Netanyahu Expects Demise of Non-Orthodox Jewry in Two Generations

Here is news everyone knew in their hearts, but Netanyahu was too chicken-shit to admit.  In an article (see above) in the pro-settler Makor Rishon (owned by Sheldon Adelson), Bibi Netanyahu told a closed-door meeting that non-Orthodox world Jewry would disappear in “one or two generations.”

C’mon, you knew Bibi hated you.  Of course he hated you for your politics.  But it was more than that.  He hated you for the kind of Jew you were as well.  You were liberal, maybe spiritual, but secular as well.  You had no use for the settler-Temple mumbo-jumbo.  You only believe in Israel as a Jewish state insofar as it can be a democratic state.  And if it can’t be a democratic state because of the type of Judaism standing in the way of that, then you’d choose democracy over whatever morbid form of Jewish racialism was such an impediment.

Here’s more of what Bibi told interlocutors (either from North American Jewry or figures involved in relations with such communities): in two generations or less all non-Orthodox Jews will assimilate.  Not to mention that birth rates are quite low among this demographic.  Up to 80% of marriages of Jews are to non-Jews (not clear where these figures come from, but they seem highly exaggerated).  Reform and Conservative Jewry as denominations are in a death spiral and these Jews are the most hostile to Israeli policies anyway.  For that reason, they are a lost cause as far as Israel is concerned.  They can’t be counted on for long-term support.  Israel, for its part, should prepare for the day when no further aid will come from this sector.

Jewish education, by which he means private Jewish day schools, have become exceedingly expensive and parents have, according to Netanyahu’s argument, turned to public school education instead.  In these schools, Jewish students receive no religious instruction and their ties to Israel and Judaism become exceedingly weak.

I’m comforted by Bibi’s warning not to turn a cold shoulder to such Jews.  After all, they deserve support and education so that they may see the light of Zion and become proper Jews and Zionists.  But don’t hold out too much hope on that score, the prime minister told his visitors.  And in the long run, regrettably, Israeli must write them off and invest where its support will reap the most dividends.

The allies of the future are Orthodox Jews and Christian evangelicals.  Both their current numbers and swelling demographic trends portend well for Israel.  They have a growing political power in their respective communities. And they have financial might as well to support pro-Israel causes and support pro-Israel political candidates.  Not to mention, their ideological and theological views are trustworthy, stable and non-negotiable.

Non-Orthodox Jews, on the other hand, support Democrats, who are not reliable partners.  They are too independent.  Even though they may vote “right” much of the time on Israel Lobby-touted issues, they’re ideologically suspect.  They could easily peel away at the slightest sign of dissent or discord against Israel.  That’s why the Republican Party is the only one that can be counted on for total, unquestioning support.

What’s Wrong with This Picture?

There is so very much wrong with this analysis, it’s hard to know where to begin.  First, rabbis and Jewish communal demographers and certainly Zionists have been predicting the demise of Diaspora Judaism ever since the birth of Zionism.  As Mark Twain so aptly said: “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

Every American Jew who attends shul with any regularity has heard scores if not hundreds of sermons on the evils of intermarriage and assimilation.  In fact, for me and likely for many in my generational cohort, such monotonous pronouncements of doom and gloom either drove us away from Judaism entirely; or alternatively made us more zealous in our attempt to create an authentic Judaism that existed in and of itself, and not as a foil to such shibboleths.

Poster for 5th Zionist Congress (Basel) shows angel pointing way for dispirited Diaspora Jew to Zion

The 80% intermarriage rate Bibi quoted is wrong.  The 2013 Pew survey says that the intermarriage rate among non-Orthodox Jews is 71%, not 80%.  Jews who marry non-Jews don’t stop being Jews.  Nor will their children.  Going to a public school as opposed to a day school doesn’t lessen the chance that a young person will grow up a proud Jewish identifying with his heritage.

Further, while Orthodox Jewish birth-rates are high, non-Orthodox Jews are so much larger communities that it would take decades for the Orthodox to surpass them.  And by then, it’s likely that the Orthodox birthrate will have declined considerably, if not to the same rate as non-Orthodox Jews.

In short, Bibi’s crystal ball is no more reliable than the conman-soothsayer in the Wizard of Oz.  Not to mention that his highly prejudicial predictions aren’t based on evidence or even solid social science.  They’re based on his Zionist ideology.  And ideology is highly susceptible to prejudice and wishful thinking.

That’s why these Zionist doomsayers also leave Diaspora Jewry cold.  It’s why the link between Israel and these Jews grows ever more tenuous.  It isn’t because of religious differences or a lack of interest on the part of world Jewry: it’s because Israeli leaders simply don’t understand anything that isn’t Israel and Israel Lobby advocacy.

Oh we will continue to exist.  We will not disappear as Chicken Little predicted.  Not even close.  In fact, at the rate Israel is going it’s quite likely the Diaspora will outlast the intolerant, racist theocratic regime in place now.

In fact, I could just as easily predict that in one or two generations Israel will lose the vast majority of its secular Jews.  The vast growth in population will come from the poorest and most extreme fundamentalist elements in both the Jewish and Palestinian communities.  Israel will become poorer and more religious.  Tel Aviv will, in effect migrate to Europe and the U.S.  The high-tech sector would likely go with it, and that Start-Up Nation mojo…gone, phhht!

As any reasonable person knows, while much of what I wrote above may come true, it won’t come true in precisely the catastrophic way articulated there.

What all this should tell us is that Bibi is no demographer.  I’ve already documented here that he’s a sham when it comes to Jewish history as well.  He knows nothing about the Diaspora.  He cares nothing about it except as a source of funds to extend his political dynastic legacy.  And the only donors interested in doing that are the same Orthodox Jews he’s already focussing on.

Given  all this, it should come as no surprise to Diaspora Jewry that Bibi betrayed them in cancelling the Kotel compromise.  He acceded to his Orthodox coalition allies.  He left the Reform and Conservative Jews with whom he had talked for four years about this, in the dust.

What doesn’t cease to amaze me is that these Jewish leaders continue to linger around Bibi’s table like dogs hoping for a scrap.  They remain ever eager to return to his good graces.  Ever willing to come back to the table for another round of meaningless talk.  Their problem is that as liberal Zionists they don’t believe they are authentic without Israel.

I have news for them. If they want to survive beyond that two generation span Bibi mentioned, they’d better come up with an independent Jewish identity that isn’t dependent on the settler and Temple-driven narrative being offered now by the beating heart of Israeli Jewish identity.  I am not saying to turn our backs on Israel.  Not entirely.  But we can’t put our eggs in the basket of a bunch of homicidal racialists itching for religious holy war with the world’s Muslims.  At some point you just have to say, No.

There remains an Israel that is decent, tolerant, secular, democratic and tied to its Jewish roots in a constructive way.  This sector is increasingly small and marginalized.  But as long as it’s there it deserves our support.  But we have to recognize that Israel as we knew it, the “Israel of our dreams,” is dead.  It cannot be revived, if it ever existed.  The sooner we  splash cold water on our faces and accept this, the sooner we can work on building an authentic Diaspora Jewish identity.