The Lost Generation: Young Jews in the Diaspora and the BDS
On a cold winter evening three and a half years ago, I went to Hampshire College in Massachusetts. At the time, I was the Jewish Agency emissary of Hashomer Hatzair in North America. I went there to help one of our youth group counselors, Allison, who was caught in a double bind. As a counselor for Hashomer Hatzair, in opposition to the occupation in the territories and inequality between Jews and Arabs in Israel, she found herself under attack and socially boycotted by Jewish students on campus.
It was not easy for the audience of professors, the university president, heads of "Hillel," students for the liberation of Palestine, and the merely curious. It was hard for them to understand the combination of my love and solidarity with my country, Israel, and my criticism of its policies of oppression of the Palestinians in the territories and discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel. It was difficult for them to grasp the Zionist position – uncompromising about the necessity for the existence of the nation state of the Jewish people as a condition for our existence in the future. And they had an even harder time listening to each other.
As time went on, the voices of the Jewish students were drowned out by waves of attack by supporters of Palestine liberation, who expressed their views with anger, immense hatred, and much ignorance. The assailants were not Palestinians, they were Americans, some of them Jews. When I came out, they stayed to chat, and Alison reopened channels of communication in social circles on campus, but I knew we were on a slippery slope that very much threatens to undermine the Jewish education and identification with Israel for the young generation in the United States. Several years have passed.
This week I received an email after which followed a long Skype call with Yaron, an Israeli-American who has been living in the United States for 25 years. He called to discuss the BDS and how to save the younger generation of American Jews who enter college and emerge from their years on campus anti-Israel and anti-Zionist. In recent years I've heard similar stories of young Jews in Europe who are not willing to define themselves as Zionists; I've also heard Jewish organizational leaders and rabbis in synagogues tell about how "the issue of Israel" splits the community. These are deep currents that threaten the future of the Jewish people most of all. Contrary to what the prime minister, his ministers, and authors of articles in the Israeli press write and say, it is not anti-Semitism – it is anti-Israel!
Those who point to the anti-Semitic roots of the BDS movement are right, but they miss the point: They are right in that, indeed, the ideological foundation of the movement has a deep anti-Semitic nucleus which does not recognize the right of existence of the nation state for the Jewish people, a core who believes that de-legitimation of Israel will lead to the extinction of the state. But they miss the point in that this core is small and does not present a threat to us. The problem is not with them; the problem is with the many "ripples" caused by the waves of BDS.
The lost generation of Jewish students in the United States are not anti-Semitic, but are not able to reconcile the Jewish values of "Tikkun Adam and Tikkun Olam" – continually working to improve and heal people and the world – with an occupying and oppressive Israel. They cannot reconcile the humanistic, liberal values of the majority of American Jews with those who seek election day support based on the fear of "Arab crowds flocking to the polls." And so they lose their connection with Israel - at best. At worst, they enlist to act against Israel in organizations that have become affiliated with BDS.
And when Israel sends right-wing ministers and spokespersons to persuade them, they have the opposite effect. A Prime Minister perceived as anti-democratic cannot connect most of these young people to Israel today. It is an irony of history that those who hold such a strong awareness of the existential struggle of Zionism and the Jewish people endanger, more than anyone else, the future of Zionism and the younger generation's relationship to Israel and Judaism. And the opposite: that anyone who wants to fight the de-legitimation of Zionism must send into the arena the Zionist left, which, alongside its criticism of government policy, is not ready to give up support for the just existence of the nation state, without which there will be no future of the Jewish people.