Adam Milstein on the End of the American Jewish Golden Age

Since October 7th, American Jewish pundits and commentators have been talking and writing about the “Great Jewish Awakening.” Articles in magazines and newspapers from The Jerusalem Post and the Jewish News Syndicate to The Forward and Hadassah Magazine recount how the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust has brought countless Jews in the U.S. closer to their Jewish identities and communities. 

But there was also a “second awakening,” one in which American Jews suddenly realized the danger in their own backyard. Only hours after the world learned of the brutal attack in Israel, Americans were in the streets protesting – not against Hamas terrorists, but for them, painting their widely broadcast mass rape and murder as legitimate resistance and blaming Israel for bringing this horror onto itself. These were not the fringe, far right neo-Nazis from whom antisemitism is expected. These were the liberals and progressives with whom Jews have always felt at home.

This turn of events was a static shock that rocked the solid liberal foundations on which American Jews have depended for decades. Even the most high-profile, well-educated Jews admitted their surprise. On an April 16, 2024 episode of Dan Senor’s podcast Call Me Back, entrepreneur and public speaker Scott Galloway said the following:

“If on October 6th someone had asked me, what’s the state of antisemitism in the United States? I would have said it doesn’t exist. … And then the events of October 7th were obviously horrifying, but what was more rattling to me was the response in America.”

Staff writer at The Atlantic Franklin Foer wrote in an extensive piece on March 4, 2024 that, “Like many American Jews, I once considered anti-Semitism a threat largely emanating from the right.” Foer “reassured” himself that the antisemitism that flared up from the right during Trump’s administration would subside once he left office. “That reassuring thought required downplaying as anti-Semitism promoted by the left had begun well before October 7.”

This begs the question: Why were so many Jews so surprised? Foer’s piece in The Atlantic is eerily titled “The Golden Age of American Jews is Ending.” But on October 19, 2022, a full year before the events of October 7th, a similarly titled piece was published in The Jerusalem Post. “Why the Golden Age for Jews in America is coming to an end” was written by prominent Jewish philanthropist and businessman Adam Milstein – one of the few Jews who wasn’t surprised by the vitriol of the left. And it’s no wonder, given how embedded Milstein has been the past several years in the fight against antisemitism on college campuses, in government, and in the public square.

Milstein is an American of Israeli descent originally from Haifa. After moving to the U.S. in 1981 and pursuing a successful career in commercial real estate, he and his wife Gila co-founded the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation in 2000. This non-profit champions a wealth of causes that strengthen American values, the U.S.-Israel alliance, the State of Israel, and the Jewish People. He has written extensively on the dangers posed by the anti-Zionism and Israel-hatred that has infiltrated the left. He calls it the “New Antisemitism,” which has become “an acceptable stand-in for the classical hatred of Jews” and which “initially gained currency in universities and in leftist intellectual circles” as far back as the 1980s. “It has since metastasized to much of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.”

Milstein has been tracking the rise of violence that this New Antisemitism has brought. Before October 7th, during the “last major conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in May 2021,” when more than 4,000 rockets were launched into Israel, “we witnessed stunning and unprecedented scenes in New York, Los Angeles, and other American cities of Jews being assaulted by mobs of anti-Israel activists. This surge of anti-Jewish hate also included harassment, vandalism and online abuse.” This was just a preview of the mobs that have recently culminated in the most unabashed pro-terror protests so far: on American college campuses.

This strain of antisemitism is bad for Jews as well as the liberal foundations on which America was built, which Jews helped to foster during the 20th century. As Foer writes, “Jews invested their faith in a distinct strain of liberalism that combined robust civil liberties, the protection of minority rights, and an ethos of cultural pluralism. They embraced this brand of liberalism because it was good for America—and good for the Jews. It was their fervent hope that liberalism would inoculate America against the world’s oldest hatred.” Now these values are threatened. And as we know from a long history of antisemitism, “[e]xtremist thought and mob behavior have never been good for Jews. And what’s bad for Jews, it can be argued, is bad for America.”

Milstein explains that Jews are also responsible for the fracturing of this Golden Age. For many years, being a Zionist was perfectly compatible with the liberal values that made America one of the safest places for Jews on earth. But after the rightward turn Israel took following the Second Intifada, “[s]upport for the Jewish state began to wane at the fringes of the American Jewish community.” And now, “American Jews are severing their alliance with Israel.” Jewish communities across the U.S. “are divided, disengaged, and declining in membership,” signaling a shift in the way “Americans Jews think about their Jewish identity and their relationships with the homeland of the Jewish people.” Now more than ever, “many American Jews serve willingly as useful idiots for groups that despise us, divided our community, and weaken our resolve, under the pretext of legitimate critique of the Israeli government policies.”

What’s to be done about it? Despite the fact that “American Jews have been complicit as anti-Zionism morphs into the new antisemitism,” Milstein argues it’s time to fight back. We must take responsibility for our actions now that so many of us are awake to these dangers following October 7th. “We must form alliances with groups that share the same Judeo-Christian values of freedom and democracy, inspire today’s Jewish youth to be proud of their people and the Jewish homeland, and bring Israel back to the center of our Jewish life in the diaspora.” It’s vital that we “embrace Zionism as an integral part of our Jewish identity” despite “fear of rejection and persecution.” Now that so many Jews feel closer to their Jewish community, we must invest in the strength of that community. If we don’t stand together against this New Antisemitism, we will never see another Golden Age for Jews in America again.

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