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We need a renewal of American purpose

"Team America" is breaking up and Jews are suffering the consequences.

An image of the American flag lights up the 580,000-square-foot Exosphere at Sphere as part of a Fourth of July celebration in Las Vegas on July 4, 2024. Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images.
An image of the American flag lights up the 580,000-square-foot Exosphere at Sphere as part of a Fourth of July celebration in Las Vegas on July 4, 2024. Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images.
Elad Israeli
Elad Israeli is director of research and a legislative associate at the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).

This year has been tough for the Jews. From threatening graffiti spray-painted on the homes of community leaders under the cover of night to a violent mob gathering outside Adas Torah synagogue in Los Angeles, there seems to be no end in sight to this rising wave of antisemitism.

For many Jews, these scenes are reminiscent of the countries from which their parents or grandparents fled, and experiences we’d hoped to leave behind us upon arrival to America’s shores. 

Fresh in our memories are the past year’s events on college and university campuses across the country. While there is good reason to doubt the authenticity of these “grassroots” protests, they will surely remain emblematic.

As scary as the rise in antisemitism has been, one might say it is to be expected. Traditional media’s portrayal of the Israel-Hamas war and widespread propaganda on social media provides fertile soil for this resurgence. This argument, I believe, ignores a larger picture; simplifying a much more complex reality.

Modern antisemitism never stands on its own. It is a symptom of a society facing an identity crisis that lacks trust in its leadership and purpose. Therefore, it cannot be fought as if isolated from other societal issues. The new-wave antisemites make this clear themselves, as defacing American flags has become a staple of their protests. While such actions shouldn’t be normalized, we won’t succeed in simply policing them away or hoping they die down over time. We must work to treat the root causes of the ills with which American society is grappling.

Once alienated from unifying political and national factors, people tend to revert to more raw identities. Disdain grows for the “establishment,” a political class that is seen as increasingly disconnected from the whole. And what, may I ask, conveys a greater sense of establishment than Zionist Jews?

Don’t get me wrong. Jewish American efforts to succeed in various fields are by no means a strategic mistake. They are the result of millennia of discrimination, persecution and violence endured by Jews in exile. Jews rightfully understand the importance of their physical survival by occupying positions of leadership and influence. Jewish hardship reached record heights in World War II and the Holocaust in Europe. The Jewish response was to strive for excellence that reached record heights in post-war America.

Post-war America had a mission. The greatest generation had come home victorious with a new understanding of America’s global role. This new sense of American purpose and drive only grew against the backdrop of the Cold War. Generations of Americans were clear-minded as to what they lived for, worked for and, when necessary, fought for. Individual identity, as inherent to the American psyche as it is, existed within the framework of a national one.

The Cold War is long over. In the year 2024, a majority of Americans are no more than 39 years old. They were no more than five years old at the fall of the Berlin Wall. Growing up at “the end of history,” it was felt there was no need to remind them of America’s worldly purpose. The revival of American patriotism following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks has long since dissipated.

Today, American society faces an ever-growing drug crisis, economic hardship and a lack of trust in its political class. The inevitable descent from a collective, unifying national identity to more primitive forms of identity highlights the divisions among us. “Team America” is breaking up. Throw into the mix the perception of Jewish allegiance to a foreign power whose war is dominating headlines and a new wave of antisemitism is inevitable.

What’s required today is a new contract between America and Americans; a renewed understanding of our national purpose and the mission that binds our shared destinies. This past year has catapulted many Americans—Jews and non-Jews alike—towards a realization of this necessity. Heading towards a critical election cycle, I only hope that our politicians catch up in time.

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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