Heed The Warnings


James Besser’s insightful, very disturbing essay, “Warning Signs For Israel In Vote,” (Nov. 16), points out why the election campaign should give the majority of American Jews — and especially American Jewish leaders — much cause for concern and reassessment.

As Besser writes, the campaign turned support for Israel into “one more issue defined by bitter partisanship.” This can only be highly detrimental to Israel. Support for Israel must be bipartisan and must not become a wedge issue in American politics. And, as Besser correctly notes, this partisanship will “widen the gap between Israel-focused Jews and communal leaders on the one hand and the Jewish majority [the almost] 70 percent who voted for Obama] on the other.”

What is also harmful to Israel and to the American Jewish community is the ever-increasing disparity between the views toward Israel espoused by a handful of Jewish leaders who claim to speak for the broad American Jewish community and the actual views of most American Jews.

Besser is also correct when he writes that this division — which is polarized, marked by anger, with no middle ground — is “one of the reasons so many Jews, especially younger ones, are detaching from community institutions.” I would add, from supporting Israel.

It, therefore, is time (past time, really) for the majority of American Jews, especially the younger ones, to become more assertive about expressing their views on Israel, including concerns they may have on Israeli governmental policies, such as expansion of settlements in the West Bank. Our community leaders should encourage this expression, not discredit it.

Besser also mentions “surging” Hispanics in the electorate and later on refers to “Evangelical Christians whose support for Israel is overwhelming.” My very recent experiences and conversations lead me to a different, troubling conclusion. Younger Hispanics, Catholic priests and even Evangelicals are not nearly as strong in their support of Israel as their elders. I have found that they are ambivalent, even questioning, about Israel.

He also reminds us that the majority of voters are now women. But why are there so few women in leadership roles — professional and lay — in the American Jewish community?

American Jewish leaders must reflect on the issues Besser raises and reassess their role so that our community is thriving and vibrant, rather than the equivalent of “the party of old white men.”

The writer is a former Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.