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Is the Golden Age of American Jews Ending? No, but Liberal Zionism Is Breaking Down.

Writing for The Atlantic, Franklin Foer purports to find rising antisemitism “on the right and the left.” What actually concerns him is that “liberal” Zionism is no longer a thing. Young Jewish people are increasingly turning against Israel.

Nathaniel Flakin

April 4, 2024
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In a 10,000-word cover story for The Atlantic, Franklin Foer purports to find rising antisemitism “on the right and the left.” According to the title, “The Golden Age of American Jews Ending.” The examples of right-wing antisemitism he mentions are indisputable: mass shootings, conspiracy theories, and calls to deport all Jews from the United States.

The examples of antisemitism on the Left, in contrast, are grasping at straws. As one example of “left-wing antisemitism,” Foer mentions the claim that “the slaughter of some Israelis on October 7 [was] the result of friendly fire.” But this is a fact that is fairly hard to dispute. The New York Times has reported, for example, that at least 14 Israelis were killed by the IDF at Kibbutz Be’eri, based on the testimonies of their relatives. It’s actually quite hard to imagine that not a single Israeli was killed by the IDF, given the widespread use of hellfire missiles from Israeli helicopter gunships. 

In Foer’s telling, even opposition to the Iraq War was based on antisemitism, since a few members of George Bush’s administration were Jewish. “The angry talk about neocons also trafficked in dangerous old tropes,” he writes. (By his own account, Foer was a liberal hawk who “hate[d] George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and still support[ed] their war.”) He even lists Occupy Wall Street as an antisemitic plot, a “populist revolt [that] had long been the stuff of Jewish nightmares.”

We do not want to deny that some isolated individuals who see themselves as leftists spread antisemitic tropes — like the claim that the U.S. government is controlled by a Zionist Occupation Government. But the vast majority of leftists push back against such ideas wherever they pop up, and point out that it is U.S. imperialism that uses Israel for its geopolitical purposes, and not the other way around.  

Foer’s pained attempts at “both-sidesism” rest on a simple premise: He identifies with a version of “liberal” Zionism that supports U.S. imperialist hegemony, including its Zionist proxy that helps it to control the Middle East. This ideology, which was once very popular, claimed to defend human rights and democracy, while at the same time cheering for imperialist wars and ethnic cleansing. Foer incorrectly assumes that all Jews feel the same way, or at least they really should. So any criticism of U.S. imperialism is, in his view, anti-Jewish.  

The author recounts numerous anecdotes of Jewish students feeling threatened by pro-Palestine protests at their school. He does not delve into any of these stories — it is not clear why a protest against an ongoing genocide would be threatening to any individual not committing said genocide. Many young Jewish people in the U.S. are raised to identify with the Israeli state. But they don’t have to — and increasingly, this identity is breaking down. Many of the pro-Palestine protesters, who are supposedly threatening Jews, are themselves Jewish.


So let’s start with some statistics. According to a 2021 study, a full 38 percent of Jewish people in the United States under the age of 40 agreed that Israel is an apartheid state. Almost a third, 31 percent, felt that Israel was committing genocide — and that was before the current war. Even if no scientific data appears to be available from the last five months, these numbers have almost certainly gone up.  It’s a reasonable assumption that if we had data on Jewish young people under 25, it would be a majority in opposition to Zionism. The generational divide is enormous, with older Jewish voters far more likely to support Israel than their kids or grandkids (which is ripping families apart).

This is easily observable at any Palestine solidarity demonstration, with Jewish young people playing leading roles everywhere. Last year, a Jewish comrade from New York told me that “among young people, Zionism is dead.” I took this as an exaggeration, but the numbers bear him out.

Foer’s entire argument thus rests on erasing a huge chunk of Jewish young people — perhaps the majority. The despair he feels is not based on actual threats to Jews. Rather, he sees that huge numbers of young Jewish people are turning away from his liberal Zionism. 

Liberal Jews

The Atlantic’s cover illustration features Jews who stand as pillars of American liberalism, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Steven Spielberg, Leonard Nimoy, and the Fonz. While it’s true that many Jewish people stood at the heights of American culture in the second half of the 20th century, this was far from the only Jewish contribution to U.S. history. A generation or two earlier, Jewish immigrant workers played an enormous role building up the workers’ movement, including its anarchist, socialist, and communist trends. Even if these Jewish radicals were not successful in beating U.S. capitalism, they won many basic rights for working people that we still enjoy today — just look at the martyrs of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

Jewish radicalism did not cease in 1945, when some white Jews were finally welcomed into the elites. Foer refers to Jewish participation in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. Yet while he claims that it was liberal ideology that inspired Jewish activists to stand against racist police, in reality many were socialists, communists, and other kinds of revolutionaries. Numerous leaders of the New Left of the 1960s were Jewish, and they were fighting against the U.S. regime, not for it.

When antisemites claimed that Bolshevism was a “Jewish conspiracy,” this was not entirely based on fantasy — Jewish workers were the backbone of many radical movements. So today, when conservatives and liberals alike claim that Judaism and Zionism are identical, this is an erasure of a long tradition of anti-Zionist Jews. Born in 1974, Foer sees Barbra Streisand and Golda Meir as “the two most celebrated Jewish women of the century.” Many younger Jewish people today probably don’t care about either — and might well prefer Rosa Luxemburg and Emma Goldman.

After the Second World War, Jewish radicalism in the United States receded somewhat, as a result of McCarthyist repression, but also Stalinist betrayal. Stalin supported the creation of the State of Israel, and many Jewish communists in the U.S. ceded to this right-wing pressure and gave up their opposition to this “Jim Crow” ideology. It was only in this context that liberal Zionism could become a hegemonic ideology among American Jews for a generation or so.

Jewish Baby Boomers were able to reconcile their liberal values with their support for a colonial state in the Middle East. They claimed they were “Labor Zionists” or “liberal Zionists,” and for them, the increasingly right-wing policies of successive Israeli governments were just a temporary aberration. But for decades now, “Labor Zionism” has been disappearing — the left liberal party Meretz has disappeared from the Knesset, and Avoda, the self-described Labor Party, is down to just four seats. Israeli society is dominated by religious fundamentalism and Jewish supremacism. Young people only know of a “liberal” Israel as a fairy tale told by their grandparents.

This is why the journalist Peter Beinart has diagnosed an “emerging rupture between American liberalism and American Zionism.” It’s no coincidence that the Zionist apartheid state is supported by racists and antisemites like Donald Trump, Elon Musk, and Viktor Orban. It’s also no coincidence that Israel has been shifting to the right for decades: As Jewish anti-Zionists warned more than a century ago, this was the inevitable result of creating a state exclusively for one ethnic group. There was never going to be a society based on ethnic cleansing that upheld democratic values.

Foer acknowledges a “Talmudic tradition of disagreement,” but he explicitly rejects any debate about Israel within the Jewish community, as he silently excommunicates anyone who disagrees with him. Any talk of overcoming apartheid in historical Palestine is written off as “naive in the extreme” and “very likely the end of Jewish existence in the Levant.” As a reminder, Foer is deliberately erasing 38% or more of Jewish young people in the U.S. today.

Threats to Jewish Life Today

A number of U.S. Jews are getting German passports — last year, 2,500 were issued. Foer cites this number as proof that Jews no longer feel safe in the U.S. Yet he overlooks the fact that “unprecedented numbers of Israelis” have been seeking European passports, long before October 7. Currently roughly one million Jewish Israelis, or about one in seven, hold a second passport. If we were to follow Foer’s logic, this is the number that shows where Jewish people don’t feel safe. 

The Atlantic’s cover bemoans the end of a golden age of American Jews — but in reality, it’s only the golden age of “liberal” Zionism that’s breaking down. There was a time when Foer and other American liberals felt comfortable talking about universal human rights while endorsing ethnic cleansing in Palestine. Occasionally, they would be confronted by the fact that their Israeli allies were fanatical racists — yet they could wave this off as a short-term anomaly.

Now, such an ideology appears untenable. Foer is clearly watching former allies breaking both to the left and the right — statistically speaking, the older ones are becoming Trumpists and the younger ones are becoming anti-Zionists. He describes this as a threat to Jewish life. But really, it’s a threat to his highly contradictory ideology. It’s impossible to cheer for Israel as the “only democracy in the Middle East” while a big majority of Israeli Jewish society explicitly supports war crimes, with 72 percent opposing food deliveries to people starving under an occupation regime.

Zionism has always been a right-wing colonial project: an ethno-state enforcing white-supremacist hierarchies with military might. For a generation or two, it gave itself a liberal, and sometimes even a “socialist” veneer, but that is coming off. This is what feels threatening to Foer: it’s not pro-Palestinian protestors attacking Jews (which is not happening). Rather, it’s the fact that many Jewish youth are joining the Free Palestine demonstrations and rejecting Zionism. 

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Nathaniel Flakin

Nathaniel is a freelance journalist and historian from Berlin. He is on the editorial board of Left Voice and our German sister site Klasse Gegen Klasse. Nathaniel, also known by the nickname Wladek, has written a biography of Martin Monath, a Trotskyist resistance fighter in France during World War II, which has appeared in German, in English, and in French, and in Spanish. He has also written an anticapitalist guide book called Revolutionary Berlin. He is on the autism spectrum.


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