Adam L. Silverman, PhD*
A good chunk of my work is looking at identity and how it drives behavior. Originally it was how individuals learned behavior from their primary identity groups that promoted political violence, low intensity conflict, and terrorism. This meant working back and forth from the group level to the individual. Since going to work for the Army I have been more and more focusing on the group to societal level. Recently I read Rick Perlstein's piece at Rolling Stone dealing with what he is describing as a crisis of Zionism. Perlstein's article is a response to Peter Beinart's recent book entitled The Crisis of Zionism (for an interesting interview with Beinart about his book click on through to this one done by Scott Horton over at Harpers). The most interesting take away for me is Perlstein's recounting a discovery of Beinart's about a deliberate strategy by right-leaning Jewish American leaders to try to transform Jewish American identity away from liberalism (which has always been one fo the predominant strains within American Judaism, largely because of Judaism understanding of and call to social justice) and towards an embattled tribalism that centered on a victimization identity based around the Holocaust and then expanded out to other historical examples (both real and mythical - for instance the Masada Myth). This in turn created a refocusing of Jewish American identity centered around identification with the safety of the State of Israel. While Israel's importance to Jewish Americans had not been in dispute since its founding, what Perlstein is describing is the creation of the identity component of a strategic culture:
What is of real interest here is that these leaders within the Jewish community in the US basicaly victimized their own communities for political and personal gain (not that that has never happened before in any community) as they established a new understanding of the State of Israel, as well as Jewishness, among Jewish Americans. From there it is easy to understand how the jump from the Jewish community occurred into the groups we now call the Christian Zionists. The same right-leaning Jewish American leaders, through interaction with right leaning leaders of other American religious, social, and political groups bridged the gaps between these communities. This is why we've discussed here at SST before the differences between what many groups, such as the Anti-Defamation League, actually do versus what their celebrity leadership advocate for. If one is trying to better understand the role that Israeli security plays in American politics, and get a better understanding of how strategic Zionism has deranged a chunk of our foreign and defense policy discussions, I highly recommend Perlstein's piece. What I also find very interesting is how Perlstein brings his article to conclusion by focusing on one of Beinert's major take aways: that younger Jewish Americans have basically begun redefining the Jewish portions of their identities away from the deliberate inculcation of perpetual besiegement. Trying to create a sense of alienation to cement identity has ultimately led to the abandonment of that identity, or at least the victimization portions, and the attempt to redefine what it means to be Jewish in America. This helps to explain why the attitudes of Jewish Americans are more diverse than the "leadership" one sees on TV or quoted in the news media. It is also a good indication that strategic Zionism may beginning to wane among Jewish Americans through generational change.
* Adam L. Silverman is the Culture and Foreign Language Advisor at the US Army War College (USAWC). The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent those of USAWC and/or the US Army.