Co-editors: Seán Mac Mathúna • John Heathcote
Consulting editor: Themistocles Hoetis
Field Correspondent: Allen Hougland

Catch-up on the sociology of American Zionism

Lenni Brenner

Read the full text of Lenni Brenner's Zionism in the Age of the Dictators - A Reappraisal, here

Lenni Brenner: The Iron Wall - Zionist Revisionism from Jabotinsky to Shamir (1984)


It's April 2002, and the results are in for the latest American elections to the World Zionist Congress. They show the continuation of the steep decline of Zionism within the country's Jews. According to the 4/19 Forward:  

"The Reform movement finished first in this year's American Zionist elections to the World Zionist Congress - but lost ground from the previous election five years ago. Meanwhile, the Orthodox linked Religious Zionist Movement virtually doubled its representation, nearly surpassing the Conservatives for the No. 2 spot.  

Participation declined by nearly 20,000 from the last elections in 1997, with only 90,000 Jews casting their ballots this year.... Of the total 145 delegates elected by Americans, ARZA/World Union, the Zionist arm of the Reform and Reconstructionist movements, won 61 seats, down from 70".  

The Religious Zionist Movement, supported by the Orthodox, took 29 seats, up from 16, the Conservative arm's Mercaz USA finished second with 32 delegates, down six from the last election.  

Some Zionists who are not members of the World Zionist Organization must be added to these figures. Meir Kahane's terrorists are not allowed in. They are dangerous, but not numerous. My estimate is in the low hundreds, nationally.  

More important are the ca. 15,000 Lubavicher Hasidic sect, with its stronghold in Boro Park in Brooklyn. The immense majority of these believe that their late rabbi is the Messiah, and that his spirit hovers over his grave, in NY City. These deep thinkers are major funders of the Israeli Likud, and the New York Democratic Party.  

Some readers may be wondering what happened to the traditional American branches of Israel's Likud, Mapai and Mapam. Without going into unnecessary detail, they got some of the rest of the delegates. They are letter-head organizations, mostly very elderly.  

Every political movement, right to left, has its lunatic fringe. So to these must added X number of phantom members. In their heads, they are Zionists, Trotskyists or whatever, but they do nothing, & are unknown to their alleged movement. But, even allowing for all of these elements, liars figure but figures don't lie, and all the stats say that, even with fanatic suicide bombers murdering innocent Israeli youths, US Zionism has no appeal for Jewish youth or intellectuals.  According to the 5/26/95 Jewish Sentinel (NY):  

"A recent American Jewish Committee study found that only 22 percent of American Jews today consider themselves to be Zionists, and that 32 percent feel distant from Israel."  

With the drop in the latest election, be certain that less than 22% are now Zionists. The central reason is religious, not political. The 11/2/01 Jewish Week (NY) headlined "Jews Turning From Judaism." The article, based on prepublication stats from the latest American Jewish Identification Survey (2001), says "just 51 percent of American Jews... say that they are Jewish by religion."  

One Survey sociologist, Barry Kosmin, says, in Ha Aretz, 11/9/01, that this is "a decline of 12 percent since the last national survey I directed in 1990." Math wiz I ain't, but it looks like sometime in 2002, a majority of American Jews will have checked out of any form of Judaism. That's a major sociological event, bound to bring forth a lot of discussion.  

In addition to these dropouts, many members of the Reform & Conservative Jewish sects can't take Israel's legal discrimination against their rabbis, who are not allowed to perform legal marriages, grant divorces, etc. Only 44% of Jews are synagogue members. Of these, 30% are Reform, the Conservatives are 24%. All Orthodox, modern dress and Hasids, are 6% to 8%, depending on the poll.  

For certain, the majority of members of Reform Temples are not Zionists. According to Aliyah Vinikoor, in the 4/02 Blueprint (NY):  

"Orthodox Jews comprise about 60% of the North American olim (settler wannabes), though they only make up about 6% of the American Jewish population".  

Economically, America's Jews are its top religion, per capita, surpassing the traditional Episcopal-Presbyterian elite, and 92% have traveled abroad. Yet no more than ca. 40% of them have visited Israel. Of these, many were on package tours. Egypt, Jerusalem, Greece.  

I just listened to a 1981 interview I did with rabbi Joachim Prinz, former head of the American Jewish Congress. I jokingly asked which free ticket most American Jews would take, if they had to pledge to go to Greece, and see the acropolis, and promise never to go to Israel and the wailing wall, or the reverse. His laughing answer: "Greece!  

These stats have the additional value of highlighting the depravity of the generality of American pols. They hand over $3 billion/year to Israel, when the majority of US Jews don't give a penny to Zionism in their lives. Proverbially, a fanatic is 'more Catholic than the Pope.' Lets update that: An American fanatic is a politician running for office - anyone, Jewish, white, black, cat, dog, rat or snake - anywhere, even in the Aleutians - hustling Jewish campaign contributions, by yelling for Sharon, is more Zionist than the Jews.  

The Political Future of American Jews, a 1985 American Jewish Congress pamphlet by Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab, pre-eminent scholars, estimated that "as much as a quarter of Republican funds have come from Jewish sources.... Financial contributions are a much more certain and bankable political item than Jewish voting margins in most cases; and Jewish political effectiveness has been less closely tied to voting margins than to the access which has been gained by Jewish contributors to campaigns".  

The 1/5/93 NY Times declared that "Jews contributed about 60 percent of Mr. Clinton's noninstitutional campaign funds. (Take that as private money.)

In the 80s, former Democratic Senator James Abourezk, founder of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, was surely historically correct when he gave me his read on the two parties: "The GOP is more concerned about placating Arab sheikhs in the ME, while the Democratic Party seeks to please rich Jews here".  

But, I would update this. Rudy the ever-ready has proven that the GOP is just as greedy for Zion-slush. However, their recent ability to get it is connected to a shift in the NY Jewish vote to the right, locally, re crime, etc., rather than anything motormouth said about Israel. The epicenter of Jewish municipal political clout is real estate money. As long as these pro-Zionist Realtors thought they had to be in the Mayor's party, and his party was always Democrat, the GOP got nothing to little from them.  

Demographers and mapmakers have a handy technical term: Choroplethics. Literally, chorus filling. The choroplethics of corruption are always in motion, but these stats are a good general picture of Zionism's present status in the US. Jews are only 2.3% of Americans. Zionists are less than 22% of Jews, and going down. And the rich are a minority among Zionists. One half of one percent of the donors to pro-Zionist charities, give 60% of what the charities take in. That same minuscule clique are the source of most of Zionism's political payola.  

Some on the left are ill at ease when they hear talk about "Jewish money. Hitler comes into mind. But none of those delicate souls is a Jewish scholar. Walk into any serious Jewish library. Hear shelves groan from the weight of scholarly treatment of Jewish campaign contributions. The same scholars say that anti-Semitism is dropping like a shot, that no one (but these lefts) thinks that talking about Zionists bribing politicians is going to create anti-Semitism.  

In case you haven't noticed, America is so corrupt that much of the public, including Arabs and Muslims, thinks that, since everyone bribes politicians, that the Zionists are to be imitated for their success.  

What we are witnessing here are three separate but connected sociological entities, the United States, Judaism and Zionism, each evolving.  Bush gives off a sho-nuf mad quality. Half his allies think he's demented re Iraq. But capitalist A-murica - land of the freak, home of the knave - will be around for a while. However, Judaism is collapsing everywhere in the world except in Israel. No matter what happens in the ME, the stats are inescapable in their conclusions: Most young Jews will bail out of their parents' theological broomcloset, intermarry and live happily ever after. The remnant will become ever more sectarian, sententious, intellectually sterile.  

I have been in active politics for 50 years, come November. I've seen many organized movements, theological, political, artistic. One commonality stands out: If they enter terminal collapse, the relatively intelligent and sane leave, the fools and loons stay to the end. That is contemporary Judaism's fate.  

Of American Zionism, one truth must be said, even if with all charity: It is the dirty ring in the bathtub after the water has gone down the drain. Nature imitating art. Certain proof of the axiom of decline presented here.  

It has its scholars. Not many, and not getting younger. But beyond them acres and acres of rank and file fanatics. The 4/19 Forward describes their April 15 Washington national rally, and  

"the chilly reception given to the man dispatched as President Bush's personal representative to the rally, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Known as the most hawkishly pro-Israel voice in the Administration. Wolfowitz was greeted with a chorus of boos when he referred in his speech to Palestinian suffering and the eventual creation of a Palestinian state."

Yes. In every book on political cunning, there is a special chapter on how to impress friend and foe alike, with your sophistication, by howling down your best friend in power, for world TV.  

A closing personal word. My brother was Bar Mitzvahed when I was seven. He was given a book, The Story of Mankind, by Hendrich Willem Van Loon. Thirteen is girls and football. He never read the book. I did. From then til now, history has been my passion, and I turn 65 later this month.  

The definition of a historian varies in time and place. But my description of my personal role is simple. Go to a Barnum & Bailey Circus. The elephants are dancing, everyone is looking at them. But, off on the side, is a guy with a pooperscooper. Its his job to rush out and get it all, if one should happen to dump.  

That's me. Historian in the human circus. Being a historian and born into an Orthodox family, I write about Jews, and I pride myself on getting it all. An American historian, who wrote a history of the Democratic Party, I pride myself on getting it all. But there are lots of other animals in the human circus, and I pride myself on getting it all.  

Other tasks prevent me from immediately critiquing the Palestinian movement. But that is needed, if anything is. Indeed Zionism survives, in Palestine, only because the Palestinians have not cleaned up their act, i.e., have not developed a movement that even looks like it has a winning strategy.  

So, dear reader, you will hear from me, asap, but not before. Until then, please pass around these stats. Palestinians and defenders of their full rights need to have a realistic picture of their foes. If I may be forgiven a parting Americanization of the rather Victorian 'dustbin of history,' visual signs of your enemy's decline should make all rejoice, and - more important - think as to how to seriously accelerate its rush down history's toilet bowl.

For a democratic, secular Palestine/Israel in a democratic secular world,

Lenni Brenner