Judaism Unbound Episode 118: Trouble in the Tribe - Dov Waxman

Dan and Lex are joined by Dov Waxman, Professor of Political Science, International Affairs, and Israel Studies at Northeastern University [1] and author of the book Trouble in the Tribe: The American Jewish Conflict Over IsraelThe conversation explores the debates, tensions, and divides over Israel and Palestine within the American Jewish community, and we discuss why a topic that once unified American Jews now divides them. [2]

(0:01 - 13:25): To begin the episode, Dov Waxman explains how Zionism, for many Jews, served as an answer to the question of how secular individuals could maintain a connection to Judaism, largely independent of religion. He questions the widespread assumption held by many, whereby American Judaism has always stood ardently behind Zionism, looking back at eras of American Jewish history where Zionists were the minority. He also explores how that context shifted, such that political Zionism eventually came to be seen as a consensus belief in American Judaism, and how growing numbers of young American Jews are challenging that consensus today. [3]

(13:26 - 30:18): In order to gain a better sense of the climate of "red-lining and blacklisting" of non-Zionists by Jewish communal institutions, Waxman puts forth the example of Judith Butler, a groundbreaking gender theorist. [4] Despite the fact that she identifies her Jewish identity as an important element of her life, Butler has been barred from many Jewish institutions because of her outspoken criticism of Zionism and support for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. Waxman also draws a distinction between the small groups that are on the front-lines of these Jewish communal debates and a larger group of American Jews, for whom Israel is not a primary issue in their lives. Waxman also provides a window into one of the hottest topics in Jewish communal discourse: the role of Israel and Palestine on American college campuses. [5] [6]

(30:19 - 49:34): Waxman underscores the importance of recognizing legitimate Jewish fears and anxieties as they relate to Israel. He also describes how many institutions amplify those fears through their fundraising strategies. He then examines changing relationships to religion, within Judaism but also in American society more broadly, and asks whether our intense debates about Israel and Palestine may actually, at their core, revolve around broader questions of what Judaism is and should be. To close the episode, Waxman provides his perspective on how Donald Trump's election has affected political polarization in American Judaism and what its ramifications may be for the relationship of American Jews and Israel.

[1] Learn more about Dov Waxman by checking out his bio, accessible by clicking here.

[2] Purchase a copy of Trouble in the Tribe, recently released in paperback form, by clicking here.

[3] For an article by Waxman on young American Jews' orientation to Israel, see "Young American Jews and Israel: Beyond Birthright and BDS," published in Indiana University Press's Israel Studies journal.

[4] Learn more about decisions to bar Butler (and others) from Jewish institutional spaces by reading this 2014 article in The Forward.

[5] For a study that dives deep into the perspectives of American-Jewish college students with respect to Israel, see Ari Y. Kelman's "Safe and On the Sidelines."  Hear from Kelman in his guest appearance on Judaism Unbound by checking out Episode 74: Beyond Jewish Identity - Ari Y. Kelman.

[6] Waxman mentions three organizations -- J Street U, IfNotNow, and Jewish Voice for Peace -- as key players among young American Jews whose approach to Israel and Palestine differs from those of many institutions of the Jewish establishment. Learn more about them by visiting their websites: J Street UIfNotNowJewish Voice for Peace