The Golden Age of American Jews is ending as America implicitly embraces Likud

The Golden Age of American Jews is ending as America  implicitly embraces Likud
Protest in Tel Aviv May 4,, credit Noga Tarnopolsky

Franklin Foer can’t seem to criticize the Israeli government.

Last month the liberal lion Franklin Foer published a piece in the Atlantic called "The Golden Age of American Jews is Ending." Foer is one of the most respected writers and editors in America. His piece is a long, feature essay, the kind of thing that gets passed around government and intellectual circles and influences US policy.

But Foer's piece is incomplete. His argument is confusing and disjointed, and he lurches from one story to the next, blaming both left and right in turn for antisemitism. Some of the things he brings up are important and real, but some are much less impactful. His story takes on, amongst other topics, 9/11, coverage of neocons, the rise of a campus left, Ilhan Omar, Soros conspiracies, and the Women's March leaders. His argument ends up as much less than the sum of its parts.

And that's because he fails to center the most important point, which is the rise of Likud and rightwing politics in Israel. 

To reject antisemitism, self-identified liberals could aim to make common cause with the young left. That would involve standing on liberal principles of diversity and fairness. And it would involve making clear that American Jews are different from Israelis and especially, different from the Israeli government.

The Israeli Likud party, which has become dominant in Israeli politics in the last two decades, runs at odds to many of Foer's liberal values. This isn't just about a transitory government phase in Israel, either. It's now fundamental to its government: the Israeli right and center-right controls Israel's politics and seems likely to do so for the foreseeable future. But Foer steers away from serious critique of Israel's politics. He says he has criticisms of the Israeli government, of settlements, and of the "religious zealotry that had begun to infuse the country's right wing". But in the next paragraph he pivots to how Israel is essential to American Jews' identity. He doesn't return to the topic of the Israeli government substantively. The piece mentions "Netanyahu" (and his "coalition of theocrats and messianists") once and "Likud" not at all.

We must do more to fight antisemitism where it exists in young people and on the left, and push back on all antisemitism — the antisemitism of people like Louis Farrakhan, of those who celebrated 10/7, and antisemitism of college students who blame American Jews for Israeli bombing. Doing that requires distinguishing campus protestors with good intentions from those who put forth antisemitic ideas. It means saying something like: "The majority of you Gaza protestors, you have a legitimate grievance. Israel's killing of civilians, of so many children, is a horror and should stop. But it's antisemitic to criticize American Jews for that bombing. Some American Jews back the Israeli government and are worthy of criticism. But most do not. American Jews are not Israelis and their views are not the views of the Israeli government."

But Foer does not say that. And he's not alone amongst Americans who have grown up seeing Israel in the past as a beacon of democracy. Foer failing to underline a split with the Israeli government means he ends up supporting Likud through this reticence. And that means he can't make common cause with the biggest part of the campus left, the majority that wants peace and pluralism.

It's notable that Israeli liberals are much more critical of the Israeli government than many US liberals are. Alon Pinkas went as far as to say in Ha'aretz last week that "Israel has split into two incompatible Jewish states." Those two states are the rightwing state represented by Likud and this Israeli government — and the liberal state that opposes the right-wing government. That distinction needs to be made by American pundits too.

And we should also clearly distinguish Americans on this issue. Some American Jews do support Likud and the Israeli right. Jared Kushner does. Trump's ambassador to Israel does. Several Jewish Republican billionaires like Jeff Yass, Paul Singer, and Ken Griffin do support the Israeli right. We will not recruit them to the side of pluralism and equality and liberalism. They are illiberal. Moreover, the US Republican party is allied with the Israeli right. Elise Stefanik spoke at a rightwing caucus in the Israeli Knesset this week for this reason — because Republicans are aligned with the Israeli right.

The tension in Foer's argument, tension that all but creaks out loud as he writes, is just that. US Republicans are aligned with the Israeli right, and liberals in the US should not be aligned with the Israeli right. But because he doesn't center the distinction between Israeli liberals and the Israeli right, he is left to focus on just a part of the problem. He does rhetorical gymnastics to avoid saying that many — not all, but many — protest calls on campus stem from legitimate criticism of Israeli government action.

And until centrist American Jews like Foer can say that, American Jews will not return to the golden age of liberalism. Tying American liberalism to the Israeli right is a recipe for disaster. The American center must choose: Likud and leaders like Netanyahu, or tolerance and pluralism. Foer wants to avoid criticizing the direction of the Israeli government and still embrace liberalism. Unfortunately, that's a contradiction that's leaking out into a rift in American politics. The Israeli right bears a major share of the blame for threatening the tolerance and acceptance of Jews in America. 


  • It is indeed often an antisemitic trope to blame Jews for antisemitism. But that cannot be used as way to permanently immunize Netanyahu and his allies from criticism.
  • Let's also be clear that the actions of Hamas are despicable and the families of Israeli hostages are going through extreme pain. Here's hoping the Hamas leadership is brought to justice and the hostages come home soon.