"At Last, Zion: Israel and the Fate of the Jews," by Charles Krauthammer, in The Weekly Standard (May 11, 1998), 1150 17th St., Washington, D.C. 20036–4617; "Jews against Israel," by Susan Greenberg, in Prospect (June 1998), 4 Bedford Sq., London, WC1B 3RA, England.
For more than 2,000 years, the Jews have survived persecution, defeat, and exile. They succeeded in returning to their homeland after the fall of the first temple and Babylonian exile in 586 b.c., and again after the fall of the second temple and Roman exile in a.d. 135. The latter return occurred only 50 years ago, with the founding of Israel. Yet, argues Krauthammer, a political commentator, that second return has put the Jews in greater jeopardy than ever before.
Israel is the cultural center of world Jewry and it is quickly on its way to becoming its demographic center as the Diaspora declines. This loss of dispersion, Krauthammer fears, will leave the Jews without the "demographic insurance" that permitted them to survive numerous onslaughts in the past. "To destroy the Jewish people," Krauthammer writes, "Hitler needed to conquer the world. All that is needed today is to conquer a territory smaller than Vermont."
The Diaspora’s decline began in Europe, long the main refuge of world Jewry. On the eve of World War II, Europe was home to nine million Jews; two-thirds of them perished in the Holocaust. The European Jewish population has continued to decline, to little more than one million, the smallest it has been since the late Middle Ages. The world Jewish population has "yet to recover" from Hitler’s genocide, hovering at some 13 million, compared with 16 million in 1939.
The United States replaced Europe as the center of the Diaspora after World War II, but the population of American Jews, who constitute about 40 percent of world Jewry, "is now headed for catastrophic decline," Krauthammer says. The Jewish population has decreased from three percent to two percent of the U.S. population in the last halfcentury. The biological replacement rate among American Jews is only 80 percent, so that there is a 20 percent population loss with each passing generation. Assimilation also takes a toll. In a poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times, only 70 percent of Jews said they were raising their children as Jews. Clearly, Krauthammer notes, "a population in which the biological replacement rate is 80 percent and the cultural replacement rate is 70 percent is headed for extinction."
Greenberg, the editor of MindField (a series of books on current issues), also fears that Israel has increased the vulnerability of the Jews, but for very different reasons. Before the founding of Israel, she says, the need to maintain an identity apart in various host countries fostered flexibility and a sense of openness in the Jewish culture. Greenberg argues that the equation of Jewish identity with the state of Israel, which increasingly emphasizes conformity and a uniform definition of Jewish identity, is sapping the culture of some traditional strengths. "Jewishness cannot be reduced to Israeli-ness," Greenberg insists. Jewish identity must be severed from Israel if the Jewish people are to survive.
Krauthammer, however, sees a strong Jewish state as the only hope for the future of the Jews. Much is made of the Jews’ two returns, but those only "defied the norm." There would be no third return. Modern Jews are descended from Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel. They should not forget what happened to the Jews of the northern kingdom of Israel, the legendary 10 "lost tribes" who were overrun by the Assyrians in 772 b.c., exiled, and lost forever.