Friday, January 17, 2014

Book Review: The New American Zionism

Hardcover: 229 pages
Publisher: NYU Press (November 29, 2013)

The New American Zionism was written by Theodore Sasson.

I have bad news for Israel's critics.  With the American Studies Association boycott in the news of late, the American Jewry relationship with Israel is stronger than ever.

Sasson's analysis of the modern-day American Zionism is thoughtful, subtle, and compelling.  It's deeply researched and well-written.

Going into this book, one obviously wonders if American Jewish support for Israel is waning.  The answer?  It's not.  Look at the scores of college students and young adults that make the trek to Israel through Birthright Israel.

The early days of Zionism saw American Jewry playing a key role in establishing the Jewish state.  Albert Einstein was offered the job of being the first Israeli Prime Minister but he turned it down.  They created the framework that paved the way to raise funds and there's no denial of what it means in Washington to go against AIPAC as Israel is one of America's strongest allies abroad.

True, Jewish Federation funding is declining but what isn't during this age of tough economic times?  Yes, there are some differences in the two-state solution and it can be devisive at times but Jews support Israel's right to exist even if they may disagree with the government policies at times.  Some might fear that support is waning but it isn't.

Sasson's argument is that we are misunderstanding the new relationship between American Jews and Israel.  He shows that the approach is shifting from a "mobilization" approach to an "engagement approach."  This latter approach is done through direct and personal relations with Israel.  Many Jews are traveling via Birthright, the March, or other organized trips.  A growing number consumes Israeli news and culture, not to mention connecting online with Israelis.

The support has not been abandoned.  Philanthropy and lobbying may have changed over the years but Israel is more meaningful than ever before.  However, its the ability to impact policy that will diminish as there is no longer a unified voice.

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