Liberal Zionist’s teen son is– an anti-Zionist

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I keep telling friends that before long a prominent liberal Zionist is going to say, I’m sick of what the Jewish state is doing in my name so I’m going to become an anti-Zionist, just like an American pol leaving one party for another. But it hasn’t happened. Peter Beinart hasn’t been able to take the plunge. My college friend Dan Fleshler is still with J Street. David Rothkopf and David Remnick and Roger Cohen haven’t made the break. The only real exception is Henry Siegmann.

The shift is surely happening inside many Jewish families, though, and writer Eric Flamm has published an important piece documenting the change. Flamm himself is dedicated to Israel. He moved there in his 20’s in 1994 and became an Israeli citizen and was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces and served in a combat unit as a reservist. Then in 2001, he moved back to his college town, Portland, Oregon, and emerged as a leading liberal Zionist. He chaired the J Street chapter there from 2012-2018 and wrote a book of stories titled “Portland Zionists Unite!”

Then a couple of months back, Flamm’s son announced to him — BAM! — that he’s an anti-Zionist. And it’s not all that complicated. Flamm wrote it up on Medium in January. Excerpt:

About a month ago my 15-year-old son told me he was an anti-Zionist because he couldn’t support the notion that in Israel the Jews received preferential treatment over Palestinians in all aspects of life, such as education, housing, employment, and access to justice. He sees the military oppression of the Palestinians and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza as inherent to political Zionism.

Eric Flamm, from his twitter feed.

Flamm’s son is obviously deeply involved in Jewish life, to cite the distinction that Bari Weiss likes to tromp out to explain what makes Jewish kids pro-Israel. Well, it didn’t work out in the case of ben-Eric:

My son has been to Israel four times, speaks basic Hebrew, and graduated a K-8 Jewish day school. He did his middle school matriculation project on the Jewish value of welcoming the stranger and raised money for immigration issues. He believes it is in his Jewish DNA to show empathy and compassion for the stranger. “If you don’t embrace this value, practicing religion is useless,” he said at the middle school event showcasing the capstone projects.

The Torah instructs Jews only 36 times to care for the stranger, a precept mentioned more than any other law and central to my own concept of what it means to be a Jew.

In America welcoming the stranger is not so problematic, as Jews are a minority and generally would like all minorities to be treated justly. But in Israel (not including West Bank and Gaza) Jews are the majority and this respect for the minority, the stranger, is replaced by the Talmudic concept that one must first rise and kill those who would do harm

Art that appeared with Eric Flamm’s post about his son becoming an anti-Zionist. Used with permission of author.

Flamm is obviously proud of his son though “unhappy” about the choice. But maybe the boy will convert the father?

So how then did the kid come by his anti-Zionist views and embrace the boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) Israel movement?

One could certainly blame me, his permissive father, for steering him down a bad path with my liberal Zionism.

Other factors might include the deafening silence in Jewish education and community about Israel’s administration of the occupied territories, where one is free to be as flag-wavingly supportive of Israel as one chooses, but criticism is “too political” and must be quickly silenced.

If Jewish kids are concerned about the treatment of Palestinians and occupation what in Jewish community is there for them? Crickets.

Young Flamm is for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions because he wants to take action.

At our synagogue the clergy and leadership chant the evils of BDS, how this is only for anti-Semites and hateful people. But if kids are aghast at the occupation for the simple reason that people should be treated equally what then?..

I understand how as Israel is the Jewish state, we in the US, as Jews, are compelled to be engaged — and our synagogues, cultural programming, and organizations reflect this. What is unsaid and insidious is that this engagement is only for one side of the equation. Jewish community has sucker punched my son, telling him to be a good person, a good Jew, but to throw out the empathy, compassion, and the critical thinking of Jewish thought and drink the Israeli Kool-Aid.

I’m not happy my son now states he is an anti-Zionist. But I am happy he wants to be an ethical person.

Imho it takes a great father to encourage a son whose views are so different from his own. And it is clearly a trend. Young Flamm is saying a lot of what the communal Jews in IfNotNow have said about being lied to by their Jewish educators. Though they have not grasped the nettle, after more than five years, and come out for BDS, as he has.

And compare the father’s loving response to the sputtering blind rage of David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, confronting the same trend among Jewish youth, 2-1/2 years ago at a New York synagogue.

What is it that brings shame [about Israel] among some? What are we doing wrong in our homes? What are we doing wrong in our schools?

Flamm says there have been no media responses to his post except on Facebook. Opinion in his community ranges, he said, from those condemning “my son’s actions as part of Portland’s extreme leftist culture – they’re still in the space of BDS is evil” to others “stunned by the erosion of democracy in Israel and how the complete disregard for Palestinians has become enshrined by law.”

Flamm said the more conscious group knows that change is afoot: “Such people viewed my op-ed as yet another sign that the next generation will have a radically different concept of the Israel/Palestine issue and we better get prepared.”

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I just can’t understand why ever increasing numbers of Jews around the world, especially youth, are becoming disallusioned with and severely critical of “Israel.” After all, isn’t “Israel” a “Light unto Nations?” Then again: “Gruesome Details Emerge of Israel’s Torture of Palestinian Prisoners” by Whitney Webb, MPN News, Feb. 12/20 “New allegations have surfaced claiming that Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, Shin Bet or Shabak, is engaged in the brutal torture of Palestinian detainees, despite… Read more »

“One could certainly blame me, his permissive father, for steering him down a bad path with my liberal Zionism.”

What kind of effort did you make in behalf of Zionism? Did you even consider engaging in a battle of wills with your son?

…I’m not happy my son now states he is an anti-Zionist. But I am happy he wants to be an ethical person.… Zionists are baffling. Mr. Flamm appears to comprehend that Zionism is unethical (because, of course, it is) but he i) is unhappy that his son rejects it and ii) he is happy to continue embracing it. It’s like the rapist saying: I’m not happy that my son is anti-rape, but I’m happy that… Read more »

Although of Jewish background, I have NO qualms stating that I am anti Zionist and I boycott israel too…and will continue for as long as Palestinians are mistreated by israel.

The article quotes David Harris asking “What are we doing wrong in our homes? What are we doing wrong in our schools?” In fact, they are ding nothing wrong. They are raising moral children.

Israel is doing something wrong, actually a lot wrong, in the way they treat Palestinians.