“Big stories don’t break, they ooze,” the legendary editor Gene Roberts used to say, and a story has oozed in the last month or so that has not gotten much attention. Older Jews are now officially terrified of young Jews. Why? Because those young Jews are not persuaded of the value of the great Jewish project of the last century, Israel.
I can point to four fearful statements from conservative Zionists: Chuck Schumer, Ron Lauder, David Harris, and Daniel Gordis. Three of these men hold very powerful positions. And two of them state frankly that the young Jews are an existential threat to Israel.
Their statements underline just how much power young Jews have. They are catalyzing the crisis of Zionism inside Jewish life. And the statements prove, by the way, a truth we have long insisted on here: Israel depends for its existence on the Israel lobby, Jewish political advocacy in the United States.
Ron Lauder, the head of the World Jewish Congress, wrote a now-famous op-ed in the New York Times a week ago, saying Israel was delegitimizing itself through its failure to curb settlements and its descent into a right-wing theocracy. People got hung up on Lauder’s claim that Israel is driving young American Jews to intermarry. But his key assertion was that the alienation of American Jewish millennials is endangering Israel’s “very existence”:
Over the last decade I have visited Jewish communities in over 40 countries. Members in every one of them expressed to me their concern and anxiety about Israel’s future and its relationship to diaspora Jewry….
An increasing number of Jewish millennials — particularly in the United States — are distancing themselves from Israel because its policies contradict their values. The results are unsurprising: assimilation, alienation and a severe erosion of the global Jewish community’s affinity for the Jewish homeland.
Senator Chuck Schumer also describes these young Jews as an existential threat. In early March, he had an hour’s lunch with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he reports, and “this was the subject because it is so important:” the disaffection of young Americans from the Jewish state.
The greatest threat to Israel in the short term is Iran, we know that…. But the long term danger for Israel is something we don’t think about enough. The young people in America do not know Israel’s story. If you look at the polling data, they don’t know what Israel has gone through, and their support for Israel is declining, in every part of the country, every age group [sic], even the evangelical young people’s support for Israel is declining.
(Schumer went on to offer various prescriptions to overcome Palestinian “publicity” and “alert the young people to the truth” — one of them, to legislate against the boycott movement as anti-semitic.)
Then this week, the American-Israeli author Daniel Gordis warned in the Jerusalem Post that if war breaks out between Iran and Israel, “progressive” American Jews won’t back Israel. With his usual condescension to Americans, Gordis blames young “universalist” Jews, including the non-Zionist group, IfNotNow, which formed after Israel’s last war/massacre, in 2014.
[T]he instinctive antipathy of American- Jewish progressives to the very idea of Jewish sovereignty… is the real reason for the lambasting of Israel by many young American Jews who spend much more time worrying about Palestinians than they do about the African-Americans or Native Americans in their own communities. Ultimately, their cause is not justice for all; their cause is an assault on Jewish sovereignty, which itself is a challenge to their universalism and their need to feel utterly comfortable as Americans.
What can be done to change that? For now, probably not very much…
Lastly, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee castigated the young for their “hostility” to Israel at a Westchester synagogue last November. A man of nearly 70 who makes upwards of half a million a year stands at a pulpit, chanting, Where did we go wrong in our homes and schools!?
Every time I hear in a Jewish meeting concerns about our children and their lack of interest in Israel, their apathy about Israel, their hostility to Israel… to me it’s extraordinarily painful, and I ask myself, Where did we go wrong? Where did we go wrong?
No, no, no, Israel is not a perfect country…. We are a permanent work in progress…
But to wait?! As someone once said to me, I will visit Israel for the first time when they achieve peace. Nuts! First of all, they’re depriving themselves of the privilege of visiting Israel. Secondly, they’re handing to the Palestinians the decision when to visit Israel, if ever.
Why? Why can’t we convey to our own children successfully– why can’t Jewish day schools and synagogues in their after-school programs convey successfully a sense of unbridled joy and pride and thrill that in our lifetimes, the prayer, l’shana haba’ah b’Yerushalayim [next year in Jerusalem], has become this year? …
What is it? What is it that allows us to ignore this extraordinary journey, the journey that Churchill once said was a journey not to be measured in years or decades, but centuries and millennia, in the extraordinary excitement of the Jewish people returning to their land and rebuilding their state and defending their state.
What is it that brings shame among some? What are we doing wrong in our homes? What are we doing wrong in our schools?
These four laments show how much power young Jews have. Non-Zionism is the Jewish version of the Florida high school gun control movement and the #MeToo movement– a new generation’s disavowal of the crimes of the fathers, and it’s panicking the establishment.
That panic set in in the last year or so among synagogues and Jewish organizations. “Israel is the single most divisive issue in the American community, pitting American Jew against American Jew,” says Eric Goldstein, CEO of the Jewish Federations of New York. “We are losing the next generation,” a rabbi warned during an encounter session among rabbis at J Street last year. Another rabbi recalled a prominent member of the synagogue pointing at the Israeli flag and saying, “What is that doing there. That should not be there!”
This panic expressed itself at the AIPAC conference earlier this month, when speaker after speaker tried to sell Israel as a progressive cause. AIPAC is worried that the defection of the young will have a direct political cost: allowing Democratic pols to cease supporting Israel.
The panic is spreading to Israeli leadership, as Chuck Schumer related of his lunch with Netanyahu. Here’s a laugh to end this story: The country’s ministry of diaspora affairs has lit on a new way to counter the boycott movement — by watering down the influence of American Jews! Noa Landau in Haaretz says Israel is mining Jews in other countries:
A committee appointed by Israel’s Diaspora Affairs minister says that there are some 60 million people around the world with an “affinity” to Judaism or Israel. The committee says that among them there are communities that could be brought to Israel and converted to Judaism. The committee’s recommendations call for reaching out to these communities and introducing them to content related to Israel and Judaism…
The Strategic Affairs Ministry would also be involved in cooperating with such communities in its battle against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
Thanks to Ofer Neiman.