This article summarizes and comments on the Cohen Report, a major new study sponsored by the Institute on American Jewish-Israeli Relations of the American Jewish Committee and conducted by Professor Steven M. Cohen.
Some conclusions: By and large, American Jews, knowing the depth of their shared concern for Israel, permit themselves a critical perspective. But they are, at the same time, quite uncertain of the depth and durability of the American commitment to Israel, and that leads to strain. Plainly, although the Cohen Report does not speak specifically to this matter, Jews are concerned lest their critical perceptions be regarded as an excuse by various groups in America, and by the American government, to abandon their commitment to Israel. It makes crystal-clear that criticism of Israeli policy by American Jews takes place within a context of continuing and profound commitment to Israel's welfare.
There is no evidence in the report to support the idea that such criticism causes American Jews to distance themselves from Israel, or that it would lead them to passivity were Israel's security to be threatened by a shift in American policy. On the contrary: The Cohen Report, for all the uncertainties it describes, depicts a mature community, sure of its purpose and able to make critical distinctions, a community quite different from the caricature of mindlessness that has so often been reported.
It will surely be read with great interest in Israel, whose leaders have (since long before Menachem Begin) been inclined to hear what they have wanted to hear, to interpret support for the State as support for the government; it should be read carefully in Washington, where policy makers have often misunderstood the ongoing debate within the Jewish community, imagining that Jewish disagreement with this or that Israeli policy marked a decline of the Jewish commitment to Israel; it will be read by American Jewish leaders, who may want to ponder whether it is healthy to stifle their private views to the degree they do, whether such behavior is fair to the Israelis or to their own constituents, neither of whomâ??until nowâ??have had reason to suppose that the leaders are so critical of Israel's policies; finally, it should be read by American Jews, by the Jewish public, which may well take heart from both the unity and the divisions it reports.
The unity speaks to the heart of the Jewish commitment; the divisions reflect the fact that the workings of the heart do not require an end to intelligent and thoughtful debate.
In Moment v.8 no.10, November 1983, p.15-21.