How Much Longer will the Golden Age for American Jews continue?
And how much longer can America continue to be a haven of democracy and the rule of law?
By now, we have read countless articles warning of the coming end of the Jewish golden era in America. The dwindling number of Americans identifying as Jews (now around 4.5 million—half of all Americans of Jewish descent), the passing of the Holocaust generation and the fading memory of the Holocaust itself, ideological polarization and illiberalism are just a few of the reasons discussed.
Over the span of Jewish history, across centuries and continents, the Jewish people had many periods of prosperity. Most well-known was the Golden Age in Spain from the mid-12th century until the end of the 14th century. Under the rule of the Muslim Umayyad Caliphate, “Al-Andalus”—modern day Spain—became a haven for Jewish culture in which art, literature, philosophy, and theology. This peaceful period ended abruptly in 1492, when all Jews of Spain and Portugal were suddenly and forcefully expelled or converted to Christianity.
Hundreds of years later, around 1950 to the turn of the 21st century, Jewish life experienced another Golden Age, this time in the United States and Israel. During the post-World War II-era, as many survivors, as well as Jews expelled from Arab countries, immigrated to the Israel and the United States, conditions in America improved dramatically for Jewish Americans. Antisemitism rapidly decreased, and the Jewish community became one of the most successful immigrant communities in the United States.
What does Israel have to do with the American Golden Age?
The establishment of the state of Israel in 1948—and Israel’s military victories over larger Arab forces in 1949, 1956, 1967, and 1973, fostered a surge of pride in Jewish Americans. From antiquity until the creation of the Jewish State, Jews were largely people of the book, merchants and scholars. The creation of Israel unified them into one strong peoplehood, with a homeland and with an army committed to defending the Jewish people worldwide. For the first time in centuries, Jews around the world were no longer victims but architects of their own secure haven that they could flee to in crisis.
From the establishment of the Jewish State until the beginning of this century, Zionism came to replace religious observance amongst secular American Jews as a core element of their own Jewish identities. That started changing around the year 2000, when the Palestinians launched a terror campaign against the Jews in Israel known as the Second Intifada. Support for the Jewish state began to wane at the fringes of the American Jewish community.
The “New Antisemitism,” also known as anti-Zionism or hatred of Israel as an acceptable stand-in for the classical hatred of Jews, initially gained currency in universities and in leftist intellectual circles. It has since metastasized to much of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Today, several U.S. congresswomen have claimed that Jewish Americans have dual national loyalties. These elected leaders call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions of Israel with a vehemence they reserve solely for the state of the Jews
And as American Jews are severing their alliance with Israel, the second Jewish golden age is now coming to its end - and soon. Antisemitism is rising. American Jewish communities are divided, disengaged, and declining in membership. For the most part, this change has been driven not by a decline in material conditions, but rather a change in the way Americans Jews think about their Jewish identity and their relationships with the homeland of the Jewish people.
The New Antisemitism is becoming violent
The decline in the favorability of mainstream American views toward Israel has coincided with a rise in antisemitic violence, particularly in large metropolises, promoted by Islamo-Leftist groups. In New York City, more than half of hate crimes in 2019 targeted Jews. During the last major conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in May 2021, terror groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad launched more than 4,000 rockets and mortars at Israeli civilians. At the same time, we witnessed stunning and unprecedented scenes in New York, Los Angeles, and other American cities of Jews being assaulted by mobs of anti-Israel activists. This surge of anti-Jewish hate also included harassment, vandalism and online abuse.
With many Jews in America now fearing walking the streets in their kippot or wearing other items that identify them as Jewish or Zionist, or even speaking Hebrew in public, we are sliding in the direction of our European Jewish brethren—in fear and under siege, requiring more and more layers of security.
Meanwhile, many American Jews serve willingly as useful idiots for groups that despise us, divided our community, and weaken our resolve, under the pretext of legitimate critique of the Israeli government policies.
The end of the story for American Jewry?
While we undoubtedly face grave challenges as American Jews, we must not give up. Until now, due to lack of information and fear of rejection and persecution, many American Jews have been complicit as anti-Zionism morphs into the new antisemitism. Now is the time to stand up, fight back with all our remaining might and hold antisemites accountable.
We must form alliances with groups that share the same Judeo-Christian values of freedom and democracy, inspire today’s Jewish youth to be proud of their people and the Jewish homeland, and bring Israel back to the center of our Jewish life in the diaspora.
We must embrace Zionism as an integral part of our Jewish identity. We must engage in renewed efforts to strengthen the homeland of the Jewish people, ask Israel to empower and defend Jewish communities worldwide, and take stock of the strength our community possesses.
We must collectively demand a rejection of all forms of antisemitism, including and especially anti-Zionism.
Adam Milstein is an Israeli-American venture capitalist. See milsteinff.org.