If you thought this post was about is more wrong, the Israelis or the Palestinians, you’ve come to the wrong place. What I want to talk about is something that, in the early 1980s, I called Reaganite Judaism.
If the term is unclear, it is a backhanded reference to the nascent neoconservative movement (Troll-be-gone: that term was used by neocons themselves in Commentary magazine) as another denomination of Judaism (e.g., Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, and Reform).
Reaganite Judaism’s tenets–a trinity if you will–were:
- Buy Israel bonds.
- Make the Holocaust the essence of Judaism, and mourning it, the core of Judaism (as opposed to recognizing it an obviously very significant event for Jews).
- Support the right wing of the right wing Likud party.
These views were not popular with a lot of younger Jews during the 80s, and, in my opinion, alienated many younger (college-age and recent graduates) from Judaism as a whole. First, buying Israel bonds doesn’t have much emotional significance, even if you can afford to buy them.
Then there was the Holocaust obsession. As I noted, the Holocaust obviously a critically important and defitional event–most American Jews lost relatives in the Holocaust. But mass murder can’t serve as a motivating force for Jewish observance and identity if you’re young. Judaism has to be (and is) about living; it’s not a continual recitation of the Kaddish (the memorial prayer for the dead). Nothing symbolizes this more than the Reaganite Jewish obsession with the U.S. Holocaust museum, since the entire U.S. Jewish experience can be reduced to the European mass murder of Jews. Or something.
To put this another way, Native Americans built a museum, whereas the Reaganite Jews got us a mausoleum*.
Finally, there’s the right wing politics, which many now recognize as neoconservative (again, that term was orginally self-descriptive, not pejorative). Nothing alienated (and to a considerable extent, continues to alienate) young Jews like a slavish devotion to the Likud party–the increasing success of and support for J Street proves that. Granted, in the early 1980s, the specific alienating events were the (first) Lebanon War and the Sabra-Shatila massacres**, but plus ca change and all of that…
I bring this up since between the horrible effect of Reaganite Jews on U.S. foreign policy (e.g., the obsession with Saddam Hussein) and the cognitive dissonance caused by the Gaza War (the dissonance stems from the realization that this war, in anything but the very short term, won’t solve anything), I think the influence of Reaganite Jews is finally starting to wane.
And that’s a good thing for everyone, Jews and non-Jews alike.
Related post: Glenn Greenwald and Mondoweiss discuss related issues.
*And a profoundly bad one too, since it’s narrative is the roots of the Holocaust started in 1933, and not in a long history of Christian anti-Semitism. Of course, since the Reaganites were part of the conservative coalition, which at the time included Falwell’s ‘Moral Majority’, they very well couldn’t talk about this.
**The moral effects of the following 25 years of occupation are notable considering that, during the Sabra-Shatila massacres, lower ranking Israeli officers repeatedly requested permission to stop the Phalangists and were ordered not to by (war criminals) Rafael Eitan and then Defense Minister Ariel Sharon. The immorality stemmed from a failure to stop someone else, and not that IDF forces slaughtered civilians during the massacres. The war was also notable in that platoons, companies, and, even in one case, an elite paratrooper brigade refused to follow what they considered to be immoral orders. Sadly, I don’t think either of these things would happen today.