The Gaza War and the Decline of Reaganite Judaism

If you thought this post was about is more wrong, the Israelis or the Palestinians, you've come to the wrong place. What I want to talk about is something that, in the early 1980s, I called Reaganite Judaism.

If the term is unclear, it is a backhanded reference to the nascent neoconservative movement (Troll-be-gone: that term was used by neocons themselves in Commentary magazine) as another denomination of Judaism (e.g., Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, and Reform).

Reaganite Judaism's tenets--a trinity if you will--were:

  1. Buy Israel bonds.
  2. Make the Holocaust the essence of Judaism, and mourning it, the core of Judaism (as opposed to recognizing it an obviously very significant event for Jews).
  3. Support the right wing of the right wing Likud party.

These views were not popular with a lot of younger Jews during the 80s, and, in my opinion, alienated many younger (college-age and recent graduates) from Judaism as a whole. First, buying Israel bonds doesn't have much emotional significance, even if you can afford to buy them.

Then there was the Holocaust obsession. As I noted, the Holocaust obviously a critically important and defitional event--most American Jews lost relatives in the Holocaust. But mass murder can't serve as a motivating force for Jewish observance and identity if you're young. Judaism has to be (and is) about living; it's not a continual recitation of the Kaddish (the memorial prayer for the dead). Nothing symbolizes this more than the Reaganite Jewish obsession with the U.S. Holocaust museum, since the entire U.S. Jewish experience can be reduced to the European mass murder of Jews. Or something.

To put this another way, Native Americans built a museum, whereas the Reaganite Jews got us a mausoleum*.

Finally, there's the right wing politics, which many now recognize as neoconservative (again, that term was orginally self-descriptive, not pejorative). Nothing alienated (and to a considerable extent, continues to alienate) young Jews like a slavish devotion to the Likud party--the increasing success of and support for J Street proves that. Granted, in the early 1980s, the specific alienating events were the (first) Lebanon War and the Sabra-Shatila massacres**, but plus ca change and all of that...

I bring this up since between the horrible effect of Reaganite Jews on U.S. foreign policy (e.g., the obsession with Saddam Hussein) and the cognitive dissonance caused by the Gaza War (the dissonance stems from the realization that this war, in anything but the very short term, won't solve anything), I think the influence of Reaganite Jews is finally starting to wane.

And that's a good thing for everyone, Jews and non-Jews alike.

Related post: Glenn Greenwald and Mondoweiss discuss related issues.

*And a profoundly bad one too, since it's narrative is the roots of the Holocaust started in 1933, and not in a long history of Christian anti-Semitism. Of course, since the Reaganites were part of the conservative coalition, which at the time included Falwell's 'Moral Majority', they very well couldn't talk about this.

**The moral effects of the following 25 years of occupation are notable considering that, during the Sabra-Shatila massacres, lower ranking Israeli officers repeatedly requested permission to stop the Phalangists and were ordered not to by (war criminals) Rafael Eitan and then Defense Minister Ariel Sharon. The immorality stemmed from a failure to stop someone else, and not that IDF forces slaughtered civilians during the massacres. The war was also notable in that platoons, companies, and, even in one case, an elite paratrooper brigade refused to follow what they considered to be immoral orders. Sadly, I don't think either of these things would happen today.


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But, but, but - this is America!

You can't say anything bad about Ronald Reagan!

By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 02 Jan 2009 #permalink

Actually things are a little subtler. You might ask why
Jews are generally on the left. Since they came to these shores in 1880's they have been to the left. One might answer that Jews are smart and they see the correct way.
Or that progressive politics is somehow inherent to Judaism.
But neither of these silly ideas are true. Jews have historically been on the left bec that is a vestage of their
anti-Tzarist past. Nothing more. Two points to prove my point: a) Sephardim in the USA have no prefrence for
leftist politics and b) Most orthodox Jews are on the right.

So what really happened during Reagen is that Jews started forgeting their anti-Tzarist past and started voting for themselves. Not to mention the betrayal of Israel by Jimmy Carter and the left.

Re Eugene

The problem with Mr. Eugenes' analysis is that, in 2008, an estimated 78% of Jewish voters voted for then Senator Obama, who was certainly to the left of his opponent. The stubborn fact is that the preponderance of Jewish voters lean left, just as they always have.

SLC, one cannot distinguish separate trends based off of a single election.

Mike, I think most of this analysis is off-base. First, undue emphasis on the Holocaust has occurred in all strains of Judaism in the United States except possibly certain Orthodox groups. This almost Christian-like death-obsession is not unique to what you dub Reaganite Judaism.

Second, there's a distinction between agreeing with some elements of Likud policy and supporting Likud.

Third, the analysis above ignores how much neoconservatism is connected to other American policy issues especially in regard to the use of the US military overseas. This bears connections to their attitude towards Israel but it is an important element in its own right.

Finally, you appear tooverestimate the element of buying Israeli bonds. I'd be interested in seeing evidence to back up the claim that this was a central plank of Reaganite Judaism.

(Incidentally, your description of Sharon as a war criminal is also uncalled for. Sharon made mistakes but none of his actions constituted war crimes. Claiming so simply undermines your case)