Thane Rosenbaum, a novelist, essayist and Distinguished Fellow at NYU School of Law, is the director of the Forum on Law, Culture & Society, and the author of “How Sweet It Is!,” due out in paperback in the fall.

Nothing sells papers or glues eyes to screens like a community in crisis — the indiscreet infighting that exposes the fallibility of a family.

A family feud seems to be the central preoccupation of Dov Waxman’s “Trouble in the Tribe.” For many decades, a majority of Americans have supported and sympathized with Israel over its geographic predicament in the Middle East. One Jewish state the size of Rhode Island with a mere 8 million citizens is somehow too much for the Arab world to tolerate as a neighbor — despite its immense land mass and 300 million Muslims. One would assume that tiny Israel would be too inconsequential to matter.

Americans have appreciated Israel’s democratic values and “start-up” culture thriving in a desert of theocracies and stalled economies. And American Jews have always been Israel’s biggest boosters. The joke about two Jews with three opinions never applied to Israel, where consensus about the Jewish state was always considered an article of faith.

Not true, says the author, in his thoughtful, well-intentioned but ultimately overblown assessment of Jewish American attitudes toward Israel. Waxman, a professor of political science and Israel studies at Northeastern University, sees dissension within American Jewry played out daily. Support for Israel is neither as unstinting nor as reflexive as the Jewish establishment wants everyone to believe. Conflicts have been masked or ignored. Indeed, the tribe was in trouble almost from the very beginning of Israel’s existence. Such ambivalent feelings have only grown as Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians grinds on and its right-wing government plays dice with its democratic character.

”Trouble in the Tribe: The American Jewish Conflict over Israel" by Dov Waxman (Princeton Univ.)

In Waxman’s formulation, a divide exists between older, religious Jews, who are more avowedly pro-Israel, and younger Jews with secular orientations, for whom Israel is less important and who instead are drawn to broader themes of social activism, human rights and environmental responsibility. These liberal Jews are more likely to join a food co-op than a synagogue, and without sufficient communal ties are more predisposed to criticize Israel. But because older, more religious Jews dominate Jewish organizations and make up the “Jewish establishment,” the voices of growing numbers of dissenters go unheard and unaccounted for. Waxman relies greatly on the Pew Research Center’s 2013 survey of American Jewry to show that, especially among younger, less-affiliated and less-religious members of the tribe, remembering the Holocaust and having a good sense of humor is for many what defines their Jewishness. Caring about Israel, not so much, which explains why it is easier for them to break ranks and treat the Jewish state with tough love.

Waxman repeatedly states that the Jewish American love affair with Israel is not sacrosanct; that the Jewish establishment is “out of touch”; that “unquestioning and unstinting support for Israel is over”; that the “American Jewish community is currently being torn apart by the fierce . . . battle . . . raging over Israel”; that American Jews are truly “critical of Israeli government policies” and treatment of Palestinians. These doomsday prophesies about the death of Jewish consensus seem wholly at odds with the common belief that Israel is the most unifying symbol of Jewish identity since the Ten Commandments.

Given his bleak, stormy description, one would expect to see Jews rushing at one another with pitchforks whenever Israel is mentioned. Yet, paradoxically, Waxman cites surveys conducted in 2013, including Pew’s, showing how very strong Jewish American support for Israel actually is: Three-quarters of American Jews do not believe that Palestinian leaders are making a sincere effort toward peace, and say the goal of the Palestinians is not a two-state solution but rather the destruction of Israel. Similarly, three-quarters of American Jews supported Israel’s 2008-2009 war in Gaza, and 69 percent rejected the notion that Israel’s military campaign resulted in disproportionate Palestinian loss.

How deep, then, is this divide if Israel’s existential dilemma, and the moral underpinnings of the wars it is forced to fight, are so widely embraced by American Jews? Even with these lofty pro-Israel statistics, however, Waxman, short on evidence but long on magical thinking, sees a “disconnect between the Jewish establishment and the Jewish masses.” For him, the Jewish establishment is losing its mojo and American Jews no longer follow the directives of their communal leaders. At the same time, however, Waxman acknowledges how powerful the Jewish establishment remains and how large segments of the Jewish American community are avowedly pro-Israel. In a book that keeps moving the goalposts in defining just how much “trouble” American Jews are in when it comes to their attitudes about Israel, it’s difficult to reconcile such conflicting claims.

Waxman doesn’t sweat the data because his real targets are the American power brokers and Jewish institutions that have, historically, led the charge in support of Israel — specifically the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (known as the Conference of Presidents) and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). According to Waxman, the Jewish establishment, typified by these two groups, purports to speak on behalf of American Jewry but is far too conservative politically, and is locked in a time when Israel was vulnerable and not the regional superpower it has become.

The days of dominance, in lobbying Congress and cajoling presidents, once enjoyed by the Conference of Presidents and AIPAC are now giving way to more open competition for the hearts and minds of American Jews and lawmakers. J Street, Open Hillel and Jewish Voice for Peace, each active on college campuses, have suddenly given congressional leaders the confidence to drift away from the “amen” corner of U.S.-Israeli relations, where criticism of Israel was strictly forbidden. Waxman also credits Peter Beinart’s book “The Crisis of Zionism,” which anticipated the demise of the Jewish establishment and ascribed to younger American Jews more indifferent Zionistic attitudes, for opening up more nuanced conversations about Israel.

Yet Waxman acknowledges that these newer organizations have far to go before reaching the critical mass and lobbying influence that the Conference of Presidents and AIPAC have cultivated over decades. Having a presence on college campuses, with identity politics and intersectionality suddenly more popular than football, makes the demonization of Israel a trendy topic within the ivory tower. But coziness on campus has a way of losing its allure immediately upon graduation.

As for Beinart, Waxman admits that he “overstated the extent of the young American Jewish alienation from Israel and . . . exaggerated the role that Israeli policies play in this.”

Indeed, Waxman reaches conclusions that undermine his entire thesis. If anything, the real trouble in the tribe involves religious orientation, not pure politics. Orthodox Jews tend to be more involved in Jewish life, and are far more hawkish in their views and passionate about Israel. Non-Orthodox Jews, by contrast, skew more liberal in both their politics and their willingness to criticize Israeli policies.

It is the liberal Jews who are not as staunchly pro-Israel as they once were. But these non-Orthodox Jews are increasingly leaving the tribe altogether — fully assimilated and intermarried, their connection to Judaism, and Israel, will become a distant memory. Religious Jews, by contrast, are increasing in numbers and may end up as the majority of all denominations.

If these developments continue, there won’t be a divide between American Jews at all: Younger, unaffiliated Jews, who Waxman claims are critical of Israel, will virtually disappear, while more religious Jews, who regularly march in the annual Celebrate Israel Parade, will become ascendant.

Perhaps Waxman should have written a book about how these departures from Jewish life will affect not Israel but rather voter trends and party politics in America. The Jewish liberal demographic that Democrats have banked on for decades may just fade away or, worse, reemerge as Republicans, for whom Israel’s security has become a core, doctrinal issue.

Of course there are Jewish Americans who disagree with the tough decisions Israel must sometimes make to survive in the Middle East. The same is true of some African Americans who are no longer unified about affirmative action, or evangelicals who embrace reproductive rights. Freedom of thought, after all, is a hallmark of both American and Israeli societies. Fringe groups of dissenting voices do not spell trouble in the tribe; they suggest democracy, a rare commodity in the Middle East.

Trouble in the Tribe
The American Jewish Conflict Over Israel

By Dov Waxman

Princeton. 316 pp. $29.95