On the other hand, American Jewry’s recollection of 1967 cannot be disassociated from its awareness that the war also resulted in Israel’s ongoing military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. While there are still many American Jews who deny that such an occupation even exists, increasing numbers of American Jews, especially younger ones, have finally recognized, however reluctantly, that Israel still effectively controls the lives of millions of Palestinians, who are politically disenfranchised, economically deprived, and frequently degraded. This painful recognition has fundamentally challenged American Jewry’s relationship with Israel and the liberal Zionism that many American Jews embraced in the wake of the 1967 war. It has led to widespread American Jewish criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, and more profoundly, to growing disillusionment with Zionism itself.
Ironically, then, just as the Six-Day War motivated many American Jews to convert to Zionism, which became a kind of “substitute religion” for them (in Arthur Hertzberg’s phrase), it also set in motion the demise of liberal Zionism. Fifty years later, the future of liberal Zionism, in Israel and in the American Jewish community, is very much in doubt. It is threatened by the ascendance of a reactionary, chauvinistic Zionism on the right and a strident, dogmatic anti-Zionism on the left. Only if Israel ends its military occupation of the West Bank can liberal Zionism survive.
The fiftieth anniversary of the Six-Day War is a bittersweet moment for American Jewry. On the one hand, it will be fondly recalled as the catalytic event that led to the triumph of Zionism in the American Jewish community.
The collective dread that preceded the war, and the relief and euphoria that followed it, ushered in a new era in American Jewry’s relationship with Israel. Many American Jews, enthralled and empowered by the Jewish state’s stunning military victory, fell in love with Israel and committed themselves to the Zionist cause (for some this entailed moving to Israel, for others donating money or lobbying on its behalf). In the decade that followed, support for Israel came to dominate American Jewish public life and politics, as it still largely does today. Zionism, it seemed, had finally won over American Jews, many of whom had once been indifferent or even hostile to it.
Dov Waxman is Professor of Political Science, International Affairs, and Israel Studies, and the Stotsky Professor of Jewish Historical and Cultural Studies at Northeastern University. He is the author of three books: The Pursuit of Peace and the Crisis of Israeli Identity: Defending / Defining the Nation (Palgrave, 2006), Israel’s Palestinians: The Conflict Within (with Ilan Peleg, Cambridge University Press, 2011), and Trouble in the Tribe: The American Jewish Conflict over Israel (Princeton University Press, 2016).