Identity, Morality, and Politics: American Reform Jews and the State of Israel
AbstractThis thesis examines the ways that Reform American Jews relate to Israel through their identity, morality and politics. American Jews consider relating to Israel an ethical obligation rooted in their Jewish identity. When they perceive no immediate threat to the state of Israel or its defining ideology as a Jewish and democratic haven, they relate to Israel by working through certain moral questions inherent to this ideology (e.g. how to be both a Jewish and democratic state). In these moments a wide range of questions and answers are welcome in the community; what is important is that Jews engage the moral and ethical issues that confront Israel. When the political situation seems more pressing, however, and American Jews feel that either the state or the foundational ideology of the state is under attack, this ethical mode switches from engaging the moral questions to a defense of the state and its ideology. American Jews feel a responsibility both to protect Israel and to face its problems, but they believe that questioning too much might undermine its defense. They therefore consider certain discussions inappropriate even though such discussions are, in other moments, the primary mode of ethical engagement with Israel. American Jews therefore have two overarching patterns of understanding and enacting their sense of ethical obligation to the state of Israel. In moments where there is little perceived threat to Israel, Jews engage serious questions about the nature of the state as a Jewish and democratic haven; in periods of great threat, Jews defend Israel unequivocally. These patterns overlap only minimally, yet for all that American Jews feel it necessary to help defend Israel, they do not want their only mode of relating to Israel to be defensive, for they value the time and space to grapple with the challenges Israel poses. They wish to build the relationship with Israel, not just defend it. Both modes are central to American Jewish identity, morality, and political action in relation to Israel.