Is American Jewish support for Israel waning?
As a mobilized diaspora, American Jews played a key role in the
establishment and early survival of the modern state of Israel.
They created a centralized framework to raise funds, and a
powerful, consensus‑oriented political lobby to promote strong U.S.
diplomatic, military, and economic support. But now, as federation
fundraising declines and sharp differences over the
Israeli-Palestinian peace process divide the community, many fear
that American Jews are distancing themselves from Israel. In The
New American Zionism, Theodore Sasson argues that at the core, we
are fundamentally misunderstanding the new relationship between
American Jews and Israel. Sasson shows that we are in the midst of
a shift from a "mobilization" approach, which first emerged with
the new state and focused on supporting Israel through big,
centralized organizations, to an "engagement" approach marked by
direct and personal relations with the Jewish state as growing
numbers of American Jews travel to Israel, consume Israeli news and
culture, and connect with their Israeli peers via cyberspace and
through formal exchange programs. American Jews have not abandoned
their support for Israel, Sasson contends, but they now focus their
philanthropy and lobbying in line with their own political
viewpoints for the region and they reach out directly to players in
Israel, rather than going through centralized institutions. As a
result, American Jews may find Israel more personally meaningful
than ever before. Yet, at the same time, their ability to impact
policy will diminish as they no longer speak with a unified
Theodore Sasson is Professor of International Studies at
Middlebury College and Senior Research Scientist at the Cohen
Center for Modern Jewish Studies. He is also Visiting Research
Professor of Sociology at Brandeis University and a consultant to
the Mandel Foundation.
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