On the one hand, good news. On the other, bad. The Jewish People Policy Institute delivered its annual assessment to the Israeli cabinet a few weeks ago and it’s a mixed bag.
The annual assessment purports to be the sole “annual stocktaking of the Jewish world,” taking into account the state of affairs in Israel and the Diaspora. The Jewish People Policy Institute, which was created by the Jewish Agency, has been producing this report for 11 years now. It was presented to the cabinet by Stuart Eizenstat, a former U.S. ambassador to the European Union, and Dennis Ross, another high-level American diplomat, who served as the presidential envoy for the Middle East.
Nearly absent in the report, oddly, is any deep introspection on the crucial U.S.-Israel relationship. Among the least specific recommendations is a call for a comprehensive governmental discussion on the “complex fabric of the U.S.-Israel relationship.” It almost appears that the topic, so electric at times in the past year, is too much for the report to embrace.
The report does include, however, a specific appendix on dealing with the potential aliya of 120,000 French Jews. Yet it is nearly silent on European antisemitism, except in the context of its potential for increasing migration to Israel. Antisemitism on American college campuses receives exponentially more attention than antisemitism in Europe. It is almost as though the authors have given up on the sinking ship of European Jewry and are instead devoting their resources to bailing water from the boat of American campus activism.
The strength of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement has clearly, and rightly, raised alarms at the highest levels. The authors say that Israel and its allies must take an offensive, not just a defensive, approach to the movement – and it states bluntly what plenty of Israel’s overseas allies and enemies have been suggesting for years. While unmasking BDS for what it is – “a movement that rejects a two-state outcome and coexistence” – Israel must also show its commitment to coexistence, Ross bluntly told the cabinet, by “aligning its settlement policy with its support for a two-state outcome. Meaning it needs to stop building outside the blocs.”
The report’s litany of troubles on the geopolitical front is long – Iran on the threshold of nuclear power, worsening security conditions on Israel’s northern and southern borders, the erosion of Israel’s international standing – but the authors see positive developments as well.
Israel is not facing a military threat from a conventional state army. Hezbollah is busy in Syria. Egypt is acting to stop arms smuggling into Gaza. Israeli relations with moderate Sunni Muslim countries are improving as they share common cause in opposition to Iran and jihadism.
As close as the report comes to unequivocal good news is in the demographic realm. Depending on the arithmetic used, the Jewish population in the world is approaching the level it was at before the Holocaust. There are 14.2 million people who identify as Jewish, in addition to one million people in the Diaspora who identify as partially Jewish and about 350,000 immigrants to Israel who are not halachically Jewish but qualify under the Law of Return. That brings the number of Jews close to the 16.5 million who were alive in 1939.
Eizenstat said, “This is a great affirmation of the Jewish people’s commitment to life and continuity but also requires new policy responses and outreach for those who have only marginal connections to Judaism and Israel.”
There are some interesting developments in the Diaspora – meaning, in this case, the United States. For the first time ever, a majority of offspring of mixed marriages in the United States are self-identifying as Jewish. The authors urge Jewish leaders and institutions to encourage the involvement of these individuals in the community.
There is also a huge swath of Americans who define themselves as “Jews of no religion” or “partially Jewish” and the report urges the development of Jewish social networks to engage these people, as well.
The face of American Jewry is changing in other ways. The “historical middle,” Jews who have strong connections to Israel and their Jewish identity but are integrated into secular society, is declining, while Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox communities in the United States are growing rapidly. It also notes that young American Jews are “becoming more, not less, pro-Israel and that growth is happening almost entirely within the politically conservative Orthodox community.”
Canadian Jewish life is experiencing many of the same forces reshaping that of the United States, no doubt. All tolled, in a world in uproar, life remains overwhelmingly comfortable for Canadians, Jewish and not – something we should never take for granted, as forces of animosity and vilification exist here, too, and Israel faces real threats. But there are other issues facing the Jewish community – internal ones. The JPPI data hint at an increasingly polarized Diaspora community, religiously and politically, but don’t offer any analysis. A job beyond its scope, perhaps, but an issue about which we should all be thinking.