Jews Cannot Afford to Be Divided Over Israel


Jews, like elephants, tend to have long memories. We see in the past warnings of the future. As Israel marks its 76th birthday on 14 May, perhaps the most relevant and terrifying precedent comes from the days of the Roman Empire.

After the First Jewish-Roman War ended in 74 AD, the Jews lost control of Palestine. Their temple was destroyed. Following a second rebellion, they were largely expelled from their promised land. They would not return in force for almost two millennia.

The most thorough account of those times was written by Josephus Flavius, a well-born Jewish priest who first joined the insurrection against Rome, but later embraced the imperial cause. The Israel Josephus describes sounds oddly familiar: a small country with a large diaspora, deeply divided about whether to accommodate the dominant Roman Empire or embrace various strains of zealotry. Many of these zealots spent at least as much time attacking each other as they did the Roman legions. He describes them as ‘falling upon the people as upon a flock of profane animals and cutting their throats’.

Josephus noted that such divisions made the Jews sore losers. When another, even less successful Jewish rebellion against the Romans broke out six decades later, the Jews were left largely exiled from Israel. They were often unpopular, in part due to their monotheistic beliefs, and they sometimes fought with other communities from Rome and Alexandria to Antioch. As the Greek Sibylline oracle proclaimed: ‘Every sea and land is full of you and everyone hates you because of your ways.’

The comparisons are chilling. The modern version of the Jewish State is similarly increasingly isolated. Even in the traditional liberal nations of the diaspora, including the UK, Jewish communities face renewed threats to their prosperity and even their existence. Anti-Semitic hate crimes in Britain, notes one survey, are now 10 times what they were just a few years ago. In the US, they are far more prevalent than the much-ballyhooed threat of Islamophobia.

Under such pressures, solidarity within the tribe could hardly be more necessary. But the Jewish community is increasingly defined by two extremes: the pro-Zionist zealots (ideological descendants of the earlier version) and progressive Jews (some of whom have become useful idiots for Hamas and its allies). Jews, notes University of Miami demographer Ira Sheskin, are divided in large part by denomination. The Orthodox, who represent roughly 10 per cent of Jews, are well on the right. Whereas the more religiously liberal sections of the community remain somewhat left of centre.

Largely on the sidelines lie those who are pro-Israel but somewhat less than enthusiastic about Israel’s trajectory. The vast majority of American Jews, notes Pew, tend to support Israel but are hardly admirers of the right-wing Netanyahu government or its settlement policies.

Read the rest of this piece at Spiked.

Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and and directs the Center for Demographics and Policy there. Learn more at and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.