The tiny nation of Israel is beset by many challenges, some of them unique in kind among the countries of the world. The challenges are well-known to interested parties and a brief summary of the main ones will be assembled below. But here I wish to focus primarily on a crisis that apparently concerns only the Jewish population of the United States, but which, in fact, poses a severe challenge for Israel as well – a challenge that might be nearly as dangerous as any of the well-known ones to be described.
How is Israel challenged? Alas, the range and depth of her dilemmas are extensive. Let’s quickly summarize; placing them in three groups – foreign, domestic, special.
Foreign. Israel’s greatest foreign threat is undoubtedly Iran. The Jewish State faces a maniacal, genocidal foe that views Israel as a cancer on the world, populated by people who deserve to be exterminated like vermin. Moreover, the Iranian government expresses the clear intention to act on these insane beliefs. Given the long history of Jewish persecution, the Israelis take the Iranians at their word, recognizing that the Persian lunatics pose an imminent, existential threat to the Jewish nation. Israel’s options for dealing with that threat range from pre-emptive military action that could unleash convulsive horror on the Middle East and beyond to watchful waiting in the hope that the mad mullahs would not plunge the world into nuclear chaos. Which other nation in the world faces anywhere near as serious a dilemma?
But of course there is so much more on Israel’s foreign threat list. The surrounding Arab world persists in its refusal to accept a sovereign Jewish nation in its midst. Furthermore, the threat posed by hostile nation states is augmented – and perhaps even superseded – by the menace of non-state actors such as Hezbollah, Hamas and al Qaeda. Complementing these threats is the anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism expressed toward Israel and its people by the nations of the European community. These manifest minimally as lack of support for Israel in its conflict with the Arab/Muslim world and, more commonly, as biased hostility, which at times crosses over into outright support of the violence perpetrated against Israel by the afore-mentioned bad characters. Rounding out this category is the increasingly tepid support from the US. The election – and re-election – of Barack Obama has been catastrophic for Israel. Although he has not totally abandoned the Jewish State, he has reoriented US policy in a direction that portends radically diminished US backing for Israel in its unending battle with the Arab/Muslim world.
Domestic. Israel’s greatest domestic problem is of course that nearly 20% of its population is Arab. Not too much is heard about this fact these days. But sooner or later, these residents of the Jewish State, who are culturally, ethnically, historically and religiously no different from their brethren in the neighborhood that are sworn to Israel’s destruction – sooner or later, they will pose an existential threat to the character of the State.
As with foreign affairs, the most critical internal challenge is only one of many. There is the Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) community, which comprises 10% of the population, but which contributes virtually nothing economically or militarily to society. There is Israel’s crazy political system, wherein one can only vote for a party, not an individual – virtually unique among parliamentary democracies – that leads inexorably to scores of parties and unstable coalition governments. Speaking of crazy, Israel has no shortage of leftist self-haters who work tirelessly to destroy the nation – a virus that is common in the Western World, including the United Sates – but it is particularly virulent in Israel. And of course, there is the never-ending quest for water – it is the Middle East after all – that poses a severe challenge in coming to any kind of accommodation with the Arabs of the region.
Special. Then there are the special concerns that confront the Jewish State—those not readily characterized as either foreign or domestic. Here I would cite the facts that: Israel is rather a tiny state with a burgeoning population and – at least until recent offshore discoveries – limited natural resources; Israel is the premier example of an ethnic nation-state exactly at the time that the world – at least the Western world – has decided that such nations have limited legitimacy in our post-ethnic, multicultural, multilateral, global environment; Israel, like the US, has far too many self-hating, left-wing lunatics who subscribe to collective national suicide; and finally, Israel retains to a surprisingly large degree, the guilt-ridden, ghetto mentality of a Galut community that is scorned by its fellow man, and which makes it and its people susceptible to self-doubt and lack of resolve.
Well, that’s a rather hefty list of challenges that face Israel. But here comes a new one – a US problem that has been visible for some time, but only recently recognized as a problem for Israel. The issue is the seemingly inexorable, painful-to-watch, and surprisingly rapid debilitation of the American Jewish community. The numbers tell all. In mid twentieth century, there were six million Jews in America. From then until today, while the population of the US increased by about 125%, the Jewish population of the USA stands at no more than five million souls – and probably less. Moreover, whereas in the first fifty years of that period, the Jewish population held steady at about six million, in the last decade or so, it has manifested a steady, and perhaps accelerating decline. Within two generations, there could be fewer than two million Jews in America.
The manifestations and the causes are the same: intermarriage, loss of identity, a dearth of children, alienation, ignorance, loss of faith and lack of interest and support for Israel. It is not my purpose here to dwell on or investigate these phenomena (such studies have been conducted and published by numerous sources – e.g., the Pew Research Center, A Portrait of Jewish Americans, published in Fall 2013), but merely to state categorically that the Jewish community in America is in decline – in numbers, but also in influence and impact.
So why is this a problem for Israel and not the US? We’ll it is clearly a problem for the Jewish community in America – that is self-evident. It’s also not a great thing for America in general either – but that is the subject matter for a different essay. However, in fact it is also a major problem for Israel. How?
- The most obvious reason is that Israel relies critically on the US as a strategic partner and robust patron in its never-ending war with the Arab/Muslim world. The presence of a large and influential Jewish community in the US is essential to help convince US leaders that it is in America’s interest to continue to play that role. When the Jewish “lobbying” entity shrinks and loses clout, who knows what happens to America’s support for the Jewish State?
- Reinforcing that development, if the American people see that the Jews of America care so little about their own Jewish identity, why should American gentiles care about the Jewish nation?
- Nearly 80% of world Jewry may be found in Israel and the US, in roughly equal proportions between them. Now imagine a world (two generations hence) when 80% of world Jewry is found in Israel alone. The forces in the world that contemplate the obliteration of the Jewish people did not perish with the Nazis. The Communists, the Jihadists, even the just run of the mill anti-Semites that populate European universities all relish the goal. Well how much easier the task will be if (nearly) all the Jews are concentrated in one place. The temptation to attack Israel may prove irresistible.
- Finally, if world Jewry is so heavily concentrated in Israel, its status as the world’s premier ethnic nation state will be greatly enhanced. Thus the ambivalent, non-visceral anti-Semites (in the UN, EU and US) will increasingly find favor with the idea of terminating the anachronistic last bastion of the ethnic nation-state. Israel will find itself even more isolated and under relentless attack than she currently is.
Assuming Israel isn’t totally consumed with addressing the myriad problems outlined earlier, what might she do with the limited amount of energy she could bring to bear on the problem of American Jewry? At the risk of seeming to shoot a small caliber pistol at an intercontinental ballistic missile, here are a few modest suggestions:
- Recognize the problem; articulate it; and bring it forcefully to the attention of American Jewish leaders.
- Convince the latter that the problem is calamitous for both communities, not to mention all the other Jewish communities world-wide.
- Jointly formulate a strategy whose goal would be the stabilization of the US Jewish community at no less than 1% of the US population – say, three million, but to grow thereafter according to the overall population in order to maintain the one percent (no pun intended).
- Implement programs to achieve the previous goal: for example, expanded birthright programs, expanded day schools, expanded religious opportunities (outside the family); increased proselytization (not our style, but desperate times call for desperate measures).
The western world is committing suicide as it loses confidence in its own cultural, familial, political and economic founding principles. This has been evident in Europe for nearly 50 years. The disease has spread to the US and is accelerating. The Jewish community of the US is afflicted with a similar malady. If the community is not inoculated with some strong medicine to reverse the progress of the disease, then like any seriously infected organism, it will wither and likely die. That death will have grave consequences for the vibrantly alive Jewish community in the beleaguered state of Israel.
Ron Lipsman, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the University of Maryland, writes about politics, culture, education, science and sports at http://ronlipsman.com
This essay also appeared in Canada Free Press