enduring legacy of Israel's Six Day War
Six Day War, fought and won 35 years ago this week, marked
a sea change in the life of the U.S. Jewish community. It
was the fateful week when concerns about Israel and the Holocaust
moved to the center of Jewish concerns in this country. The
effects of that change still sow seeds of insecurity in American
Jewish life. This insecurity hampers U.S. efforts to serve
as an even-handed broker in the Middle East.
1967, Jewish life here did not focus on Israel or the Holocaust.
In the early 1960s, the concerns and values of Jews were virtually
identical to those of their gentile neighbors. Jews here had
gained a level of social acceptance and security never before
achieved anywhere else in the Jewish diaspora.
the Six Day War of 1967. Millions of U.S. Jews felt, far more
strongly than before, that Israel's fate symbolized their
own fate and the fate of Jews all over the world. Virtually
all Jews claimed that Israel's very existence was threatened
(though some historians now question this claim).
logical to conclude that Jews in the United States, and around
the world, faced another Holocaust. Rather than celebrate
its newfound security, American Jewry portrayed itself as
an outpost of an eternally endangered and embattled people.
most Jews still embrace the religious vision that has dominated
U.S. Judaism since June 1967. The eminent historian of Judaism,
Rabbi Jacob Neusner, calls it ''the Judaism of Holocaust and
Redemption.'' In this new form of Judaism, the prime religious
commandment is to ensure Jewish survival by supporting Israel.
With Israel the symbol of every Jew's fate, it seems that
only the Israeli army stands between survival and another
Holocaust. This gives the actions of Israel's military a seemingly
irrefutable ethical, and even spiritual, legitimacy.
this intense concern for Israel, the Holocaust and Jewish
survival emerge so suddenly during the Six Day War? Part of
the answer lies in the pattern of U.S. Jewish history. Jews
here have always wanted to be somewhat distinctive without
being too different. In every generation, they have most often
expressed their distinctive identity in ways that fit the
dominant patterns of U.S. society.
administration supported Israel, seeing it as a crucial U.S.
surrogate in the Middle East. Israel became a symbol of the
Cold War battle against communism (though Israel's opponents
actually had little sympathy for the Soviets). To be pro-Israel
was to be pro-America.
factors reinforced the political factors. In 1967, most Jews
were liberals. As mainstream liberals embraced visions of
racial equality and turned against the Vietnam War, many Jews
sought (perhaps unconsciously) a way to define their identity
that would be compatible with these trends.
learning to see themselves as white people in a nation whose
people of color were demanding equal rights. They had to ask
themselves whether they were indeed the oppressors rather
than the oppressed. Watching the horrors of Vietnam on television,
they also began to question whether they, as Americans, were
among the oppressors of the world.
Day War solved this problem. It allowed Jews to view themselves
as members of an oppressed group. They could see their acts
of self-assertion as morally valid, even when those acts were
deadly military strikes. So Jews could gather in their synagogues
to celebrate pride in Jewish power, which appeared to be both
military and moral.
the pride of an oppressed people fighting back to prevent
a new Holocaust. It was a pride that non-Jewish Americans
could readily understand and applaud.
has served Israel's interests well. ''The Judaism of Holocaust
and Redemption'' still permits many U.S. Jews, who have unprecedented
safety, to imagine themselves as members of an oppressed and
therefore insecure people. Out of that imagined insecurity,
they support, or at least tolerate, hard-line Israeli policies
that fuel Palestinian resistance and perpetuate the cycle
of violence. Most non-Jewish Americans do the same, and so
does their government.
that grew out of the Six Day War led many Jews to demand a
pro-Israel tilt in U.S. policy. But that tilt, so evident
in the Bush administration and Congress, makes it impossible
for the United States to play a role of neutral peacemaker
in the Middle East.
U.S-Israel relationship now blocks the path to peace. If U.S.
Jews need a peaceful and secure Israel to feel secure themselves,
the attitudes born in June 1967 still block the path to their
is a professor of religious studies at the University of Colorado.
History News Service