Thoughts on my TIME Piece About Young American Jews and Israel

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Me in the Golan Heights, 2005.

It's been awhile since I wrote about Israel-Palestine issues, so I'm glad TIME asked me to do a piece on how younger American Jews are thinking and talking about the conflict as the United Nations considers Palestine's statehood bid. 

This is a personal and difficult topic for me, as I explain in the article. The thrust is that American Jews in their teens, 20s, and 30s are far likelier than their parents to have met Palestinians, been exposed to the Palestinian narrative of the conflict, and even to have visited the Palestinian territories or Arab nations. 

One UC Berkeley student I interviewed, Eliana Lauter, grew up in an actively Zionist family and attended Jewish day schools. She has lived in Israel on several occasions, and told me, "I love Israel so much. I miss Israel when I’m not there and I get really upset about it. I can cry myself to sleep at night knowing I’m not there."

But Lauter, who is president of Berkeley's Jewish Student Union, has a nuanced view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As a high school student, she was assigned a "dual narrative" history, in which the Israeli and Palestinian narratives were presented on the same page, side by side. (Ex; Many Arabs refer to the founding of Israel and the resulting Palestinian refugee crisis as the "Nakba," or "catastrophe.")

Last summer, Lauter worked in Israel as the assistant to a Jewish professor researching Arab Israeli civil rights issues. "That sparked my interest," she said. "I didn’t necessarily agree with everything I read, but it was a start of envisioning an Israel that also fits non-Jews and non-Israelis."

What I didn't have space to explain in the piece is that even organizations that have traditionally promoted an uncritical view of Israel are now accepting that the terms of the debate have changed. Hillel, for example, the most prominent Jewish organization on college campuses, last week launched "Talk Israel Tents" on 21 campuses, in which students were encouraged to openly debate Palestinian statehood and other issues.

Tor Tsuk, Israel fellow at the Columbia Barnard Hillel, wrote to me that the tent was "a tremendous program that gathered for the first time students from Hillel and the Students for Justice in Palestine group in a discussion."

It's also important to note that among the more progressive Israel advocacy groups, there is significant divergence on tactics. Jewish Voice for Peace, for example, which last year organized a protest in which young people heckled Benjamin Netanyahu, supports divestment campaigns targeted at corporations that profit from the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. J Street and its campus organization, J Street U, on the other hand, oppose divestment, which they say deligitimizes Israel's existence. Instead, J Street U has promoted a campaign called "Invest, Don't Divest," which supports microfinance efforts in the Palestinian terroritories and Arab-Israeli economic cooperation. 

On the statehood resolution, J Street, after internal debate, decided to support President Obama's decision to veto. Jewish Voice for Peace opposes the veto. Yet everyone I interviewed said the resolution is an incredibly complex topic; no one was willing to say a "yes" vote for statehood was the absolute right thing at this point in time, given the delicacy of potential negotiations and the opposition of even some Palestinian activists to pursuing statehood in this manner. 

I hope you'll go over to TIME and read the piece.

8 thoughts on “Thoughts on my TIME Piece About Young American Jews and Israel

  1. Rusty

    What’s missing in this discussion is much of a notion of what your, other other young Jews, bottom line is. I believe in a settlement freeze (and that the settlements violate the 4th Geneva Convention) and would be ok with much more US pressure on Israel. But I won’t ignore history: that no Arab nation has ever given a minority more than a Jim Crow like existence (and that’s the best cases and only applied to “People of the Book”). That life in these countries was so bad that when Israel was created families who had lived there for hundreds of years risked their loved ones to emigrate to a war zone (Israel’s existence was far from assured in the 40s and 50s). That Iran’s ex-President Rasfanjani, an alleged moderate, once said that once the Arabs/Muslims gets the atomic bomb Israel was toast because the Muslims had the numbers to survive a nuclear war with Israel but not vice-versa. That Yasir Arafat compared the Oslo peace to a historic treaty Mohammed made when in a position of weakness which later was undone and the other side slaughtered.

    So Dana, what about the “what ifs”? What if a peace was reached but rockets still flew into Israel from Gaza – could Israel re-occupy? What if Israel makes a fair offer and it’s rejected on the basis of not giving up the right of return? Does Israel just have to wait until technology tips the military balance towards the Arabs? I think those of us who want to push Israel towards making bigger concessions now owe the other side answers to such questions.

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  2. From Brazil

    Great piece, congrats.
    However as a young Brazilian jew I ask myself if this gerenation gap among jews can – or should – be restricted to the US. In fact, I think this is a global phenomena not an “American” one. In Latin America and Europe for instance – places where pro-Israel lobbies are not so active and well established – there is also a growing split between generations when it comes to supporting Israel.
    Good to have this discussion. There is nothing more jewish then debating and respecting plurality. Shana Tova.

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  3. Ms. C

    Thanks for this piece.

    I think my family is pretty typical in that my mother is pro-Israel, almost militantly so, and completely disdainful of organizations such as J-street. To further complicate things, my sister is baal teshuvah Orthodox and agrees with my mother with regard to Israel’s faultlessness. My view is much more nuanced. I love Israel, support Israel’s right to exist, and understand that Israel has been burned in the past by Palestinian leaders. However, I also believe that Palestinians have a right to a state, just as I believe we do.

    My mother handles this in the most Jewish way possible – with guilt. “What did I do wrong?” “I can’t understand why you hate Israel.” “What did I do to deserve a self-loathing Jew for a child?” Somehow, nuanced support of Israel becomes anti-Semitism. I try to avoid having these conversations with my mother, because I can’t handle the guilt. She fights hard, though. I recently started receiving emails from AIPAC and the Republican Jewish Coalition and realized she had signed me up.

    The generational differences are vast: Her parents escaped from Nazi Germany; I grew up comfortably in the US with American parents. She was in high school during the 1967 war and in college during the 1973 war; I started college during the disengagement from Gaza. I had Arab classmates in college; I doubt she did. Finally, thanks to the Internet, I have far more exposure to different ideas and narratives than she did when she began to form her world views.

    What advice to you have for a cross-generational conversation? I hate having to face her guilt assault, but I think its important for her generation to hear and respect our voices.

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  4. Dana Goldstein

    Thank you all for the comments. I especially love hearing from international readers! Ms. C, I’m not sure if my advice is all that helpful. One thing that worked for my mom and me is starting from a place of common ground: For example, we both agree Israel should exist as a democratic and peaceful nation. Then I try to explain to her why that belief leads me to some of my other beliefs.

    So much of this, though, is simply a question of priorities, not a real debate about facts on-the-ground. When my mom thinks of Israel, she focuses on the justness of its founding and on the threats it faces from Hamas and Hezbollah. When I think of Israel, I see it as a strong, self-assured nation committing a number of serious human rights violations in retaliation against scattered terrorist attacks. My mom doesn’t dispute that these human rights abuses are taking place; they just aren’t, for her, among the more salient facts about Israel. And I don’t dispute that in 1948, there were rational reasons to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine; I just don’t think the events of 1948 are as relevant today as granting autonomy to 4.4 million stateless Palestinians, most of whom weren’t even alive in 1948. Nor do I believe that denying Palestinians self-determination is an effective anti-terrorism strategy.

    Good luck talking with your mom! Maybe it would help to remind her of all the other ways being Jewish is important to you, even if you cannot always stand in full support of Israel’s actions.

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  5. Scott (just call me "Dad")

    Hello Dana,
    By your picture you have the look of both my daughters, so this is much like speaking to them. It is wonderful that you make an effort to see the other side of the issue from a strictly humanist position and your conclusions are consistent given that perspective but you dimiss the perspective of those who remember how it was in 1967 (or even earlier) and 1973 as non-salient. The fact is you never experienced the societal and even codified bigotry that was prevalent worldwide as recently as the 1960′s. I speak not just of bias against Jews but against many, even most minorities. You are very fortunate to have lived where you did, when you did and part of the equality (some would say more that equal treatment) you have enjoyed has been accomplished on the backs of those who toiled, sacrificed and died trying to insure a better future for you … something you may someday have to do to provide a better future for your children. There is no doubt that Israel makes mistakes, that some there are less than humanist in their view and treatment of their Arab neighbors and that many Zionists, like your mom and me, who wish that some things could be done and could have been done differently. That said, there is an understanding that people with a longer view share, of what faces minorities, and, due to centuries of persecusion and oppression, most Jewish generations before yours were forced to face. Israel’s existence, though you have the luxury of denying it, has had an extemely positive affect on your life and my wish for you is that you apply the same humanist eyes through which you see the “nakba” to view and judge Israel. Oh, and a happy and healthy new year to you and your Mom.

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  6. Doctor Science

    To what extent do you think the generation gap is due to different religious experiences and expectations? Specifically, not that American Jews are “secular” or “falling away from Judaism”, but that we are religious in *a different way*.

    For instance, most obviously: the great majority of under-40 American Jewish women had the option to be a Bat Mitzvah. A very large proportion of young Jews, by now, have been to at least one service (at home, at college, at someone’s wedding or B’nai Mitzvah) led by a woman rabbi. Jewish congregations of all non-Orthodox stripes are likely to describe themselves as “egalitarian”, to have a program about tikkun olam, to make an effort to welcome non-Jewish spouses, to accept children of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. All of these things are very difficult or impossible in Israel.

    So Israel starts to look like a place where we can be Jews, but can’t actually practice our Jewish religion and spirituality. That’s not much of a refuge.

    And when “downtown dave” reminds us to take into consideration what God has to say on the subject, we’re likely to be reminded by our rabbis to think first: What is hateful to you, do not do unto others. *That’s* what G-d has to say, all the rest … is commentary.

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  7. Eric Apoe

    Dana, This is a sadness beyond grief to hear these words …and to be so visible to non Jewish eyes….you referred to your own Mythology…that mythology is the lives and deaths of all Jews FROM Israel since the Diaspora ….it is a reality…the Jewish reality being devoured by Middle East Professors on college campuses all over the world …Helen Thomas would prefer the JEWISH STATE to be in Poland …in Auschwitz to be exact….I would suggest the groups with Hillel start their conversation by reading a book of Diversity …diversity come to grips with the truth…SON OF HAMAS…Mossab Yousef ….the lack of true Israeli history scares me to death….who are these arabs that live in Israel? where did THEY come from? countless, countless questions such as these…but more importantly what do they TEACH their children about Jews and Israel…God help you Dana…and your mother to handle your viewpoint …I know only TOO well what you say about young Jews to be true….but beyond that I would differ with your opinion …Here is a letter from a Middle East Professor you may want to read……Take Care….Shana Tova….Eric Apoe

    link to unitedwithisrael.org

    Reply

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