Yitzhak Shamir
Yitzhak Shamir; drawing by David Levine


In the political drama playing on Israeli television, American Jews are shown as largely supporting Israel’s hard line. During Yitzhak Shamir’s visit to the United States in March, he addressed two national Jewish conferences, first, of the “young leaders” of the United Jewish Appeal in Washington, then of the leaders of the American Jewish organizations in New York. He was cheered at the first meeting, and there was only a scattering of opposition to his views at the second. American Jewish leaders were demonstrating their solidarity with Israel at the very moment, in fact, that polls were showing that most American Jews were critical of its policies. But that criticism was not perceived in Israel.

After the meetings with Shamir, Gideon Samet, a columnist for Ha’aretz who had been its Washington correspondent in the early 1980s, protested that American Jews had betrayed their liberal convictions and had let Israel down. Samet was upset because he knew that the film clips of those meetings on the Israeli 9 o’clock news, which the entire country stops to watch, would be interpreted as a triumph of Shamir. He would be seen to have persuaded American Jews to support the position that it was better to remain at war with the Palestinians than to have to surrender any part of the “undivided Land of Israel.” Since Israel itself is split between hawks and doves, the doves needed direct and unmistakable support from American Jews to help them influence opinion. At the very least, they hoped for television images that would show the average Israeli that a serious confrontation had taken place with Shamir.

Israel’s left wing should not have been surprised: they have been disappointed before. In the years before he came to power in 1977, Begin used to argue that American Jews were capitalists, that they were, indeed, among the greatest beneficiaries of the free enterprise system. He appealed to the Jews in the Diaspora to put their weight on the side of capitalism in Israel, and thus create a world Jewish majority against the socialism of the Labor party. Begin even went so far as to propose a second chamber to advise the Knesset—he called it, with a dose of melodrama, a Jewish “House of Lords”—to which leading figures in the Diaspora would be appointed along with their peers in Israel. This body was to act as a brake on the leftist policies of the Israeli government and give it advice from on high. Of course, nothing ever came of Begin’s suggestion. So long as Labor was in power, it did not want such highly placed kibitzers. When Begin himself became prime minister, he never said another word about the “House of Lords.” He made it even clearer than Golda Meir had before him that what he expected of Jewish leaders of the Diaspora was not advice but agreement.

The truth is that Israelis do not understand American Jews. Most Israelis, including some of the most sophisticated, want to believe that American Jews think of themselves as managers of a large warehouse that furnishes political influence and money, and even people, to serve Israel. Israel persists in asking only one question of the news from America: Is it “good or bad for Israel”? Is the news of yesterday’s meetings of Jews in Washington or New York, reported on the front pages of Israel’s newspapers, good for Shamir or good for Peres?

This is a grave misconception of American Jews. Most of them are committed to helping Israel, but this commitment does not dominate their lives in the way Israelis think it does. If that were so, hundreds of thousands of American Jews would have gone to settle in the Jewish state, to help build and defend it. Many Israelis I have talked to believe that most of the money that is raised by the annual Jewish appeals throughout America is given to Israel, but it is not. Less than twenty years ago, Israel received roughly 60 percent of the total, and it now receives 40 percent. The leaders who conduct these drives in the several hundred organized Jewish communities in America loudly proclaim their loyalty to Israel. One sees them on their annual “missions to Israel” shouting “We are one!” from their tour buses, but in committee meetings back home they have allocated funds to build community centers and hospitals and old-age homes and day schools for the benefit of Jews in America.

It is also not true, as most Israelis want to believe, that many American Jews support Israel as an “insurance policy” for themselves, that is, as a haven that they are keeping in reserve for the day when they might feel threatened by anti-Semitism in America. Jews in New York and Los Angeles may sometimes say such things, especially when raising money for Israel, but they do not mean them. American Jews simply cannot imagine a truly murderous anti-Semitism in the United States. If they could, they would be more circumspect than they have been in forcing the issue of Israel to the very center of American domestic politics.


American Jews have become a “one issue” lobby in Washington. In the climate of a strong pro-Israel opinion in America, they have succeeded in establishing Israel as the major recipient of American foreign aid, now some $3 billion a year. This success has made it easier for them to spend most of the charity dollars that American Jews raise on their own on institutions in the US. The public display of passion for Israel represents not the fear of anti-Semitism and the need to prepare a refuge from it, as many Israelis think, but, on the contrary, an almost complete denial of the possibility of such a backlash.

Israel is, indeed, the center of Jewish loyalty for most American Jews, but not in the way that the Israelis imagine. For many American Jews Israel is not only a cause to be supported but a place whose existence helps to make them more comfortable and secure in America. Jews in America are the only ethnic minority that does not have a homeland, a country of origin to which they can trace their roots. On trips to Europe, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan each made a sentimental journey to the village in Ireland from which his ancestors came. German-Americans claim the past of Goethe and Beethoven, and skip over the Nazi years. The Jews cannot claim as their homeland czarist Russia or the Poland of Colonel Beck in which they were persecuted, especially since most of these Jewish communities were destroyed by the Nazis; and those communities that still exist in the Soviet Union do not remind American Jews of the towns from which their grandparents came. After 1948 Israel became the homeland. The connection with Israel has been an important element in making Jews seem a “normal” part of the American scene.

The need for a homeland of which American Jews “could be proud” has had many consequences. In the earliest years of the State of Israel it was possible for American Jews to learn something about the moral ambiguities that came with power, but they preferred not to do so. Little notice was taken in the United States of a novel by Yigal Mossinsohn, Khirbet Khiza, written as the War of Independence was ending, which spoke with pain about Jews with machine guns lording it over Arabs, or of the poems by Nathan Alterman, in which he berated Israelis for their failure to behave decently toward the Arabs they had just conquered.

American Jews preferred to see Israel as it was depicted by Leon Uris in Exodus, in which Israelis were painted as totally noble and Arabs were the Middle Eastern equivalent of the murderous Indians of Hollywood Westerns. American Jews preferred to see Israel as unquestionably good. Jews recalled that even in America they were, in accordance with the faith of their ancestors, the “chosen people.” When support for Israel became the “secular religion” of most American Jews, Israel had to be presented as a homeland that was superior to all other homelands.

Therefore, through the years, most American Jews have not wanted to know what was really happening in Israel. They could take pride in the kibbutzim as a “great social experiment,” and resolutely ignore the fact that fewer than 5 percent of Jews lived in them, while most of Israel was trying to become more bourgeois, “just like America.” After the Six Day War in June 1967 American Jews did not have to think about the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, not even after Menachem Begin came to power a decade later. By definition, among American Jews the “homeland” was simply the one peace-loving state in the Middle East. If they heard echoes from Jerusalem of statements about the “undivided Land of Israel,” such remarks could be dismissed, in a very American way, by claiming that the Israelis who made them didn’t really mean them: they were only trying to stake out a hard bargaining position from which they could achieve the best deal. By saying that the Likud does not mean what it says, one does not have to face the uncomfortable fact that there is a right wing in Israel that is so insistent on its ideology that it would rather live amid violence than search for compromises.


So far I have used the phrases “most American Jews” or “many American Jews,” and not the usual phrase “the American Jewish community,” because there is no such thing as an American Jewish community. American Jews are divided into three unequal, sometimes overlapping, parts.


On the right, a minority of no more than 15 percent of American Jews are convinced, undeviating hard-liners. Most are Orthodox in religion, and many come from the small element of American Jewry that arrived after World War II; they tend to be Holocaust survivors, or the children of survivors. The experience of ultimate powerlessness in the Nazi death camps has made the survivors particularly susceptible to the appeal that Menachem Begin made his own: “never again.” Even among the American Jews who remember the death camps, there are some with moderate views. For example, Menachem Rosensaft, the founding chairman of the Children of Holocaust Survivors, is an outspoken dove, even though many of the most vocal people in his group are hawks. But for most of those whose lives were deeply affected by the Holocaust, the memory of powerlessness translates into the assertion that Jews cannot show any weakness to their enemies, that only power counts. And the major enemies of the Jews, now, are the Arabs.

The other component of the right-wing minority is the neoconservatives. This right-wing intelligentsia makes considerable noise, because it produces countless articles and makes many speeches; but it has no substantial number of foot soldiers. In a poll of American Jewish opinion by the Los Angeles Times, the results of which were reported on April 12 and 13, 56 percent described themselves as belonging to the Democratic party and 27 percent described themselves as political moderates. Only 17 percent described themselves as conservatives: not much more than the 10 percent of American Jews who were Republicans in the Roosevelt era. And many of today’s Jewish Republicans are Orthodox believers, few of whom are subscribers to Commentary or The Wall Street Journal.

The neoconservatives identify the cause of Israel with their campaign against détente with the Soviet Union. They are upset by Ronald Reagan’s new policy of accommodation, for they continue to see the Soviet Union as the “evil empire,” and they want Israel to be America’s bastion in the Middle East, the only country in the region on which America can depend. They argue that it is in the American interest that Israel have “strategic depth.” In light of these “strategic necessities,” of what account are the deaths and humiliations of Arabs on the West Bank? Local riots make little difference to pundits who see themselves as the masters of geopolitics.

The Israeli politician whom the neoconservatives most admire is General Ariel Sharon. They join with him in continuing to insist that Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 was well conceived, and that if only he had been allowed to finish the job he could have redrawn the strategic map of the Middle East. They ignore the violent internal conflicts within Lebanon and they conveniently forget the frightful cost in lives that street fighting in Beirut would have exacted. Even though Ronald Reagan was the American president who pushed Israel to end the siege of Beirut, the neoconservatives have already joined with Sharon in adding Lebanon to the list of military ventures that failed because the home front, both in America and in Israel, became chicken-hearted.

There can be little doubt that the “stab in the back” theory is waiting to be used again by the right wing in Israel and America should a compromise between Israel and the Palestinians ever emerge. It is almost inevitable that the moderates will be accused of lacking the guts to secure the undivided Land of Israel, which was supposedly in the grasp of Israel and its American ally if only they had stood fast.

The largest group of American Jewish opinion is in some conflict with itself. According to the Los Angeles Times poll, American Jews, by a majority of at least four to one, want some formula that would quell the violence. Two thirds of those polled favored some form of political accommodation with the Palestinians.

Almost half of those who expressed opinions, 41 percent, were willing to admit that “there is an attitude of racism involved in the attitude of Israelis towards Arabs,” and 47 percent denied this. By a margin of two to one, those polled opposed negotiation by the United States with the PLO. Thirty-one percent said they were willing to give up “the occupied territories in exchange for Arab recognition as part of a settlement of the Middle East conflict.” Forty-three percent said they were not willing to give up the territories and nearly 25 percent did not give an opinion. That is, a substantial minority of American Jews who have expressed an opinion are now willing to give up even “the territories,” that is, all of the West Bank and Gaza, with some minor rectifications of borders. More than 60 percent are for the Shultz plan, which calls for an international peace conference with a view to trading “territories for peace.”

In keeping with this result, 57 percent of the American Jews polled said they were favorably impressed by Shimon Peres, who endorsed the Shultz plan, while 49 percent said they were impressed by Yitzhak Shamir, even though Shamir now has the prestige that comes with being prime minister of Israel. Perhaps most striking of all is that more than a quarter of those polled were willing to say that the “foreign and domestic policies of the State of Israel have become less acceptable to them,” while only 11 percent, the bedrock constituency in America of the Israeli right wing, found Israel’s recent policies to be more acceptable.

The basic findings of this most recent poll—that a clear majority of American Jews support moderate policies in Israel, and that they are increasingly uneasy with Likud hard-liners—are consistent with other available evidence. All the recent studies of the attitudes of American Jews toward Israel have shown that a majority by at least two to one reject the hard-line policies of the Likud.

The results of the Democratic presidential primary in New York on April 19 would suggest the same views. Albert Gore ran in that primary as a pro-Israel maximalist, whose views did not differ much from those of Yitzhak Shamir. Jesse Jackson said he favored a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza, although in the last days of the campaign he said he would not talk directly with Arafat. Michael Dukakis embraced the Shultz plan; he was perceived as holding views that were nearly identical with those of Shimon Peres, that territories had to be traded for peace. Jackson received about 6 percent of the Jewish vote; Gore got only 16 percent; at least 75 percent voted for Dukakis.

No doubt some Jews would have preferred to vote for Gore and probably voted for Dukakis to insure a heavy loss for Jackson. Right-wing Jews insist that Gore would otherwise have done far better among Jews. But in the light of all else that we know about the preferences of American Jews, this explanation is not convincing. It would explain the shift to Dukakis of no more than 10 percent of the Jewish vote. Dukakis is viewed by most Jews as a middle-of-the-road urban liberal, close in many respects to their own image of themselves. Had a contest been held between him and Gore on the issue of Israel alone he would have gotten nearly two thirds of the Jewish vote, which is the proportion of Jews who have consistently, and undeviatingly, expressed their distaste for the Likud’s intransigence.

As American Jews are losing some of their illusions about Israel and are being forced to think about the real Israel, and to begin to make hard choices from among the clashing political factions, they remain predictably committed to its security. The researchers for the Los Angeles Times found that 85 percent of American Jews continue to “favor strong United States support for the government of Israel”; only 3 percent were opposed, and 12 percent said they did not know—roughly the same results as in other polls of the last thirty years. But there is one radically new note: the respondents were evenly split over whether those who privately disagree with Israeli policies should nevertheless publicly express their support. Younger Jews, those under forty-one, by a margin of 60 percent favored public criticism of Israel. An Israeli government that continues to resist political compromise can therefore expect open disaffection to increase among American Jews, and especially among the younger generation.

If Yitzhak Shamir wins the Israeli election in November, as he very well may, he is likely to maintain a tough, repressive policy toward the Palestinians, while opposing any attempt by a new American president to revive the Shultz initiative. Since returning home from his visit to the United States in March, Yitzhak Shamir has left no doubt in Israel about his political intentions. On Sunday night, April 24, speaking to the Central Committee of the Likud party in Tel Aviv, he was cheered when he said that “the Arabs must understand that we will never part from Judea, Samaria and Gaza.” He added that the Palestinians would have an autonomy plan under which they would be able to run their own lives. As Israelis know, this means, at most, the right of Palestinians to run the local fire department and sanitation services, while the government of Israel controls the disposition of land, water, and virtually everything else of any consequence. Shamir announced this policy as his election platform against the Labor party, which has accepted Shultz’s formula of “land for peace.”

In Israel, Shamir’s declarations are understood against the background of his repeated insistence that the riots and the continuing civil disobedience by the Palestinians can be suppressed. Shamir has called the rioters “grasshoppers” by comparison to the Israel Defense Force.

Shamir’s views are opposed by some of the country’s leading generals. Perhaps the most striking of all such statements was reported on the front page of Ha’aretz on April 1. Eleven retired generals—among them Aharon Yariv, a former head of military intelligence, and Motti Hod, a past commander of the Air Force—insisted that the future of Israel requires withdrawal from the territories. The generals want the West Bank to become a demilitarized region under Palestinian control, with a few Israeli observation points on the highest ground. The declaration of these generals, most of whom have been lionized repeatedly on the platforms of the American Jewish organizations, was ignored in all the American Jewish establishment publications I have seen.

When the refusal of Israel’s hard-liners to deal politically with the uprising can no longer be explained as the negotiating tactics of tough bargainers who really want to compromise, American Jews will find themselves facing wrenching choices.

A movement toward open disaffection with Israel’s right wing seems all the more likely because of one seemingly strange result in the latest Los Angeles Times poll. Half of the American Jews surveyed report that their major concern as Jews is not support of Israel but “social justice.” Support of Israel is the main issue for 17 percent, and another 17 percent give religion as their prime concern. At first glance these figures seem to contradict the overwhelming support for Israel (85 percent) that these same respondents demonstrated when asked if they would continue to press the American government to support Israel—but the two results are really not contradictory. Among American Jews, as I have noted, Israel is supported by the majority as a homeland in which Jews take pride; only a minority is undeviatingly devoted to Israel “right or wrong.” Therefore, the mainstream of American Jewish opinion, which is essentially identical with the third and fourth generations of Jews who descend from the mass migration that began in the 1880s—i.e., the most “Americanized” elements of the community—will struggle to depict the homeland as virtuous by the standards of liberal, democratic opinion that they share. The breaking point will come when they can no longer do so, and that this moment may be arriving is worrying for most American Jews and especially for the young.

Why, then, was Shamir cheered in Washington this March before a large gathering of “young leaders” of the United Jewish Appeal? Some were, no doubt, really on his side, inspired by a defiant assertion of “Jewish power.” Many wanted to imagine that the Israeli leader was acting like an American politician, posturing as intransigent as a way of preparing for an inevitable compromise with the Palestinians. Here the fundamental difference between Israeli and American Jewish perspectives was apparent. The same political performance had different meanings for two different audiences. In Washington younger American Jews were asserting their pride in their homeland. In Tel Aviv and Jerusalem the standing ovation they gave Shamir was seen as support for the tough ideologue known to the Israelis, not for the “reasonable” Shamir of the Americans’ imagination.


The most visible representatives of American Jews are the leaders of the national organizations who gather together as a bloc in support of Israel in the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and the official lobby in Washington, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Both groups, and especially the “Presidents’ Conference,” are widely regarded as the elected spokesmen of the American Jewish community. This is to exaggerate their representative character.

To begin with, the Jewish organizations, including religious groups, have an enrollment of fewer than half of the Jews of America. Since Jews can leave or join these organizations as they please, those who become disaffected are more likely to drop out than to stay and fight for their views. When they leave the organizations, however, they do not leave Jewish life. Most of their children have bar mitzvahs or bat mitzvahs and are married as Jews, and most are deeply concerned about Israel, especially at moments of crisis. That few unaffiliated Jews rejoin Jewish organizations to fight the hard-liners creates an anomaly: the Jewish establishment claims to speak for an American Jewish community, but the real opinions of American Jews can be discovered only through opinion polling, and not through the pronouncements of the presidents and executive directors of the national organizations. On the contrary, as moderates leave the establishment organizations, or do not join, or find no way to express their views, and the hard-liners remain, these organizations give a more and more false impression of American Jewish opinion.

This false impression is particularly damaging in Israel, where the pronouncements of the “Presidents’ Conference,” or the kind of reception that it gives an Israeli leader, are taken as a reliable measure of the mood of American Jewry. Israelis tend to think that American Jews have elected these leaders after vigorous public debate on policy, because they themselves come, most of them, from Europe and the Arab world, where Jews were organized in kehillot, that is, in community councils that held periodic, and usually hard-fought, elections. Most Israelis imagine that American Jews are organized in roughly the same way. The Jewish organizations are listened to in Israel as if they were the elected representatives of American Jewry, and as if they had deliberated on the differing party platforms in some kind of national referendum.

Nor are most of the “establishment” leaders in the drama of the relationship between Israel and American Jews unaware of the effect they create in Israel. The American managers of such events as Yitzhak Shamir’s speech in March to the “Presidents’ Conference” know that Israelis will interpret their cheers not as respect for the prime minister but as backing for the leader of the Likud party. Why are they willing and even eager these days, in the face of majority American Jewish opinion, to oblige Shamir?

Most of the leaders of Jewish organizations believe that such displays of unity are necessary in order to strengthen Israel’s prestige and position in America. Many share the dominant American Jewish myth that even an ideologue like Shamir is a politician comparable to American political leaders, and that he will ultimately negotiate a compromise. The counterargument, that public support for other, more moderate Israeli politicians is of far greater help to Israel than supposed unity behind an intransigent ideologue, has in the past been silenced by a cadre of presidents of organizations and of professional managers. But the solid front of the Jewish establishment, which was briefly shaken by the events surrounding the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, was broken by the Palestinian uprising that began in December.

An important sign of a crack in the unity of Jewish opinion is the strange and continuing silence of AIPAC, an independent membership organization that claims to represent the interests of Israel in the US, and that is not directly controlled by the Jewish national organizations. In recent years, it has often been even more tough-minded and maximalist than the establishment organizations in the pressures it has mounted in Washington on behalf of Israel. The strategists of AIPAC differ from the other Jewish leaders in that they are in close touch with a great many politicians in Washington, and especially in Congress. AIPAC’s lobbyists, therefore, know that support for Israel in American opinion has been decreasing. According to the Los Angeles Times poll, while Jews have remained overwhelmingly in favor of strong American support for the government of Israel, non-Jews were in favor of it by 27 percent, opposed by 23 percent, and 50 percent answered “don’t know.” For the AIPAC lobbyists such results would indicate that Israel should move quickly toward a negotiated political solution of the conflict with the Palestinians.

AIPAC has not dissented from the hard line by merely remaining silent. Its office in Washington has also acted, indirectly but with strong effect. The now famous letter sent in March by thirty senators to Secretary Shultz in support of his peace initiative could not have been written without the knowledge of AIPAC. The signers of the letter included five of the seven Jewish senators, and the majority of Israel’s most vocal Senate supporters. It is even more striking that the thirty senators who signed the letter were those who have received most of the money allocated by the pro-Israel PAC’s. A letter of support for the Shultz plan could not have circulated in the Senate without most of the strongly pro-Israel senators sooner or later discussing the matter with AIPAC. That these men would have signed such a letter immediately before Prime Minister Shamir’s visit to Washington if AIPAC had objected vigorously is very unlikely. AIPAC has denied that the letter of the thirty senators was drafted somewhere within AIPAC itself, and there is no point in trying to disprove its claim. What is clear is that the signing of the letter—and AIPAC’s apparent decision not to try to stop it—was an act against Yitzhak Shamir, and he understood it correctly as a warning of disaffection not only in Congress but within American Jewry itself.

Shamir came to the United States in March to silence such views, and he moved adroitly. He deplored the letter of the thirty senators, but rapidly changed the subject. It was best, from his point of view, to suggest that these great friends of Israel had simply made a mistake, for which he benignly forgave them. He did not confront AIPAC.*

The turning point came at the beginning of March. A “mission” of the “Presidents’ Conference” went to Jerusalem to confer with the prime minister, before his visit to Washington. He told his guests that he had no intention of accepting the Shultz plan; in fact he had announced, in advance of their coming, that there was not a single line in it that he found true except the signature. The leaders of the American Jewish establishment returned from that meeting knowing that their urgings since December for Israel’s right wing to be reasonable—that is, to behave like De Gaulle in Algiers, or Nixon in China, or Begin at Camp David—had not succeeded. The organization presidents heard Shamir out, and most of them chose to go along with him.

Shamir, in Washington, did not want any more expressions of public disagreement, and he could use the “Presidents’ Conference” to create the image of a consensus backing him, even though the various organization leaders, when polled privately, have long shown a majority of somewhere between three and four to one on the side of moderation.

True, almost every one of these leaders tells stories of how firmly he has spoken, and continues to speak, to Israel’s leading politicians of all shades of opinion about the need for political compromise with the Palestinians. The tales of these conversations are repeated in the US, and not only “off the record” to Jewish groups. They sometimes leak, and not always by accident, to the press in Tel Aviv and even in New York. But these leaders protect their positions by being publicly circumspect. To be in open conflict with a sitting prime minister, even one of a divided government, is a disaster for any leader within the Jewish establishment. He will be treated coolly in Jerusalem. He will not be able to return home to tell his board of trustees of his intimate conversation with the Prime Minister in Jerusalem, or carry messages of supposed importance between Jerusalem and Washington.

What the Prime Minister requires in return for listening privately in his Jerusalem office to a polite, perhaps even pained, disagreement with his policies is the staging in America of public support. Both the Prime Minister and the Jewish organization officials who give him a standing ovation while the cameras roll know what the bargain is all about. Shamir’s position is built up in America, and especially in Israel, not only as prime minister of all Israel but as the triumphant Likud party leader. At the same time the Jewish organization leaders cheering Shamir are confirmed by the Prime Minister as the legitimate representatives of American Jewry—and never mind the polls or the other Jewish leaders who speak for the moderate opinion of most Jews.

And yet, despite this seeming unity in public, the opinions of American Jews are inherently unstable. Uneasiness is growing even within the organizations, as the quiet defection of AIPAC from support of the hard line proves. So far, a few of the organizations within the Presidents’ Conference have already dissented from Shamir’s line. These include the American Jewish Congress and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, as well as the American affiliates of Israel’s Labor party. In mid-April there was a mass rally in New York of some five thousand people who wanted to show their solidarity with moderate policies in Israel and to protest the views of the Likud. This virtually unprecedented gathering was co-sponsored by twenty of the American Jewish organizations to which political moderates belong, among them the Labor Zionist Alliance, the Progressive Zionists, and the Children of Holocaust Survivors.

Perhaps most significant, mainstream organization leaders, the very people who support the Prime Minister in public, have recently been returning from visits to Israel deeply concerned about what will happen after the Israeli and American elections this fall. They are fearful that a confrontation will take place between the right-wing majority in Israel and the United States government. In this case an open break with Israel’s policies could occur even within the establishment organizations. That such a confrontation may well be coming was suggested by Reagan’s praise of Shimon Peres on May 17 and his criticism directed at Shamir.

Most American Jews certainly remain loyal to the homeland in Israel, but they are less and less willing to allow the organization leaders who have been speaking for them to say what they will. A growing debate has been taking place among American Jews and in the press between the spokesmen of the organizations and the leaders who speak for the majority of Jews, who hold moderate opinions. The claim that American Jewry is largely united behind, and controlled by, the organizations is becoming exposed as an illusion. If the political confrontation between Israel and the United States does indeed become sharper after the two national elections in the fall, then the principal Jewish organizations will, I believe, have to face an unprecedented challenge: to reflect the reality of Jewish opinion in America.

May 19, 1988

This Issue

June 16, 1988