Canadian Jews are well known to be ‘liberal” in their political attitudes – except where Israel is concerned. There, they circle the wagons. However they might have criticisms of the current Israeli government, they will defend Israel resolutely when anyone outside criticizes it.
But as I see it, there is very little chance that we can effect any significant “rebalancing” of Canadian policy towards the Israel/Palestine issue until a significant number of Jews are willing to dissociate themselves from Israel or criticize it publicly.
Why is this? Certainly organizations like CIJA, or Bnai Brith, play a role in shaping Canadian opinion. But I think that “holocaust guilt” still leads most non Jews to defer to Canadian Jews on this issue. And this is surely augmented by the fact that many Canadian Jews have visited Israel, or have family in Israel, and thus usually know much, much more about Israel (and Palestine) than non Jews.
I have heard some people, (particularly some frustrated progressive Jews) say that it is “impossible” to make any headway in the jewish community and we should ignore them.
I do not think we can afford to do so. In fact, I am convinced that we have to find a way to work with liberal Jews, to encourage (force?) them to think about the contradiction between their own liberalism and their defense of Israels ‘illiberalism” today.
It is not good enough to say that they are a “writeoff”. We can’t afford to do that. We have to find a way to break this logjam.
Your comments most welcome.
You are crazy Peter. Take up another cause!!
I am tempted to say “Forget Canadian Jews. Many are critical of Israel, but only in private. The vast majority fear that criticism of Israel is really anti-Semitism in disguise. Welcome Jews who make themselves available — as comrades and as a cover against accusations of anti-Semitism — but don’t expect large numbers of Jews to participate in a balanced discussion.”
On the other hand, you might be right when you say “there is very little chance that we can effect any significant ‘rebalancing’ of Canadian policy towards the Israel/Palestine issue until a significant number of Jews are willing to dissociate themselves from Israel or criticize it publicly.” I know a great many older, Christian, moderate leftists and activists whose identity is includes being sympathetic to and protective of Jews. They believe Jews remain vulnerable and are paralyzed by the fear that they will feed into anti-Semitism. (The United Church’s decision to boycott settlement products is unbelievably heroic in that context.)
Let me point out one problem in getting Canadian Jews to participate in a public discussion. Those Jews who want Israel (i.e., a state with a Jewish majority) to survive might be convinced that Israel’s policies of occupation and settlement endanger its security; that a functioning Palestinian state in the territories is necessary to Israel’s security; and that supporters of Israel should speak out. This is, of course, the argument of 96.2 per cent of the Israeli left — but it’s an argument anathema to increasing numbers of the Canada’s Palestinian support community.
This note from Marvin Gandall
The Canadian Jewish community has historically been somewhat more parochial than in the US, but wouldn’t the findings reported in the NYT below also mostly apply in Canada as well, particularly among those younger Canadians who self-identify as Jews? Aren’t Jews, especially younger ones, disproportionately represented in the Palestine solidarity movement because they feel personally involved in a way that the great majority of other Canadians don’t?
“While 69 percent (of Jewish Americans) say they feel an emotional attachment to Israel, and 40 percent believe that the land that is now Israel was ‘given to the Jewish people by God,’ only 17 percent think that the continued building of settlements in the West Bank is helpful to Israel’s security.”
That’s encouraging, but the problem with solidarity work, alas, is that the mass of the population, Jewish and otherwise, doesn’t typically mobilize unless the country’s armed forces are involved in repressing a popular insurgency overseas which is inflicting heavy losses in blood and treasure. That’s not been the case in Palestine, though I’m sure there is widespread sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians and the desire for a settlement of the conflict – any kind of settlement – among Canadian Jews and non-Jews. However, individual sentiment and solidarity work by small groups of individuals is not, as I’m sure you know, the same as a national “discussion” around Israel of the sort which could shift Canadian politics or foreign policy; for that, you would need an organized mass movement which does not presently exist. But you deserve credit for trying, and I hope you succeed.
NY Times October 1, 2013
Poll Shows Major Shift in Identity of U.S. Jews By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
The first major survey of American Jews in more than 10 years finds a significant rise in those who are not religious, marry outside the faith and are not raising their children Jewish — resulting in rapid assimilation that is sweeping through every branch of Judaism except the Orthodox.
The intermarriage rate, a bellwether statistic, has reached a high of 58 percent for all Jews, and 71 percent for non-Orthodox Jews — a huge change from before 1970 when only 17 percent of Jews married outside the faith. Two-thirds of Jews do not belong to a synagogue, one-fourth do not believe in God and one-third had a Christmas tree in their home last year.
“It’s a very grim portrait of the health of the American Jewish population in terms of their Jewish identification,” said Jack Wertheimer, a professor of American Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary, in New York.
The survey, by the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project, found that despite the declines in religious identity and participation, American Jews say they are proud to be Jewish and have a “strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people.”
While 69 percent say they feel an emotional attachment to Israel, and 40 percent believe that the land that is now Israel was “given to the Jewish people by God,” only 17 percent think that the continued building of settlements in the West Bank is helpful to Israel’s security.
Jews make up 2.2 percent of the American population, a percentage that has held steady for the past two decades. The survey estimates there are 5.3 million Jewish adults as well as 1.3 million children being raised at least partly Jewish.
The survey uses a wide definition of who is a Jew, a much-debated topic. The researchers included the 22 percent of Jews who describe themselves as having “no religion,” but who identify as Jewish because they have a Jewish parent or were raised Jewish, and feel Jewish by culture or ethnicity.
However, the percentage of “Jews of no religion” has grown with each successive generation, peaking with the millennials (those born after 1980), of whom 32 percent say they have no religion.
“It’s very stark,” Alan Cooperman, deputy director of the Pew religion project, said in an interview. “Older Jews are Jews by religion. Younger Jews are Jews of no religion.”
The trend toward secularism is also happening in the American population in general, with increasing proportions of each generation claiming no religious affiliation.
But Jews without religion tend not to raise their children Jewish, so this secular trend has serious consequences for what Jewish leaders call “Jewish continuity.” Of the “Jews of no religion” who have children at home, two-thirds are not raising their children Jewish in any way. This is in contrast to the “Jews with religion,” of whom 93 percent said they are raising their children to have a Jewish identity.
Reform Judaism remains the largest American Jewish movement, at 35 percent. Conservative Jews are 18 percent, Orthodox 10 percent, and groups such as Reconstructionist and Jewish Renewal make up 6 percent combined. Thirty percent of Jews do not identify with any denomination.
In a surprising finding, 34 percent said you could still be Jewish if you believe that Jesus was the Messiah.
When Jews leave the movements they grew up in, they tend to shift in the direction of less tradition, with Orthodox Jews becoming Conservative or Reform, and Conservative Jews becoming Reform. Most Reform Jews who leave become nonreligious. (Two percent of Jews are converts, the survey found.)
Jews from the former Soviet Union and their offspring make up about 10 percent of the American Jewish population.
While earlier generations of Orthodox Jews defected in large numbers, those in the younger generation are being retained. Several scholars attributed this to the Orthodox marrying young, having large families and sending their children to Jewish schools.
Steven M. Cohen, a sociologist of American Jewry at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, in New York, and a paid consultant on the poll, said the report foretold “a sharply declining non-Orthodox population in the second half of the 21st century, and a rising fraction of Jews who are Orthodox.”
The survey also portends “growing polarization” between religious and nonreligious Jews, said Laurence Kotler-Berkowitz, senior director of research and analysis at the Jewish Federations of North America.
The Jewish Federations has conducted major surveys of American Jews over many decades, but the last one in 2000 was mired in controversy over methodology. When the federations decided not to undertake another survey in 2010, Jane Eisner, editor in chief of The Jewish Daily Forward, urged the Pew researchers to jump in.
It was a multimillion-dollar effort to cull 3,475 respondents from a pool of 70,000. They were interviewed in English and Russian, on landlines and cellphones from Feb. 20 to June 13, 2013. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus three percentage points.
Ms. Eisner found the results “devastating” because, she said in an interview, “I thought there would be more American Jews who cared about religion.”
“This should serve as a wake-up call for all of us as Jews,” she said, “to think about what kind of community we’re going to be able to sustain if we have so much assimilation.”
My cousin just thoughtfully gave me her copy of “the Walrus” and drew my
attention to an interesting article called “Confronting the Israel taboo”.
It’s by a Canadian Jew named Joseph Rosen, who I have never heard of before.
I thought it was quite good, but wanted to ask if any of you had read it,
and what you thought of it. Even more importantly, if his characterization
of the Canadian Jewish “psyche’ is basically right, what does that mean for
NCCAR or IJV or any other organization trying to promote a balanced
discussion around Israel?
Your opinions would be greatly appreciated.
With respect to the Pew research cited by Marv, I believe that in Canada the Orthodox-Conservative-Reform pyramid is upside-down: mostly Orthodox, least Reform. I think a survey of Canadian Jews would find quite different results front he US-Pew research.
re: “trying to promote a balanced discussion around Israel.” I saw the film “Hannah Arendt” last night. Fantastic, I thought. Trying to promote a balanced discussion around Israel and Jews, among Jews, seems as impossible now as it was then — at least as shown in the film.
About TheWalrus article, “Confronting the Israel taboo”: I think Joseph Rosen’s characterization of the “Jewish psyche” is essentially correct, if by that one means: basically paranoid, and fearful of an inevitable upsurge in anti-Semitism; and ubiquitous fears that anti-Semitism is the real motivation behind criticism of Israel. As Rosen writes, “When you are raised to think that your people always have been and always will be persecuted, it becomes hard to know if there is actual, immediate danger.”
Rosen gives more credence to the role of actual anti-Semitism in creating Jewish-Canadian paranoia than I would. He writes: “My battles with Hitler were imaginary, but my father grew up Orthodox in Quebec and was called maudit juif, regularly harassed, attacked a few times, and even beaten up a few times for being Jewish.” Rosen doesn’t say when this was, but (according to the article) Rosen was born in 1971, so, guessing that his father was born in 1930, he’s talking about the ’40s and ’50s. I was born in 1950 and grew up in Montreal. I recall exactly one anti-Semitic event, and my brother, who is four years older, recalls none. (In fact, he said the closest was being called a self-hating Jew.)
Rosen cites, with tacit agreement, the view that “in Montreal, the centre of Jewish life up until the 1980s, most Jews never felt fully accepted. … Jews were excluded not once but twice-over, from both French and English institutions, which made it tough to get hospital jobs and university spots. … Montreal Jews rarely felt included or welcome in Canada’s national project.”
Again, he’s not precise about what period he’s talking about. I went to high school in Montreal from 1963 to 1967 — 50 years ago. Every one of my friends was Jewish. I never had the slightest sense that any of us felt our choices in life and work were limited by our Judaism.
To get back to your original question, Peter, about getting more Jews to participate in a discussion of Israel/Palestine, I’d repeat: The growing tendency among pro-Palestinian activists to promote the “one-state solution” is seen by most Jews as an attempt to destroy Israel. They are not likely to participate in such a discussion.
I’d say it means, by and large, don’t expect Jews to participate and do expect to be denounced. Welcome Jews who make themselves available — as comrades and as a cover against accusations of anti-Semitism — but don’t expect large numbers of Jews to participate in a balanced discussion. Many Jews have criticisms of Israel, but they won’t acknowledge these in public.
There might be a strategy that does work. Those Jews who want the Jewish state to survive might be convinced that Israel’s policies of occupation and settlement are endangering its security; that a functioning Palestinian state in the territories is necessary to Israel’s security; and that supporters of Israel should speak out. This is, of course, the argument of 96.2 per cent of the Israeli left, but it’s an argument anathema to increasing numbers of the Canada’s Palestinian support community.
Comments are closed.