It is quite true that, as several studies have found,  interest of Jewish young people in Israel is flagging, but this is a long term trend that is associated with assimilation, rather than being related to the perceived existential threat of Iran. The good news is the persistent evidence that programs like the Taglit Birthright program can reverse the lack of interest in Israel. More creative solutions like this, to bring young people to Israel in masses, must be found. If only the money were available, Israel could offer a free one year university education to all qualified applicants, or set up work-study programs in various fields.
The rise of anti-Semitism in Europe and the United States, is also mentioned in Sheleg's article. But it sneaks in under the guise of the "Israel Lobby." In Europe at least, it is much easier to see the anti-Semitism for what it is. The Israel Lobby libel, on the other hand, threatens to drive Jewish support away from Israel, on the dubious premise that if only Jews "keep a low profile" they can avoid the consequences of anti-Semitism.    
Ami Isseroff

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


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