“I really meant it when I said I did not want to talk about Israel,” says Alterman, a few weeks after his lecture. “When it comes to the Jewish community, and also when it comes to the anti-Zionist American left – no fact about Israel matters. Everything you say is framed within one of the narratives, and you end up just annoying people or strengthening their prejudices. I’ve never seen anyone saying, ‘Yes, I’ve changed my mind.’
“It’s happening more in the liberal community,” Schalit continues, “although even in Orthodox and Conservative circles people are no longer happy to talk about Israel, unless everyone in the room shares exactly the same opinions. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re leftists, but simply that the subject is so sensitive that they prefer not to discuss it. Both on the left and on the right there’s a similar feeling.
“The community is consolidating around two poles,” says Jeremy Ben-Ami. “At one pole are the Orthodox, who are more politically conservative and often have a closer connection to Israel. Around the other are the non-Orthodox, who feel very Jewish, but in a more personal, less religious way. My greatest fear is that the discussion around Israel will become so difficult, so heated, that some of these American Jews will find it easier to walk away from Israel and from the Jewish community. That would be very bad. So the discussion we’re having is not just about Israel or about policy – it’s about the soul of the Jewish community here in the States.”