Skip to main content

Framing Conflict: Why American Congregations Cannot Not Talk about Israel

Abstract

Israel has unified American Jewish communal life for much of the 20th century. However, early in the 21st century, Israel may no longer serve as a source for Jewish unity but of division, and American Jews are increasingly having a difficult time talking about Israel inside of their institutions. This phenomenon has become something of a truism, yet there has been no in-depth case study that explores why this is the case. This article seeks to fill this gap. Over the course of 46 interviews with 55 members of a non-Orthodox congregation in the San Francisco Bay Area, we explored why this community found it so difficult to talk about Israel. Contrary to popular perception that would have predicted that Israel would play a central role in this community, it played hardly any role at all. Using Erving Goffman’s theory of frame analysis, we identified three frames that explain the relative absence of Israel talk. Congregants have absorbed the “problem frame,” which holds that talking about Israel would be potentially divisive and toxic, despite the fact that none of the congregants experienced conflict. They mobilized two other frames – the “resource frame” and the “local frame” – which are in conflict with one another. The “resource frame” holds that Israel is an important and beloved resource for identity, community, and practice. Yet, the “local frame” prioritizes more immediate issues or concerns above the more abstract commitment to Israel. The resultant tension between Israel as an abstract resource for Jewish identity and the more immediate ways in which people operationalized their commitments, suggests that beneath the problem frame lies a tension that is less communal than personal.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. For example, see the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation’s funding guidelines, which lay out expectations with respect to grantees’ attitudes toward the State of Israel, including BDS. https://jewishfed.org/federation%E2%80%99s-israel-funding-guidelines. Also see Hillel International’s similar Israel guidelines with respect to “standards of partnership” for organizations seeking to partner with campus Hillel. https://www.hillel.org/jewish/hillel-israel/hillel-israel-guidelines.

  2. The name of the congregation is a pseudonym as are the names of all individuals quoted or identified in the article.

  3. Interview with the author(s), August 24, 2017.

  4. Rob Gordon, interview with the author(s), August 24, 2017.

  5. Ed Rothberg, interview with the author(s), September 6, 2017.

  6. Interview with the author(s), August 24, 2017.

  7. Naomi Miller, interview with the author(s), August 31, 2017.

  8. Fania Kremberg, interview with the author(s), August 30, 2017.

  9. Rose Lerman interview with the author(s), August 31, 2017.

  10. Morgan Wise, interview with the author(s), August 23, 2017.

  11. Shlomo Hartman, interview with the author(s), August 27, 2017.

  12. Naomi Miller, interview with the author(s), August 31, 2017.

  13. Interview with the author(s), September 5, 2017.

  14. Interview with the author(s), September 5, 2017.

  15. Robert Goodman, interview with the author(s), August 29, 2017.

  16. Interview with the author(s), August 24, 2017.

  17. Interview with the author(s), August 28, 2017.

  18. Fred Davidson, interview with the author(s), August 28, 2017.

  19. Uri Davidson, interview with the author(s), August 27, 2017.

  20. Mort Kaplan, interview with the author(s), August 31, 2017.

  21. Seb Smith, interview with the author(s), September 3, 2017.

  22. Seb Smith, interview with the author(s), September 3, 2017.

  23. Hannah Gardner, interview with the author(s), September 5, 2017.

  24. Edith Spiro, interview with the author(s), August 24, 2017.

  25. Interview with the Author(s), August 24, 2017.

  26. Hannah Gardner, interview with the author(s), September 5, 2017.

  27. Max Dieson, interview with the author(s), September 3, 2017.

  28. Seb Smith, interview with the author(s), September 3, 2017.

  29. Naomi Miller, interview with the author(s), August 31, 2017.

  30. Krystal Moser, interview with the author(s), August 27, 2017.

  31. Ella Shipton, interview with the author(s), August 22, 2017.

  32. Ella Shipton, interview with the author(s), August 22, 2017.

  33. Interview with the author(s), September 5, 2017.

  34. Interview with the author(s), August 22, 2017.

  35. Interview with the author(s), August 23, 2017.

  36. Interview with the author(s), August 29, 2017.

  37. Interview with the author(s), August 29, 2017.

  38. Robert Goodman, interview with the author(s), August 29, 2017.

  39. Batya Gregson, interview with the author(s), August 29, 2017.

  40. Levi Gur, interview with the author(s), August 31, 2017.

  41. Morgan Wise, interview with the author(s), August 23, 2017.

  42. Helen Dubkov, interview with the author(s), August 24, 2017.

  43. David Benjamin, interview with the author(s), August 23, 2017.

  44. Shlomo Hartman, interview with the author(s), August 27, 2017.

  45. Steven Dubler, interview with the author(s), September 7, 2017.

  46. Elizabeth Cohen, interview with the author(s), August 22, 2017.

  47. Kate Horton, interview with the author(s), August 29, 2017.

References

  • Altheide, David L. 1997. The news media, the problem frame, and the production of fear. The Sociological Quarterly 38 (4): 647–668.

    Google Scholar 

  • Amoureux, Jack L., and Brent J. Steele (eds.). 2016. Reflexivity and international relations: Positionality, critique, and practice. New York, NY: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Avishai, Bernard. 2002. The tragedy of Zionism: How its revolutionary past haunts Israeli democracy. New York, NY: Helios Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Baron, Ilan Zvi. 2015. Obligation in exile: The Jewish Diaspora, Israel and critique. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Baron, Ilan Zvi. 2016. Reflexivity, critique, and the Jewish Diaspora. In Reflexivity and international relations: Positionality, critique, and practice, ed. Jack L. Amoureux and Brent J. Steele, 179–200. New York, NY: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Beilin, Yossi. 2000. His brother’s keeper: Israel and Diaspora Jewry in the twenty-first century. New York, NY: Schocken Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Beinart, Peter. 2010. The failure of the American Jewish establishment. The New York Review of Books, v57 (10), June 10. https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2010/06/10/failure-american-jewish-establishment. Accessed 18 Jan 2018.

  • Beinart, Peter. 2013. The crisis of Zionism. New York, NY: Picador.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bellah, Robert N. 1967. Civil religion in America. Daedalus 96 (1): 1–21.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ben-Moshe, Danny, and Zohar Segev (eds.). 2007. Israel, the Diaspora, and Jewish identity. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Berlin, Isaiah. 1975. The achievement of Zionism. In Transcript of a Lecture Delivered at an Academic Symposium of the Institute of Jewish Affairs, June 1, 1975 (transcribed by Henry Hardy). The Isaiah Berlin Virtual Library. http://berlin.wolf.ox.ac.uk/lists/nachlass/achiezio.pdf. Accessed 25 Jan 2018.

  • Brekhus, Wayne H. 2015. Culture and cognition: Patterns in the social construction of reality. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Butler, Judith. 2012. Parting ways: Jewishness and the critique of Zionism. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cerulo, Karen A. (ed.). 2002. Culture in mind: Toward a sociology of culture and cognition. New York, NY: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cerulo, Karen A. 2006. Never saw it coming: Cultural challenges to envisioning the worst. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chabon, Michael, and Ayelet Waldman (eds.). 2017. Kingdom of olives and ash: Writers confront the occupation. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cohen, Naomi W. 1975. American Jews and the Zionist idea. New York, NY: KTAV Publishing House.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cohen, Naomi W. 2003. The Americanization of Zionism, 1897–1948. Lebanon, NH: Brandeis University Press/University Press of New England.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cohen, Steven M. 1996. Did American Jews really grow more distant from Israel (1983-1993)? A re-consideration. In Envisioning Israel: The changing ideals and images of North American Jews, ed. Alon Gal, 352–373. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cohen, Steven M., and Ari Y. Kelman. 2010. Thinking about distancing from Israel. Contemporary Jewry 30 (2–3): 287–296.

    Google Scholar 

  • Davies, Charlotte Aull. 2008. Reflexive ethnography: A guide to researching selves and others, 2nd ed. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dershowitz, Alan. 2003. The case for Israel. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dershowitz, Alan. 2008. The case against Israel’s enemies: Exposing Jimmy Carter and others who stand in the way of peace. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dinur, Ben Zion. 1969. Israel and the Diaspora. Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society of America.

    Google Scholar 

  • Eizenstat, Stuart E. 2012. The future of the Jews: How global forces are impacting the Jewish people, Israel, and its relationship with the United States. Letham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

    Google Scholar 

  • Glassner, Barry. 1999. The culture of fear: Why Americans are afraid of the wrong things. New York, NY: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Glidden, Sarah. 2016. How to understand Israel in 60 days or less. Montreal, QC: Drawn & Quarterly.

    Google Scholar 

  • Goffman, Erving. 1974. Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gorenberg, Gershom. 2011. The unmaking of Israel. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hartman, Harriet, and Moshe Hartman. 2000. Denominational differences in the attachment to Israel of American Jews. Review of Religious Research 41 (3): 394–417.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hazony, Yoram. 2001. The Jewish state: The struggle for Israel’s soul. New York, NY: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hirschhorn, Sara Yael. 2017. City on a hilltop: American Jews and the Israeli settler movement. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Judt, Tony. 2003. Israel: The alternative. The New York Review of Books, v50 (16), October, 23. https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2003/10/23/israel-the-alternative. Accessed 31 Jan 2018.

  • Kadushin, Charles, Leonard Saxe, Benjamin Phillips, Michelle Shain, Graham Wright, Shahar Hecht, and Theodore Sasson. 2011. Jewish futures project: The impact of Taglit-Birthright Israel: 2010 update. Waltham, MA: Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, Brandeis University.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kahn-Harris, Keith. 2014. Uncivil war: The Israel conflict in the Jewish community. London, UK: David Paul Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Karpf, Anne, Brian Klug, Jacqueline Rose, and Barbara Rosenbaum (eds.). 2008. A time to speak out: Independent Jewish voices on Israel, Zionism and Jewish identity. London: Verso Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Katz, Emily Alice. 2015. Bringing Zion home: Israel in American Jewish culture, 1948–1967. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kelner, Shaul. 2010. Tours that bind: Diaspora, pilgrimage, and Israeli Birthright tourism. New York, NY/London: New York University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kushner, Tony, and Alisa Solomon (eds.). 2003. Wrestling with Zion: Progressive Jewish-American responses to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. New York, NY: Grove Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Liebman, Charles S. 1973. The ambivalent American Jew: Politics, religion, and family in American Jewish Life. Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society of America.

    Google Scholar 

  • Marcus, Jacob Rader. 1996. David Ben-Gurion and Jacob Blaustein agree that American Jewry’s prime loyalty is to the United States, August 23, 1950. In The Jew in the American World: A source book, ed. Jacob Rader Marcus, 489–494. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Massad, Joseph. 1996. Zionism’s internal others: Israel and the Oriental Jews. Journal of Palestine Studies 25 (4): 53–68.

    Google Scholar 

  • Moore, Deborah Dash. 1996. To the golden cities: Pursuing the American Jewish dream in Miami and L.A. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Myers, David N. 2008. Between Jew and Arab: The lost voice of Simon Rawidowicz. Lebanon, NH: Brandeis University Press/University Press of New England.

    Google Scholar 

  • Neufeld, Mark. 1993. Reflexivity and international relations theory. Millennium Journal of International Studies 22 (1): 53–76.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pew Research Center. 2013. A portrait of Jewish Americans: Findings from a Pew Research Center survey of U.S. Jews. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pianko, Noam. 2010. Zionism and the roads not taken: Rawidowicz, Kaplan, Kohn. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rawidowicz, Simon. 1986. State of Israel, Diaspora, and Jewish continuity: Essays on the “ever-dying people”. Hanover, NH: Brandeis University Press/University Press of New England.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rose, Jacqueline. 2005. The question of Zion. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rosenthal, Steven T. 2001. Irreconcilable differences? The waning of the American Jewish love affair with Israel., Brandeis Series in American Jewish History, Culture, and Life Hanover, NH: Brandeis University Press/University Press of New England.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rosner, Shmuel, and Michael Herzog. 2015. Jewish values and Israel’s use of force in armed conflict: Perspectives from world Jewry. Jerusalem, Israel: Jewish People Policy Institute.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sasson, Theodore. 2010. Mass mobilization to direct engagement: American Jews’ changing relationship to Israel. Israel Studies 15 (2): 173–195.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sasson, Theodore. 2015. The new American Zionism. New York, NY and London, UK: New York University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sasson, Theodore, Charles Kadushin, and Leonard Saxe. 2010. On sampling, evidence and theory: Concluding remarks on the distancing debate. Contemporary Jewry 30 (2): 149–153.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sasson, Theodore, Benjamin Phillips, Graham Wright, Charles Kadushin, and Leonard Saxe. 2012. Understanding young adult attachment to Israel: Period, lifecycle and generational dynamics. Contemporary Jewry 32 (1): 67–84.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sasson, Theodore, Michelle Shain, Shahar Hecht, Graham Wright, and Leonard Saxe. 2014. Does Taglit-Birthright Israel Foster long-distance nationalism? Nationalism and Ethnic Politics 20 (4): 438–454.

    Google Scholar 

  • Saxe, Leonard. 2008. Connecting Diaspora young adults to Israel: Lessons from Taglit-Birthright Israel. Presentation at the 8th Annual Herzliya Conference, January, 23, 2008, Herzliya, Israel.

  • Saxe, Leonard, and Barry Chazan. 2008. Ten days of Birthright Israel: A journey in young adult identity., Brandeis Series in American Jewish History, Culture, and Life Lebanon, NH: Brandeis University Press/University Press of New England.

    Google Scholar 

  • Saxe, Leonard, Benjamin Phillips, Graham Wright, Matthew Boxer, Shahar Hecht, and Theodore Sasson. 2008. Taglit-Birthright Israel evaluation: 2007–2008 North American cohorts. Waltham, MA: Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, Brandeis University.

    Google Scholar 

  • Saxe, Leonard, Theodore Sasson, and Shahar Hecht. 2006. Taglit-Birthright Israel: Impact on Jewish identity, peoplehood, and connection to Israel. Waltham, MA: Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, Brandeis University.

    Google Scholar 

  • Saxe, Leonard, Theodore Sasson, Benjamin Phillips, Shahar Hecht, and Graham Wright. 2007. Taglit-Birthright Israel evaluation: 2007 North American cohorts. Waltham, MA: Steinhardt Social Research Institute, Brandeis University.

    Google Scholar 

  • Saxe, Leonard, Michelle Shain, Graham Wright, Shahar Hecht, Shira Fishman, and Theodore Sasson. 2012. Jewish futures project: The impact of Taglit-Birthright Israel: 2012 update. Waltham, MA: Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, Brandeis University.

    Google Scholar 

  • Segev, Tom. 1986. 1949: The first Israelis. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company.

    Google Scholar 

  • Shatz, Adam (ed.). 2004. Prophets outcast: A century of dissident Jewish writing about Zionism. New York, NY: Nation Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sinclair, Alex. 2013. Loving the real Israel: An educational agenda for liberal Zionism. Teaneck, NJ: Ben Yehuda Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Smooha, Sammy. 2008. The mass immigrations to Israel: A comparison of the failure of the Mizrahi immigrants of the 1950s with the success of the Russian immigrants of the 1990s. Journal of Israeli History 27 (1): 1–27.

    Google Scholar 

  • Spiegel, Nina S. 2013. Embodying Hebrew culture: Aesthetics, athletics, and dance in the Jewish community of Mandate Palestine. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Stember, Joy. n.d. About Joy Stember. https://www.joystember.com/about-joy. Accessed 1 Feb 2019.

  • Taras, David, and Morton Weinfeld. 1990. Continuity and criticism: North American Jews and Israel. International Journal 45 (3): 661–684.

    Google Scholar 

  • Uris, Leon. 1958. Exodus. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company.

    Google Scholar 

  • Vital, David. 1990. The future of the Jews: A people at the crossroads?. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Waxman, Dov. 2016. Trouble in the tribe: The American Jewish conflict over Israel. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Woocher, Jonathan S. 1986. Sacred survival: The civil religion of American Jews. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ari Y. Kelman.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Kelman, A.Y., Baron, I.Z. Framing Conflict: Why American Congregations Cannot Not Talk about Israel. Cont Jewry 39, 497–522 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12397-019-09305-2

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12397-019-09305-2

Keywords

  • Israel
  • Congregational studies
  • American Jews
  • Diaspora
  • Zionism
  • Frame analysis
  • Synagogue
  • Politics