OpinionJewish Diaspora

The assault: A coordinated attack on America’s Jews and Israel

American Jews are awakening to a new political reality concerning our changing status and position in the United States.

A view of protesters demonstrating outside the campus of Columbia University in New York City on April 25, 2024. Credit: Evan Schneider/U.N. Photo.
A view of protesters demonstrating outside the campus of Columbia University in New York City on April 25, 2024. Credit: Evan Schneider/U.N. Photo.
Steven Windmueller
Steven Windmueller

Many of my readers and former students have expressed frustration in the “depressing” manner in which I have interpreted current Jewish political news. Indeed, my messaging is often framed in a problematic context, sadly reflecting the state of Jewish and public affairs.

In so many ways, two articles have defined my take on the current realities. The themes in these publications speak to the deeper sense of anguish that we are feeling and seek to describe the “unsettled” character of the Jewish condition.

Since releasing these essays, the events, beginning with Oct. 7 and involving the most recent anti-Israel campus mobilization, have so clearly brought into perspective this moment. In this essay, I am moving this troubling scenario forward.

When considering the current crisis, folks often begin with the question of, “So why now?” In some measure, as Simon Montefiore has suggested in his new volume, “The World, A Family History of Humanity,” we as a civilization are reverting to an earlier, more traditional political timeline of defined and minimized roles, where minorities, such as the Jews, will be returning to their former status as marginalized petitioners. His argument confirms the end of a distinctive but non-normal period of Western and Jewish liberalism and acceptance.

During these past 75 years, and more generally over these last 150 years, Jews have held a fundamentally different political status and economic place in Western societies than in previous times. Both the collective and personal achievements that have defined the modern Jewish condition were without precedent, and in turn, Western societies have exhibited a more open tolerance, allowing for a Jewish renaissance of power and influence.

The factors now contributing to the undoing of this unique era are at hand. Five elements explain this moment.

First, even as Jews may have contributed to the world of new technologies, the advent of the internet and the presence of social media platforms have been the staging areas for much of the adverse messaging now being directed against Israel and global Jewry. This has been the seedbed for creating the new antisemitism that is today serving to marginalize Jews and undermine the State of Israel.

Second, beginning in the 1970s, political scientists began to note the decline of trust in core Western institutions, and with such a loss of confidence and belief in the infrastructures of our democracies came a corollary pushback directed against the central actors and decision-makers associated with these centers of power. Jews are seen as being a part of an elite class of influencers who helped to shape contemporary culture, the economic marketplace and the political agenda. This assault on the status quo not only sees Jews as fellow travelers contributing to the “white” dominated political and economic order but also as the architects of many of its core policies that have ensured their positions of power.

Since the onset of this century, accompanying this assault on trust, we have encountered an environment where public discourse and conduct have given way to conspiracy theories, racist messaging and antisemitic rhetoric and action. This new level of incivility has been fueled by social media and the expanded possibilities of creating “fake” news and alternative outcomes. We are living in a political culture in which public debate is being reduced to a base level of distrust, where alternative viewpoints are often labeled and minimized, and where one’s opponents are marginalized. All these countercultural expressions led to such transformational moments as Charlottesville’s Unite the Right Rally (2017), the antisemitic attack at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue (2018), and the Jan. 6 civil insurrection (2021).

In this period, we are experiencing a changing generational dynamic. In connection with the Gen Z phenomenon, we are being introduced to a cohort whose educational orientation and socialization experience are fundamentally different from prior generations. Minimally exposed to classroom civics and American history, this age group has been far less connected to the rhythm and traditions of the earlier periods of this nation’s social and cultural evolution. In its place, this is the first generation to be raised on the internet, with all its problematic realities. As a result, our newest and largest generation is entering the world with a highly limited but distorted view of history, culture and politics, driven and shaped by the platforms of social media.

As these Gen Zs move forward, they are being exposed to the full imprint of post-modernism, with its critique of Western culture, democracy and the economic order. Intersectionality, Critical Race Theory and Woke Culture are all being layered onto the mindset of this new emerging constituency.

Beyond these individual factors, we are observing how the cultural artifacts of institutions are being debased and, in some instances, minimized. We are observing that younger constituencies are prepared to minimize history, reject culture, and dismiss a group’s storyline.

Today’s language of the street, with its distortions of Zionism, misrepresentations of Judaism, and its outright dismissal of the Jewish people, is both unsettling and troubling, as these players are attempting to rewrite the Jewish narrative concerning who we are and what we represent. As with the Nazis and other enemies of our people, the messages being conveyed by these activists seek to deny both our presence in the land of Israel and our historic connection to this holy space. Our opponents in this moment are calling for our genocide, comfortably aligning themselves with those in prior periods who were committed to seeking our demise.

A new American alliance appears to be emerging that is comprised of an alignment of minority religious, ethnic and racial voices, many of whom we once considered our allies. This new coalition is directing its messaging and organizing itself against Israel and American Jewry, with support from a cadre of academic groups, a coalition of national organizations, and a core of political elites. In turn, this effort is being supported by a collection of foreign interests.

The dismembering of the American Jewish political story is designed to weaken the United States’ support for Israel, question American Jewish policies and behaviors, and seek to undo the influence and status of Jewish Americans. This displacement is well underway.

As we awaken to our new political reality concerning our changing status and position, we will be undergoing a degree of communal shock and a profound sense of political dislocation. In moving forward, we must employ our resources wisely, refine our core objectives, and rethink our messaging to maximize positive outcomes as we enter this new day in America.

Originally published by The Jewish Journal.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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