Trou­ble in the Tribe: The Amer­i­can Jew­ish Con­flict Over Israel

  • Review
By – April 19, 2016

In Trou­ble in the Tribe, Dov Wax­man argues that Israeli pol­i­tics and poli­cies are a grow­ing source of con­flict with­in Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties, and that the voice” of the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty is no longer as uni­fied as in the past. These dif­fer­ences are a prod­uct of broad­er changes with­in the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty and it is no longer as clear which voice is in fact dom­i­nant. Wax­man reviews the evo­lu­tion of the pro-Israel lob­by in the Unit­ed States, describes some of the key orga­ni­za­tions with­in this coali­tion, and reports pub­lic opin­ion data show­ing the sig­nif­i­cant­ly high­er com­mit­ment to Israel and to Israeli poli­cies by peo­ple over the age of 30 and by more tra­di­tion­al Jews. 

In con­trast to the often stri­dent pub­lic dis­course, recent pub­lic opin­ion polls gen­er­al­ly show sup­port for Israel. How­ev­er, there are sharp dif­fer­ences and divi­sions with­in the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty over the kinds of poli­cies need­ed for a sus­tain­able peace and whether or not Israel is tak­ing suf­fi­cient action to pro­mote peace. The most sig­nif­i­cant cleav­ages are between the young and the old, and between Ortho­dox and non-Ortho­dox. The gen­er­a­tional divide is espe­cial­ly con­cern­ing. For exam­ple, only one in four young peo­ple (age 18 to 29) thought that “…the cur­rent Israeli gov­ern­ment is mak­ing a sin­cere effort to bring about a peace set­tle­ment with the Pales­tini­ans…” in 2013. By con­trast, 43% of peo­ple over the age of 50 agreed with this statement. 

Wax­man rec­og­nizes that the divi­sions he describes are not entire­ly new. It is also pos­si­ble to envi­sion them as pos­ing impor­tant edu­ca­tion­al chal­lenges tar­get­ed toward young peo­ple and the unaf­fil­i­at­ed rather than assum­ing that grow­ing oppo­si­tion to Israel in the future is inevitable. In fact, efforts are under­way to more effec­tive­ly deploy edu­ca­tion­al and pub­lic rela­tions meth­ods to improve the pub­lic image of Israel and, in par­tic­u­lar, to coun­ter­act anti-Israel and pos­si­bly anti-Semit­ic infor­ma­tion and rhetoric.

Although the focus of the book is on the inter­nal pol­i­tics of the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty, a dis­cus­sion of the Boy­cott, Divest­ment and Sanc­tions (BDS) move­ment would have been instruc­tive. Con­fined to a foot­note is a brief men­tion of the preva­lence of anti-Israel sen­ti­ment on many col­lege cam­pus­es includ­ing the occur­rence of apartheid weeks.” These efforts have been most evi­dent on col­lege cam­pus­es but the BDS move­ment has a broad­er reach, includ­ing the Pres­by­ter­ian church which vot­ed in June 2014 to divest its hold­ings in three cor­po­ra­tions to pres­sure Israel. Some BDS sym­pa­thiz­ers are them­selves Jew­ish. In his clos­ing chap­ter, Wax­man points out that he took pains to be unbi­ased. How­ev­er, his use of cap­i­tal let­ters to describe the Occu­pa­tion” and the Occu­pied Ter­ri­to­ries” are sug­ges­tive of his per­son­al views.

While Israel is no longer the strug­gling nation depict­ed in Leon Uris’s book Exo­dus — a land of Milk and Hon­ey — but an eco­nom­i­cal­ly advanced start up nation,” it is indeed dif­fi­cult for affil­i­at­ed Jews and for grow­ing num­bers of Israelis to be hope­ful about the long-term prospects for peace and a two-state solu­tion in the midst of a volatile region. In the late sum­mer of 2015, when this book was near­ing com­ple­tion, Israelis began to be vic­tim­ized by lone ter­ror­ists using auto­mo­biles, knives, and oth­er stealth meth­ods. One won­ders, in the face of these events, and the Gaza war the pre­vi­ous sum­mer, if the Pew sur­vey data cit­ed in this book, which were col­lect­ed in 2013, rep­re­sent cur­rent opin­ions. Wax­man has done a care­ful and thought­ful job of sum­ma­riz­ing grow­ing divi­sions with­in the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty but the world sit­u­a­tion is very much in flux, which pos­es impor­tant chal­lenges to schol­ar­ly research.

Relat­ed Content:

Susan M. Cham­bré, Pro­fes­sor Emeri­ta of Soci­ol­o­gy at Baruch Col­lege, stud­ies Jew­ish phil­an­thropy, social and cul­tur­al influ­ences on vol­un­teer­ing, and health advo­ca­cy orga­ni­za­tions. She is the author of Fight­ing for Our Lives: New York’s AIDS Com­mu­ni­ty and the Pol­i­tics of Dis­ease and edit­ed Patients, Con­sumers and Civ­il Soci­ety.

Discussion Questions