Zionism was once a source of honor for American Jews. In 2008’s “Forgetting Zion,” Ruth Wisse tells the story of how that sense of triumph has unraveled, and how it has been replaced by susceptibility to shame in Jewish nationalism. With first-hand observations of the campuses and the institutions of American Judaism, Wisse recounts the change in popular Jewish sentiment from Zionist pride to anti-Zionist contempt:
I began by recalling the contribution of Zionism and the state of Israel to the confidence of North American Jewry. Were the story told in full, it would include many more instances: Israel’s mobilization of the movement for Soviet Jewry that helped open the gates of the world’s longest-lasting totalitarian regime; Israel’s successful intervention on behalf of Ethiopian Jews, which rescued a whole lost segment of the Jewish people; Israel’s supply of Jewish scholars, teachers, and cultural ambassadors to an American Jewry in dire cultural straits. Nor, taking in more than the Jewish community alone, can one ignore Israel’s 1982 strike on Iraq’s nuclear reactor, yielding benefits to humankind beyond calculation, and not least, Israel’s absorption of the brunt of Islamist and Arab anti-Western aggression.
Exodus, the novel that so thrilled Americans and sparked the refusenik movement of Soviet Jewry, tells the story of how a prototypical American, Kitty Freeman, overcomes her dislike of Jews by falling in love with a heroic Israeli. Hokey or not, this fictional romance projected the truism that Israeli Jewish grit had earned America’s affection. Can we today be facing a situation when the opposite may prove equally true? Will the growing success of anti-Zionism turn Israel into a liability?
Distance from the battlefield, and well-protected freedoms, allow American Jews to make the case for Israel more forcefully than Israelis can make it for themselves. We (I include myself) are blessed with advantages greater than any Diaspora community has ever enjoyed, hence charged with greater responsibility than any Diaspora community has ever borne. History will ask only one question of our generation, and of the next one and the one after that: did you secure the state of Israel? Woe to an American Jewry that does not ensure a rousing reply in the affirmative.