Web helps U.S. Jews lose that loving feeling, says historian

Historians in the News

Israeli news Web sites in English contribute in part to the waning love between American Jews and Israel, a prominent U.S. historian asserted this week, adding that Anglos in Israel can help counter the trend. Since the advent of the Internet and exposure to more critical coverage of Israel, the once-utopian view of Israel Americans held has eroded, according to Jonathan Sarna, who teaches American Jewish history at Brandeis University and is currently on sabbatical in Jerusalem.

In an article appearing in today's Forward and released this week on the paper's Web site and on Haaretz.com, Sarna quotes sociologist Steven M. Cohen, who recently warned of "a growing distancing from Israel of American Jews." Sarna, 54, argues that while this trend is worrisome, another sociologist, Ted Sasson, believes American-Jewish love for Israel is notvanishing but transforming.

"Sasson maintains that what we have today is not as much tension between American Jewry and Israel, but American Jews reflecting some of the same opposition [to Israeli policies] that you find in Israel. Indeed, many of them are reading Israeli Web sites and are influenced by them," Sarna told Anglo File Tuesday in his Jerusalem apartment. He referred specifically to Haaretz.com, which he says often publishes articles critical of Israeli policies.

"The Internet has made it possible for multiple voices to be heard," Sarna said. He says that in the days when their sole source of news was the local Jewish paper, the "Jews of America spoke with one voice, mainly [belonging to] the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish organizations - which basically followed the Israeli government's line." Aware today of the full range of views expressed in Israel, he says American Jews no longer buy into the notion that "in Israel we're critical but out of Israel we're supportive."

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