Analysis from Israel

Pollster Frank Luntz briefly generated shock waves this week with a survey showing the abysmal view of Israel held by Democratic opinion leaders. Inter alia, 47 percent deemed Israel racist, with only 32 percent disagreeing, and a whopping 76 percent said Israel has too much influence on U.S. foreign policy. But in truth, it shouldn’t be news to anyone by now that anti-Israel sentiment, like its kissing cousin anti-Semitism, is primarily the province of the liberal elites. I’ve written before about a German study showing that educated elites, rather than the far-right fringes, are the wellspring of anti-Semitism in that country; just last month, another study found that the same is true for anti-Israel sentiment. And the reason for this goes beyond the obvious fact that anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism are related.

The background to the new German study is a series of polls showing shocking levels of anti-Israel sentiment among ordinary Germans: For instance, fully 35 percent “equate Israeli policies toward the Palestinians with Nazi policies toward the Jews.” Given the vaunted “special relationship” between Germany and Israel, such findings raise obvious questions about how so many Germans developed such warped views.

So a group of German and Israeli researchers decided to analyze German textbooks to see what exactly German schools are teaching their students. They examined 1,200 history, geography and social studies textbooks from five German states, and concluded that these books portray Israel almost exclusively as a militarist, warmongering society.

Israel’s robust democracy, respect for human rights and other achievements are absent in these books. The illustrations consist of “tendentious and one-sided photographic presentations” of Israeli soldiers threatening or inflicting violence on Palestinians.

“Occupation and settlements” are depicted as the main obstacles to peace; the fact that both Israelis and Palestinians have claims to the land goes unmentioned, and Palestinian terror gets a free pass – or as the report puts it, most of the authors “find it difficult to unequivocally call Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians acts of terror.”

In short, it’s not surprising that so many Germans have such negative views of Israel, because that’s precisely what they are taught in school. True, the textbooks don’t actually compare Israel to the Nazis, but the comparison doesn’t require a big leap of logic for graduates of these schools; after all, to a German, the paradigmatic example of a militarist, warmongering society is Nazi Germany. So once you tell students that Israel, too, is a militarist, warmongering society, the Nazi analogy comes naturally.

But who writes the textbooks that give these pupils such a warped view of Israel? Hint: It’s not the neo-Nazi skinheads. It’s the liberal elites.

This brings us to the question of why liberal elites so loathe the only Mideast country that, as Julie Burchill once wrote, any of them “could bear to live under.” The answer can be found in a comment made by “a senior European diplomat” last month about a seemingly unrelated topic: the upcoming British referendum on whether to stay in the European Union.

“The nation state is a very old concept and perhaps the British have not fully recognized that it may be slightly out of date,” the diplomat declared. And that, as I’ve noted before, is the heart of the matter: In the dogma of the modern liberal elites, the nation-state is passé.

The fact that most of the world still consists of nation-states in no way challenges this dogma; after all, you can’t expect benighted regimes to have reached this level of enlightenment yet. Israel, however, is a potent challenge to the dogma: It’s a modern, Western, democratic, human-rights-respecting country that nevertheless proudly proclaims itself the nation-state of the Jewish people.

And there’s only one way for liberal elites to resolve the cognitive dissonance this causes without sacrificing their cherished dogma: by sacrificing Israel. Or, in other words, by painting it as a racist, warmongering, benighted country no different from all the other unenlightened nation-states.

Originally published in Commentary on July 10, 2015

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Jewsraelis: A Review of ‘#IsraeliJudaism’ by Shmuel Rosner and Camil Fuchs

Through 2,000 years of exile, Judaism survived because rabbinic sages reshaped it into a portable religion rather than one anchored to a specific land. But what happens once a Jewish state is reestablished? Judaism is changing once again, Shmuel Rosner and Camil Fuchs argue in #IsraeliJudaism: Portrait of a Cultural Revolution—only this time, from the bottom up.

The book, published in Hebrew in 2018 and English in 2019, is based on a survey of beliefs and practices among 3,005 Israeli Jews. The survey was commissioned by the Jewish People Policy Institute, where Rosner is a senior fellow; Fuchs was the project’s statistician. A book based on a survey could easily become an indigestible mass of statistics, but Rosner and Fuchs have produced a highly readable (and superbly translated) analysis of what this data actually tell us.

What they tell us, the authors say, is that a “new Judaism” is emerging in Israel—one that values Jewish tradition, though not strict adherence to halacha (Jewish law), and that views national identity as a crucial component of Judaism. For instance, 73 percent of Jewish Israelis say being Jewish includes observing Jewish festivals and customs. And 72 percent say being a good Jew includes raising one’s children to serve in the Israel Defense Forces, while 60 percent say it includes raising one’s children to live in Israel.

This fusion of religious and national identity characterizes 55 percent of Israeli Jews, whom Rosner and Fuchs infelicitously dub “Jewsraelis.” The rest divide roughly equally among people whose identity is primarily Jewish (17 percent), primarily Israeli (15 percent), and primarily universalist (13 percent).

Israeli Judaism necessarily differs from both the Diaspora and pre-state versions, since its national components, like army service, aren’t possible outside a Jewish state. Moreover, Judaism is present in Israel’s public square to a degree impossible elsewhere, from public-school classes on the Bible (since it’s part of Israel’s cultural heritage) to the country’s complete shutdown on Yom Kippur. Unsurprisingly, this produces fierce arguments over what Judaism’s public component should look like, including efforts to dictate it through legislative or executive action.

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