This year’s Rothschild Memorial Lecture at Emory University will wade into the controversy over the reported erosion of support for the state of Israel among American Jews, particularly those who are under age 30.
The lecture, the ninth in the yearly series, will be delivered by Dov Waxman, a professor of political science, international affairs and Israel studies at Northeastern University in Boston.
His topic, “American Jews and Israel: From Consensus to Conflict,” is based in part on his book “Trouble in the Tribe — The American Jewish Conflict Over Israel,” which was published last year by the Princeton University Press.
In the book, he maintains that “there is a major divide in the American Jewish community between religious conservatives and secular liberals” that is growing and “poses a severe challenge to the future cohesion of the American Jewish community.”
Which is not to say the American Israel Public Affair Committee is having any difficulty raising the tens of millions of dollars from its many supporters to finance one of the most effective lobbying operations in Washington.
Nor are many American Jews who are members of the organizations that support Israel canceling their travel plans to Jerusalem, and any criticism in America of official Israeli government policy is still met by an almost instantaneous avalanche of support for the Jewish state.
Nonetheless, for all its apparent success, Israel is increasingly irrelevant in their lives of the vast majority of young American Jews.
In the 2013 Pew survey, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on subsidized Birthright tours of Israel and other such programs, less than a third (30 percent) of young non-Orthodox American Jews thought that “caring about Israel is essential to being Jewish.”
Waxman writes that “it is important not to exaggerate the depth and extent of divisions among American Jews. … Disagreements over Israeli policies in the territories and the proper relationship between synagogue and state in the Jewish state go on and on and become increasingly bitter.”
It is not just Israel that increasingly divides America’s Jews. There is sharp disagreement over American domestic and foreign policies as well.
In Atlanta, for example, one could in the past six weeks hear a Conservative rabbi in East Cobb criticizing the far left during a High Holiday sermon, then hear an Israeli leader of the liberal New Israel Fund take on Israel’s religious right at another Conservative synagogue in Dunwoody.
Increasingly, too, there are deep divisions within the American Jewish community over loyalty to the major political parties.
In support of his argument, Waxman cited the fact that the 2013 Pew survey found that 57 percent of Orthodox Jews identified with or leaned toward the Republican Party, compared with 16 percent of other Jews.
But in the 2016 presidential election, 70 percent of all Jews not only supported the Democratic candidate, but also were among the most dependably Democratic voters in the country.
For Eric Goldstein, who is the director of Emory’s Tam Institute for Jewish Studies, which sponsors the annual Rothschild Lecture, there appears to be a definite shift in American Jewish public opinion.
Goldstein, a distinguished scholar of American Judaism in his own right, said the shift is a “key development in American Jewish culture.” He said it raises “other questions of what it means for Jews to live in a pluralistic society where different segments of society approach certain issues with different concerns in different ways.”
Goldstein said: “America is becoming more polarized around a whole series of issues. So, too, is the Jewish community. So the question is, what does the larger political culture and the political divide mean for the Jewish community?”
Waxman will tackle that question at a noon lunch Tuesday, Nov. 7, before his lecture that night. He’ll speak to an audience of guests from Emory and the community at large about “American Jewish Politics in the Trump Era: Some Early Observations.”
According to the Tam Institute, Waxman will address at the lunch, among other questions, the Jewish community’s response to Donald Trump’s contentious presidency and how Jews are reacting to the political emergence of the alt-right, white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
The main lecture that night is named in memory of Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, who was the senior rabbi at The Temple from 1946 until his death in 1973. Early in his career here, he faced congregants and others in Atlanta who were divided over support for Israel.
What: Rothschild Memorial Lecture on “American Jews and Israel: From Consensus to Conflict”
Where: Oxford Presentation Auditorium, 311 Oxford Road Building, 1390 Oxford Road, Emory University
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 7
Admission: Free to all, with free parking in the Fishburne garage; www.js.emory.edu