Lenni Brenner on the sociology of American Zionism

Jim Farmelant farmelantj at juno.com
Tue Apr 23 08:44:08 MDT 2002

On Mon, 22 Apr 2002 23:50:51 -0400 Louis Proyect <lnp3 at panix.com> writes:
> Catch-up on the sociology of American Zionism by Lenni Brenner

> According to the 5/26/95 Jewish Sentinel (NY):
> "A recent American Jewish Committee study found that only 22 percent
> of American Jews today consider themselves to be Zionists, and that
> 32 percent feel distant from Israel."
> With the drop in the latest election, be certain that less than 22%
> are now Zionists. The central reason is religious, not political.
> The
> 11/2/01 Jewish Week (NY) headlined "Jews Turning From Judaism." The
> article, based on prepublication stats from the latest American
> Jewish Identification Survey (2001), says "just 51 percent of
> American Jews... say that they are Jewish by religion."
> One Survey sociologist, Barry Kosmin, says, in Ha Aretz, 11/9/01,
> that this is "a decline of 12 percent since the last national survey
> I directed in 1990." Math wiz I ain't, but it looks like sometime in
> 2002, a majority of American Jews will have checked out of any form
> of Judaism. That's a major sociological event, bound to bring forth
> a
> lot of discussion.

Basically, Brenner links American Jewish support for Zionism to
religiosity, that is to the extent that American Jews are religious,
then to that extent they are more likely to be Zionists.  I am sure
that Brenner is correct about that, but to the extent that this is
true, it represents a historic turnaround concerning the nature
of support for Zionism among Jews.  A hundred years ago,
Zionism was largely a movement among secular Jews.  Herzl
was an agnostic, as was the father of Cultural Zionism, Ahad HaAm.
The leaders of Labor Zionism from the Marxist, Ber Borochov,
down to David Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, and Shimon Peres
have largely been atheists or agnostics, while the father
of Revisionist Zionism, Jabotinsky, was a militant atheist.
Religious Jews were for the most part, strongly opposed
to Zionism.  For the Orthodox, it represented a blasphemous
attempt to circumvent God's plan for the Jews, since they
believed that the Jews were not to be restored to Palestine
until the coming of the Messiah.  For the Reform Jews,
Zionism was opposed because it was seen as a distraction from
the necessary struggle for Jews to win their civil rights
within the various countries in which they lived.  For
the Reform Jews, the Jews did not constitute a nation.
Jews were seen as Englishmen, or Frenchmen, or Germans
etc. of the "Mosaic persuasion."  Indeed, it was seen
as a potential threat to the gains that Jews had been
making in Europe and America, since called into question
the notion that Jews could be good Frenchmen, or good
Germans etc., and thus play into the hands of anti-Semites.
Most non-Zionist secular Jews, took much the same position.

Also, a hundred years ago, Herzl and other Zionist leaders
pushed Zionism as an alternative to socialism which was
winning mass support among Jewish workers and intellectuals,
especially in Eastern Europe.  In *The Jewish State*
Herzl shrewdly took note of the proletarianization of the
Jews in Central and Eastern Europe and how that was
driving them towards socialism.  Herzl argued that
Zionism could provide an alternative to socialism,
and he attempted to sell Zionism to Gentile political
leaders and publicists precisely on that basis (Churchill
for instance was to become a supporter of Zionism precisely on
the grounds that it offered Jews an alternative to
Bolshevism.  Herz also made strenous efforts to cultivate
support from precisely those political leaders and publicists
who were most inclined to anti-Semitism.

The turnaround in the nature of support for Zionism among
American Jews seems to have come after WW II, and especially
after the founding of Israel.  Both Orthodox Judaism and
Reform Jews began to move towards pro-Zionist positions.
Certainly, many secular Jews who had been anti-Zionist
became more sympathetic to Zionism.  That was certainly
the case among many of the "New York intellectuals" who
after having abandoned their youthful leftism, tended to
follow the American establishment in becoming symapthetic
to Zionism as the US Establishment became increasingly pro-Israel.
On the other hand as the kinds of statistics that Brenner cites,
seem to indicate that now a days, the most secular Jews tend
to be the least sympathetic towards Zionism, and are much
more likely to be critical of Israel, especially in terms of
Israeli policy towards the Palestinians.  It is the religious
Jews, now a days who are most likely to be strongly supportive
of Israel.  This seems especially true among younger Jews.
As I recall, many of the studies to which Brenner alludes to,
found the existence of strong generational differences
among American Jews towards Israel and Zionism.
Jews over the age of forty were found to be strongly supportive
of Israel, whereas Jews under forty were much more likely
to be critical.  And the gap between secular and religious
Jews over Israel was more pronounced among younger Jews too.

Jim F.

> For a democratic, secular Palestine/Israel in a democratic secular
> world,
> Lenni
> BrennerL21 at aol.com
> --
> Louis Proyect, lnp3 at panix.com on 04/22/2002
> Marxism list: http://www.marxmail.org

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