The Future of the Jews

  • From the Publisher
November 5, 2012
In The Future of the Jews, Stu­art E. Eizen­stat, a senior diplo­mat of inter­na­tion­al rep­u­ta­tion, sur­veys the major geopo­lit­i­cal, eco­nom­ic, and secu­ri­ty chal­lenges fac­ing the world in gen­er­al, and the Jew­ish world and the Unit­ed States in par­tic­u­lar. These forces include the shift of pow­er and influ­ence from the Unit­ed States and Europe to the emerg­ing pow­ers in Asia and Latin Amer­i­ca; glob­al­iza­tion and the new infor­ma­tion age; the bat­tle for the direc­tion of the Mus­lim world; non­tra­di­tion­al secu­ri­ty threats; chang­ing demo­graph­ics, which pose a par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge for Jews world­wide and the rise of a new anti-Semi­tism that seeks to dele­git­imize Israel as a Jew­ish state. He also dis­cuss­es the endur­ing nature of and chal­lenges to the strate­gic alliance between the Unit­ed States and Israel. Eizenstat’s provoca­tive analy­sis will be of inter­est to every­one con­cerned about the future of Jews world­wide and in Israel and the Unit­ed States’ role in a world that is con­fronting unprece­dent­ed simul­ta­ne­ous, cat­a­clysmic changes.

JBW talks with Ambas­sador Stu­art Eizenstat

The for­mer Ambas­sador to the EU dis­cuss­es Israel, Jew­ish con­ti­nu­ity, and the role being Jew­ish has played in his career as a pub­lic ser­vant.

Jeff Bogursky: I noticed the names of your sev­en grand­chil­dren in the book. Five of them have Hebrew names, and two of them have Amer­i­can names. Is this due to the loca­tion that your two sons have cho­sen to live, or the lifestyle they’ve cho­sen?
Stu­art Eizen­stat: Well, the five who have Hebrew names, Men­achem, Bracha, Eliez­er, Michal, and Yitzchak are from our old­est son, who is a baal teshu­va and ortho­dox, and the oth­er two are from our son in New York who is Con­ser­v­a­tive. One thing that has giv­en me a pow­er­ful sense of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion is that both my grand­fa­ther, who made Aliya at the age of eighty-some­thing from Atlanta after hav­ing arrived there from Rus­sia in 1904, and my great grand­fa­ther, are buried to the pub­lic ceme­tery in Petach Tik­va, only one row apart. We have many oth­er rel­a­tives and friends in Israel, but to have your grand­fa­ther and great grand­fa­ther buried there cre­ates a very pow­er­ful bond.

JHB: You were the chief domes­tic advi­sor to Pres­i­dent Carter in 1976. You are a lawyer, but you have done so many things over many years of pub­lic ser­vice. Talk­ing to young peo­ple, how does one start a career such as yours?
SE: I start­ed in 1963, when I was select­ed as a Con­gres­sion­al intern while attend­ing the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na. I got the bug from there, came back in 1964 to work on the John­son pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. I went to Har­vard Law School. Right after that I went to work in the John­son White House for a year, serv­ing as his Research Direc­tor. When he decid­ed not to run, I went back to Atlanta and clerked with a Fed­er­al judge, then became a Pol­i­cy Direc­tor for Jim­my Carter’s guber­na­to­r­i­al cam­paign, and then four years lat­er for his pres­i­den­tial campaign.

JHB: When you think of your­self, do you see your­self in any way play­ing the role of the Shtadt­lan, or Court Jew?
SE: No, I strong­ly reject that des­ig­na­tion. If that’s what I was, or that’s how I was per­ceived, I could nev­er have had the influ­ence that I did. Every­one knew I was Jew­ish, knew I had Jew­ish val­ues and Jew­ish con­cerns, but I was not the Jew­ish advi­sor to Carter, I was the domes­tic pol­i­cy advi­sor. I was not the Jew­ish Ambas­sador to the Euro­pean Union, I was the Ambas­sador to the Euro­pean Union who was Jew­ish. I was not Under Sec­re­tary of Com­merce, or Under Sec­re­tary of State, or Deputy Trea­sury Sec­re­tary as the Jew; I was there because of my abil­i­ty and com­pe­tence. Now, I brought Jew­ish val­ues and that’s what led me to push the Holo­caust Resti­tu­tion to the fore­front dur­ing the Clin­ton admin­is­tra­tion, and to rec­om­mend that Pres­i­dent Carter cre­ate the US Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al Muse­um, and to cre­ate a spe­cial visa cat­e­go­ry to save Chris­tians, Bahai’s, and Jews from the Iran­ian Rev­o­lu­tion. In oth­er words, I brought with me Jew­ish per­spec­tives and insights, but I was always per­ceived, because I was, essen­tial­ly an Amer­i­can, who was a pol­i­cy expert with polit­i­cal skills. Every­one knew I had a per­spec­tive that was sus­tained by Judaism, but I was absolute­ly not the Court Jew or I would have been just a figurehead.

JHB: I would imag­ine that in many ways this is a sim­i­lar posi­tion to that of Hen­ry Mor­gen­thau, who served in Franklin Roosevelt’s cab­i­net.
SE: He’s a per­fect exam­ple. He was a Sec­re­tary of the Trea­sury, he wasn’t a Court Jew, but because of his back­ground and sen­si­tiv­i­ty, he was final­ly able to impress upon Roo­sevelt that he need­ed to cre­ate a War Refugee Board to help Jew­ish refugees.

JHB: As you put it in the book, we are all Jews by choice today. The things we choose to empha­size or show about our­selves are oft en very crit­i­cal in deter­min­ing how peo­ple see us. What is the role of reli­gion today in the ques­tion of how we live as Jews? In the past, Jew­ish iden­ti­fi­ca­tion was com­mon on a num­ber of non-reli­gious bases. Is that still the case today?
SE: That’s a great ques­tion, and it’s one of the real chal­lenges. I think with­out some root­ed­ness in the reli­gious aspects of Judaism, it is very hard in our plu­ral­is­tic soci­ety to main­tain Jew­ish con­ti­nu­ity. Now, that doesn’t mean it has to be Ortho­dox, or fol­low a par­tic­u­lar pre­scrip­tion, but some knowl­edge of the reli­gion, some prac­tice of it is crit­i­cal, but it’s not the only impor­tant attach­ment. Indeed, increas­ing­ly, Amer­i­can Jews’ attach­ment to Judaism is heav­i­ly relat­ed to Israel. So, for exam­ple, one of the most impor­tant projects of the post-war era in a chang­ing Diaspora/​Israel rela­tion­ship is Oper­a­tion Birthright. Most of the peo­ple on Birthright trips have nev­er been to Israel at all. Many, if not most, are not reli­gious, and many are com­plete­ly sec­u­lar. But Birthright cre­ates a strong iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with Judaism and Israel. Like­wise, cul­tur­al activ­i­ties: Jew­ish Day School edu­ca­tion, any­thing that has a Jew­ish con­tent is crit­i­cal. But, I think that in the end it has to be under-gird­ed by at least some com­po­nent of the reli­gious side, some knowl­edge of the his­to­ry of the reli­gion, some prac­tice — it can be Passover, or Purim, or Chanukah — some­thing that reminds you that this is not just an eth­i­cal attach­ment; oth­er­wise you could be an eth­i­cal human­ist. At bot­tom, Judaism is a cul­ture, but also a reli­gion. And the two are and always have been, inex­tri­ca­bly intertwined.

JHB: How would you define or mea­sure Jew­ish con­ti­nu­ity?
SE: By every ratio­nal con­sid­er­a­tion, Jews should not even be here, when you con­sid­er two home­lands destroyed, exile not only from the home­land but from Eng­land, France, Spain, Por­tu­gal, from Arab coun­tries— mil­len­nia of per­se­cu­tion. The rea­son that Jews, albeit in small­er num­bers than we would like, remain here, when those empires which had sought to destroy Jews have them­selves been destroyed, is because of three things. One is an iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with a Jew­ish home­land, in Israel. There has always been a very pow­er­ful sense dur­ing exile that there was always an iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with Israel. Sec­ond is some iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with holy scrip­tures — with Tal­mud, the Five Books of Moses — in one way or the oth­er. And third is a pro­found sense of people-hood.

No mat­ter where you go, if you see some­one who’s Jew­ish you feel an imme­di­ate sense of kin­ship; you can strike up an imme­di­ate con­ver­sa­tion. It’s an almost mys­ti­cal sense of peo­ple-hood. And those three are inter­twined and all essen­tial. Some peo­ple have more of one, more of anoth­er, but with­out those three you have noth­ing. And with one of those three you have some­thing, and if you have two of three it’s even stronger, and if you have all it’s an even stronger iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

JHB: Why is it so impor­tant?
SE: I cite the fig­ure of 52% inter­mar­riage rate — even among our friends who have very strong Jew­ish iden­ti­fi­ca­tions, reli­gious­ly as well. The degree of assim­i­la­tion, of accep­tance of Jews is so pow­er­ful, that for the next gen­er­a­tion it is exceed­ing­ly dif­fi­cult to hold on to a strong enough sense of Jew­ish iden­ti­fi­ca­tion to have all-Jew­ish mar­riages. When my wife and I get invit­ed to an all-Jew­ish wed­ding, it’s an exception.

JHB: In your book, in this con­text, you make an argu­ment that Con­ser­v­a­tive rab­bis should offi­ci­ate at mixed mar­riages, which at this point, the major­i­ty do not.
SE: I would not have made that rec­om­men­da­tion five years ago. But, I see what’s hap­pen­ing around me, and I feel an urgency about out­reach at a crit­i­cal time in a young couple’s life. And, I’m fear­ful that if we cir­cle the wag­ons too tight­ly, we’ll have a dimin­ish­ing num­ber of peo­ple inside the circle.

JHB: Do you not con­cern your­self with the fact that the intro­duc­tion of more het­ero­doxy in the accep­tance of Jews of var­i­ous back­grounds will lead to ques­tion marks with­in Judaism?
SE: When I talk about Jews by choice, there is already a ques­tion mark on every­body in terms of main­tain­ing Jew­ish con­ti­nu­ity and iden­ti­ty. I have said in terms of these mixed mar­riages, that they should only be per­formed where there is a com­mit­ment to raise their chil­dren as Jew­ish. We have to open our tent more than in the past, when we could afford to be more selec­tive. There are 13.5 mil­lion Jews in a pop­u­la­tion of 7 bil­lion. In 1939, before the Holo­caust, there were 17 mil­lion Jews in a pop­u­la­tion of 2 bil­lion. In 2050, with cur­rent trends, there will be a pop­u­la­tion, if we’re lucky, of 14 to 15 mil­lion Jews in a pop­u­la­tion of 10 bil­lion. We’re an increas­ing­ly small per­cent­age, and if we’re not will­ing to be more accept­ing, although there are risks on the oth­er side, the risk of los­ing whole cou­ples at a cru­cial ti me of their life cycle is greater.

JHB: Turn­ing to Israel. You have crit­i­cal words for Israeli For­eign Min­is­ter Avig­dor Lieber­man and his pro­pos­als for a divi­sion between Pales­tine and Israel that would accom­mo­date for larg­er Pales­tin­ian cen­ters in Israel going into an even­tu­al Pales­tin­ian State, and large set­tle­ment blocs being incor­po­rat­ed into Israel. There’s been a lot of heat over his var­i­ous state­ments, but are you so against the gen­er­al con­cept of his pro­pos­al? You seem to advo­cate for sep­a­ra­tion between the two pop­u­la­tions.
SE: Yes, but it depends on how you arrive at that. You have to remem­ber that these are, after all, cit­i­zens of Israel. They have vot­ing rights, they are eli­gi­ble for gov­ern­ment ser­vices. To take one seg­ment of your pop­u­la­tion and sug­gest that they be part of a polit­i­cal trans­fer is a poor pol­i­cy. Israel already has enough con­cerns about Israeli Arabs and their loy­al­ty to the state, with­out cre­at­ing a sit­u­a­tion in which they appear to be unwant­ed. It’s also sim­ply an anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic thing to do. These are not ille­gal aliens who have come across your bor­der improp­er­ly, like some of the African refugees. These are by and large peace­ful cit­i­zens of the State of Israel.

JHB: Do you believe that should there be a set­tle­ment between the par­ties, that the Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion in the ter­ri­to­ries should be repa­tri­at­ed to Israel, or be allowed to remain in a Pales­tin­ian one.
SE: There are a cou­ple of ways of answer­ing that. The first is that for the vast major­i­ty of Jews liv­ing in the West Bank, almost every peace pro­pos­al that’s been out there for years would include the large set­tle­ment blocs being incor­po­rat­ed into the new bor­ders of Israel. So, we’re talk­ing about peo­ple in places like Ariel, or out­posts. But Ariel is a very dif­fer­ent thing than an out­post, so Ariel, one way or the oth­er will have to be part of the state of Israel, as recon­sti­tut­ed. But for the rest, they should be giv­en their choice as to whether to stay. I would imag­ine the over­whelm­ing num­ber of them will choose to leave. And, if Israeli Arabs should choose to move to the new Pales­tin­ian state, there should be no road­block to them doing so. But, they shouldn’t be coerced to do so.

JHB: You are a good Demo­c­rat, hav­ing served your coun­try and your par­ty for many years. But, you have had crit­i­cal words for the Oba­ma Administration’s sup­port ear­ly on for a set­tle­ment freeze. Do you think that was a mis­take?
SE: It was clear­ly a mis­take, it didn’t rec­og­nize the nature of the coali­tion, it was done pub­licly, with no con­sul­ta­tion, and it set a bar for the Pales­tini­ans that was used as an excuse not to return to the bar­gain­ing table. I think that was rec­ti­fied, and indeed Prime Min­is­ter Netanyahu agreed to a freeze for ten months, not includ­ing Jerusalem, but that was con­sid­er­able. It was more than any Prime Min­ster has done. And, dur­ing that time the Pales­tini­ans didn’t enter into any sub­stan­tive nego­ti­a­tions until the last month, and then the Prime Min­is­ter didn’t agree to extend the freeze.

Discussion Questions