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Enlightened American Jewry is worried about– Palestinian ‘demographic time bomb’

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Here is Jesse Singal, a liberal American Jew and frequent contributor to the Boston Globe, saying that the "new American Jew" has the right to criticize Israel. Good reporting on a Hillel event featuring Jeremy Ben-Ami, but note the repeated invocation of an idea– the "demographic time bomb"– that in an American context would be seen as flatly, well, racist. Again, this is American Jews holding Israel to a far lesser standard than they would hold their own country, which is part of the operating system of the Israel lobby.

[In refusing to meet with congressmen supported by J Street] Israel’s government [is] a step behind the changing composition and attitudes of American Jewry. At a time when many American Jews are feeling fewer compunctions about criticizing Israel, and are often less concerned with external threats posed by Iran and Israel’s other enemies than the demographic time bomb it faces as its Palestinian population expands, what it means to be “pro-Israel’’ is changing, particularly among younger Jews.

There are still plenty of young American Jews who take pride in wholeheartedly supporting the Israeli government. But this view isn’t nearly as dominant as it once was, and research by Steven M. Cohen of Hebrew Union College helps show why. Cohen found that younger Jewish professional and religious leaders tend to be less likely to see Israel as threatened by its neighbors, and therefore less worried about Israel’s security.

The idea that being an American Jew doesn’t necessitate lockstep support for Israel, and that Israel is strong enough to withstand criticism from the outside world, were on full display last week at Harvard’s Hillel House, which hosted a talk by J Street’s head, Jeremy Ben-Ami.

In an interview before the event, Ben-Ami talked about the changing experience of being an American Jew.

“If you’ve had personal experience – if not you [then] at least your parents – with the destruction of your people, you’re more likely to take it as a possibility that it could happen again,’’ he said. “If you have grown up here in complete comfort and safety and no one you know in an immediate sense has been through that, I do think [you’re] going to have a very fundamental[ly] different view, a different take, on how you view the Iran threat.’’

This different, less fearful view of things came through clearly in some of the young members of the audience.

For instance, when asked about the prospect of Iran destroying Israel,Harvard Divinity School student Kenan Jaffe, 26, said he thought it was “unlikely.’’

“I also don’t think it’s directly related to the Palestinian question,’’ he said, “and it is only to the extent that if Israel comes to a final status solution with the Palestinians, Iran will have nothing to say about Israel and no reason to make threats against it.’’

This is a far cry from the notion of a bloodthirsty, implacable Iran fueled only by hatred for Israel – a story we hear quite often from groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. And while most members of the audience probably weren’t as sanguine about Iran as Jaffe, fear of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wasn’t, for the most part, what had brought them to Cambridge on a rainy February evening.

Rather, they were worried about the grim prospects that face Israel if it can’t make peace with the Palestinians. Given the region’s demographic patterns, absent a two-state solution, Israel will soon have to choose between being a Jewish state and a democratic one.

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About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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