WHILE YOU STAND ON ONE LEG: There was a pair of op-eds in the Jewish Exponent this week about an event just held for college students at the American Jewish History Museum on what should matter to them about Israel. The op-eds were pro and con, respectively, on whether the panel discussion’s panel, four progressives with apparently some policy differences between them, was balanced. In the full context of what should matter to American Jewish college students about Israel, it seems to me that the event’s panel was not balanced, and that what was omitted was a disservice to the event’s attendees and to us. Come see if you agree.
This Week: Reclaiming Our Lost Kids
Of all the biblical images we learn as a child, the one that has come back to haunt me in my old age (a year shy of the biblical “four-score”) is that of the prophet Moses on the day of his death standing on a mountain in Moab, gazing at the Promised Land afar off. The older we get, the more we want to be like Moses, in a temporal sense, gazing through our grandchildren and their generation at a Jewish people after our time.
Articles and op-eds this week describing today’s young American Jews should give us gray-heads concern in abundance. Start with Two-State Solution: U.S. Jews Won’t Budge. Will It Cost Them Their Relationship With Israel? in, all right, Haaretz, but don’t dismiss it outright for that. It starts off that “the alphabet soup of organizations comprising the so-called American Jewish establishment,” in which the article includes the Federations, policy arms of the Reform and Conservative movements, AIPAC, ADL, AJC and others, “are all in lock-step agreement that a two-state solution is a declared goal to securing a Jewish and democratic state.” It says these groups “faithfully reflect their constituency on this issue” and that “the vast majority of American Jews – who vote in large numbers for the Democratic Party – see two-states as the best way forward.” The article acknowledges that both Israelis and, in the U.S., “right-leaning Orthodox Jews” and the ZOA and some other groups see things differently, but it calls “this embrace of the two-state solution by American Jewry … inextricably tight.”
Bad enough for those of us who believe that American Jews lack standing to tell Israeli Jews where the borders of the nation they defend should lie, and that the whole idea that a “demilitarized Palestinian state” along the old 1949 Israel-Jordan military ceasefire lines (Eban, a liberal, called them “Auschwitz lines”) would stay demilitarized for very long is hopelessly fatally (at least for them) naïve to begin with.
But that’s not where this article’s scariest part lies. It goes on, under a heading “A generational shift,” to say that “the two-state vision has already lost its appeal to young progressive Jews,” that “young American Jews … are increasingly agnostic when it comes to the need for Jewish sovereignty and a national Jewish home,” and that a growing number are becoming attracted to “creating a non-sectarian state for Jewish and non-Jewish citizens.”
This possible triumph in the end of the old anti-Zionist American Council for Judaism is not an indictment of today’s young American Jews who will soon enough come of age and take the American Jewish establishment’s reins. It’s an indictment of us.
For evidence, I give you a pair of opposing op-eds that appeared, to that publication’s credit, in this week’s Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, dealing expressly with how we educate – on Jewish history and current Jewish affairs – our Jewish young people. The National Museum of American Jewish History, located in the historical Independence Hall area of Philadelphia, held a forum on April 17 on, in its words, “What matters to young American Jews when it comes to Israel?”
The museum presented the attendees, Jewish college students, a panel discussion with four panelists. They were  Jeremy Ben-Ami, national president of “J Street”;  Matan Arad-Neeman, a Haverford College sophomore and member of the J Street National Student Board;  Amanda Berman, “co-founder and president of Zioness Movement,” which declares itself a “progressive” Zionist organization; and  Sophia Kruger, former head of PIPAC, AIPAC’s on-campus presence at the University of Pennsylvania, who stated she was representing herself, not PIPAC or AIPAC, and whose remarks at the session included “being pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian – for me – go very much together.”
One of the Exponent op-eds was by Steve Feldman and Kevin Ross, Philly ZOA executive director and co-president, who said they had reached out to the Museum and event funding foundation, pleading, unsuccessfully, for a broader selection of event panelists. The other was by Ivy L. Barsky, CEO of the Museum, who defended the event as “a balanced, substantive conversation,” and that “the panel we assembled reflected a genuine diversity of perspectives.”
The tone and substance of Museum CEO Barsky’s op-ed evince appreciation of the importance of encompassing young Jews in discussion of critical divisive issues confronting American Jews and her belief, as she put it, that the panelists selected presented “real, material disagreement among the discussants.” No doubt there was diversity within the ambit of their common progressive perspective, but half of the four panelists were J Street, the third from a self-professed progressive organization, and the fourth an individual to whom being pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian “go very much together.”
But the elephant in the room was “the two-state solution,” on which the American Jewish establishment, to the reins of which activist college students like this event’s attendees will in due course fall heir, has just emphatically expressed itself in a manner wholly at odds with how the Israeli electorate had just emphatically expressed itself. Two crucial questions which activist American Jewish college students ought to be presented by our generation to start thinking about are  should American Jews be telling Israel-defending Israeli Jews where Israel’s borders should lie, and , if so, is telling them to accept “a demilitarized Palestinian state” on the old “Auschwitz” ceasefire lines what we ought to be telling them to agree to?
But there’s something deeper we – the American Jewish establishment and gray-headed grassroots American Jews – have to get across to young American Jews, both those who do care and should care (which is the rest of them) about Israel. We absolutely have to have it, fulfillment in our generations of the dream of countless generations for the Jewish homeland’s sovereign redemption. We have to drive home to them that it was in our time that Weitzmann despaired of the world being divided between places where Jews could not live and could not enter. We cannot let Israel become a non-Jewish homeland, this “non-sectarian state for Jewish and non-Jewish citizens” that the history-ignorant kids in the Haaretz article above talked about.
Let’s start with purging from our own mouths the Jewish homeland-delegitimizing terms and frames of reference used, without thinking about them, in that Haaretz article – “West Bank … occupied territories … settlements … the Palestinians [as though Palestine’s Jews have not been and aren’t] … annexation … the Palestinian territories.” Is it any wonder that today’s college-age American Jewish youth – who don’t remember the Holocaust and its Jewish refugee aftermath, the 1947-49 British-hampered struggle for Israel’s independence, even the dark days of May 1967 when it seemed like a second Holocaust was in the offing – don’t take the need for a homeland Jewish state seriously. And, not being versed, as is likely, in our people’s continuous post-biblical physical presence, in San Remo and Mandate, they likely do not grasp that our presence today in our homeland is as of historical and legal right as well as necessity.
And if there is any hope of getting through to non-Jewish American progressives the justice of the Jewish presence in Palestine, it is in showing them that Palestine west of the Jordan is the Jewish homeland of Israel, where Jews, not Arabs, are the indigenous people and their struggle one of indigenous people national liberation, not of “colonialism.” This case must be made, and their fellow progressives, progressive American Jews, are the one people who can make it.