America

The ethos of many American Jews, like that of other immigrant citizens of America, has been the ethos of America as the land of freedom and unlimited possibilities. In Israel, the legacy of early collectivism, and especially Socialist-Zionism, has supported early ambivalence toward America as the embodiment of the ills of ruthless capitalism. This ambivalence was reinforced among the Jewish Europeans who immigrated to Israel by their traditionally condescending attitudes toward American culture: the tendency to see it as a vulgar, materialistic version of loftier European cultural forms. By and large, Israelis have regarded America as the competing dream of Jews who would opt for the “good life,” in the materialistic sense of the term, rather than join the dangerous, although more noble, mission of Jewish collective liberation. Israelis have tended to be blind to the ethical and spiritual origins of American individualism and to see it more as a form of materialistic egotism. For many Israelis, America became the place to which yordim – nonidealistic, uncommitted Israelis – immigrate. From within the context of the converging powerful traditions of religious, nationalist and socialist versions of Israeli collectivism, American individualism appeared as a degenerative from of life, an anti-idealistic mode of existence.Such attitudes have, in part, reflected the thinness of Israeli liberal-democratic culture. It is instructive to note that when Israelis sought to copy something from the American democracy, they thought the most relevant thing was not a constitution or a bill of rights, but the direct election of the chief executive, which they mistakenly regarded as a way to promote a “strong” executive.

In time, this Israeli ambivalence was muted by the gradual emergence of America as Israel’s strongest and most reliable ally and the instrumental regard for American Jews as a source of vital material and diplomatic resources.

While both American and Israeli Jewish leaders have been using each other for their own purposes in the most general terms, the basis of their transactions has been the assumption that Israel is in some sense a morally superior place for Jews to live, while America is a vital resource for Israeli survival and development.

In recent years, Israel’s normative superiority has been eroding as a result of developments in both Israel and America.