Establishment losing young leaders over flotilla responses

Attentive as always to the sentiment of my peers who obsess less about this issue than I do, the past weekend’s flotilla events have only confirmed what Peter Beinart wrote. His words confirm what I and others on Jewschool have long prophesied: young Jews are refusing “to check their liberalism” at Israel’s door.

All week, the reticence of my peers — actively engaged Jews in their 20s and 30s — to have “the Israel conversation” with me has been collapsing. Amazingly, friends who long avoided it. The sudden burst of awareness about Israel’s prohibition of cooking ingredients, toys and minor life amenities in Gaza has undermined sympathy for confroting even rebar-wielding provacateurs. Israel’s international disregard sours in their mouths. The severity of Israel’s recent behavior has shaken so many loose from the inhibitions to say openly and angrily, “What the fuck? How could Israel do that?”

“This has given me so much guilt. What is it about this that is different from what normally goes on there?” asked one friend over brunch.

“It’s like Israel tries to solve every problem with the military,” mourned another friend the night before. An organizer by profession, she smartly asked, “Where can we put political pressure to make this stop?”

“I am giving up on Israel. They can’t ask me to defend this policy,” said another the day before that.

These three are active in young Jewish life in New York City, two of whom have long dodged comment on Israel matters. They stand out as leaders, although they are saying the same as everyone in our cohort. The tide turns from avoidance to anger because of this sad truth: we are all learning to expect nothing better of Israel’s leaders and our American Jewish leaders. We play occupation mad libs every two years:

Israel invaded (place) today, rolling in (number 100-1,000) troops along with aerial strikes. The operation killed (10-1,000) civilians according to Palestinian estimates, (previous number divided by 100) according to the IDF. Israel claimed it was necessary to deter the terrorist (noun) from (verb)ing Israeli citizens which it deems an existential threat to its (noun). Meanwhile, Prime Minister Abbas decried the incident a “massacre” and vowed to pursue all (adjective) legal avenues. (Number 1-10) (noun) rights groups were unanimous in their condemnation of Israel’s actions. The UN representatives of (country), (country) and (country) also denounced the action. Israel accused Palestinian (noun) of using (noun) as human shields, saying “We have the most moral (noun) in the world.” Meanwhile, the peace process is on hold.

Last week we listened to Israeli government officials passionately whip the American Jewish leadership into an orgy of moral abdication. Sidestepping the sensible answer that the blockade begs deescalation, frothing pro-Israel groups like StandWithUs in America and Im Tirtzu in Israel instead sacrifice Turkey’s alliance. (Or worse, recommends we kill future flotilla passengers!) This blame game jiu jitsu cannot withstand the moral simplicity of this statement: “Israel is starving 1.5 million people.”

We also watched DemocracyNow as guest dignitaries excoriated Israel, milking every red drop of schaftenfreude for every ounce it could diminish Israel’s global standing. Their demogagery was discomforting, their glee palpable. Yet we heard their words perfectly: Israel cannot be awarded impunity for this act, for this blockade, for this occupation. For simply moral reasons (not Israel’ self-interest) this is all untenable.

In Obama’s understated but meaning-laden words, this is “not sustainable.”

Despite my personal imperative to work on this issue until I die, I expect most to avoid it the uglier and more intense matters become. Yet associates from New York’s inner leadership circles are expressing revulsion. Fence sitters and the passionately moderate are taking a stance. To my startled delight, they want to know what they can do. And I have suggestions in spades.

The galvanization of these young Jews to organize against the status quo means they intuitively take aim at a decrepit and stonewalling establishment. “I just can’t wait for the AJC, the ADL, all of them to just collapse,” said the first friend. On the NYC scene, interest in two upcoming progressive events exploded: J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami hosts Jeffrey Goldberg and New Israel Fund young supporters discuss the gap between Israel and social justice. I am delighted to see my peers flocking to build Jewish alternatives. There is yet hope.

I pray the organized Jewish leadership heed this warning: Our loyalty is not to Israel, but to the values we thought she was founded on, and our involvement extends only as far as those values blossom. Starving women and children for collective punishment, no matter against what enemy, is abhorent. The blockade must be deescalated, the occupation ended, and our rule over another people released. It’s not just in Israel’s best interests. It’s simply the moral thing to do. If that’s not a path our existing leaders wish to take, then we bid them farewell. A good riddance, from all of us.

32 Responses to “Establishment losing young leaders over flotilla responses”

  1. This isn’t the same thing, but I felt like something had changed early this year when my father (previously active in ARZA, the Reform Zionist organization) suggested it might be time to help found an anti-settler militia made up of pissed off Reform Jews.

    Really Dad? My answer was something about how running around hill tops with guns chasing bearded crazies with guns was an activity best left to, well, NATO. Or the US Army.

    It was awkward having to counsel moderation to a member of my family. Quite the role reversal!


    Jew Geuvara · June 6th, 2010 at 4:43 pm
  2. Wow KFJ, I’m so glad that you’re so excited to see people turn their backs on Israel. It warms my heart.


    ms · June 6th, 2010 at 4:53 pm
  3. Of course American Jews turn their backs on Israel, they will never, under no circumstance, have to be in this situation:

    fotogaleri.hurriyet.com.tr/GaleriDetay.aspx?cid=36575&p=1&rid=2

    Are American Jews giving up on the United States after a decade of two wars, for power and oil, where more locals have been killed than Palestinians during the last 60 plus years? Cowards and hypocrites.


    Brazilian_Jew · June 6th, 2010 at 5:21 pm
  4. Thanks Brazilian Jew. Them’s are nice photos of murdering pirates who got beat up on a mission to make sure Gazans starve. Way to go murdering pirates! I hope every Israeli naval commando keeps one of these pictures on their locker to remind them not to trust their officers and political leaders.


    Jew Geuvara · June 6th, 2010 at 5:35 pm
  5. Yup, because pirates usually wait until they get the crap beat out of them before using lethal force.

    Who would’ve guessed that Blackbeard was actually a softie?


    Jay · June 6th, 2010 at 6:07 pm
  6. The goods contained in those ships were taken to Israel by those “pirates”, inspected and delivered to the Gaza. How much of these goods will make it to the Palestinian people once they are in Gaza?

    I grew up and lived most of my life in a third world country. What most Americans can’t understand is that it doesn’t matter how many tons of aid you provide Gaza and the West Bank, how much money is thrown at the Palestinian leadership, nothing will change. There are 1 billion people going hungry in the world today, and it has nothing to do with Israeli “pirates”. It has everything to do with local corrupt leaders who use their people to maintain an endless stream of money coming into their pockets. Everybody knows that Arafat died a billionaire, I’m sure Hamas and Fatah leadership members and their families never go without. The US and the EU are enablers in Gaza, the West Bank, and all over the developing world; of regimes that abuse their own people.

    Still waiting for the response on when American Jews are going to give up on the US. You won’t, I know. Where did the peace movement so active during the last years of the Chimp administration go? Where is the world condemnation, from the UN or the media, of the US whenever it blows up a wedding reception in Pakistan/Afghanistan/Iraq?

    I’ve read many times, here and in other places, that Israel should not try to compare itself with regimes such as Iran, North Korea and Saudi Arabia. I guess Israel should compare itself with Turkey, which has very effectively been waging war against the Kurds for decades without being subjected to much media attention or UN scrutiny. They have been able to kill almost 40,000 people in the past two decades and create 3 million refugees. Better yet, Israel should compare itself with the US and its allies, who can go anywhere in the world at anytime and do whatever they want in the name of freedom (also known as oil).

    Israelis looking at these pictures will look at the eyes of these soldiers and see their sons and daughters who are constantly in the line of fire, having to make life or death decisions. American Jews will look at these soldiers and call them ridiculous things such as “pirates” or worst “enemies”.


    Brazilian_Jew · June 6th, 2010 at 6:10 pm
  7. Dude, you are not alone. I am 42 years old and feel like I am the only voice of ethical reason in my temple. Went to a discussion of the flotilla on Sat., only to have the Rabbi repeat Netanyahu soundbites for an hour, deny that the Gazans are in any trouble at all, and raise the spectre of an Iranian port in Gaza. Also claimed there was no racism against Israeli Arabs, that the IDF found guns on board the Mavi Marmara, etc. When I disagreed I was shouted down by 40 militant alte cockers.


    Jamie · June 6th, 2010 at 7:29 pm
  8. You are right,Gazans are in deep trouble and there is racism against Israeli Arabs.

    However you deny that Iran, through Hizbollah, has in the past and will continue to attempt to bring large quantities of weapons into Gaza? If you are indeed concerned about the well-being of Palestinians, you have to admit that increasing Hamas’ fire power is not going to improve the situation. I find it very funny that you give yourself the lofty title of “the only voice for ethical reason in my temple” while selectively choosing what part of the truth to accept.


    Brazilian_Jew · June 6th, 2010 at 9:07 pm
  9. Brazilian Jew, the objection here is over collective punishment. Israel can allow all the product needed into Gaza while also searching every crate and barrel for weapons. This is the short-term moral solution we can all agree on.

    Your comment smacks of not practicing what you preach.


    Kung Fu Jew · June 6th, 2010 at 10:38 pm
  10. Bibi says we must enforce the blockade because we must not let gaza become an iranian port. Uri avnery says that’s a lie because that doesn’t explain why common goods like cilantro are banned. My question is how is that a valid argument? Just because bibi wants to make gazans life bitter doesn’t prove that iran isn’t trying to arm hamas.


    Oren · June 6th, 2010 at 10:46 pm
  11. Arguments that need to be retired:
    - That certain opinions coming from American Jews (and other non-Israelis) are somehow a result of ignorance, lacking merit and standing. Why would any set of opinions be dismissed when uttered by American Jews, but not others? What makes the charade even sillier is that my opinions (for example) as dismissed as being ‘American’ when the truth is I’m an Israeli IDF veteran. While parroting the Zionist party line gives the spouter a glow of expertise.

    - That only Israelis can truly understand the situation. Just like only fish can appreciate water, right? It’s ridiculous. We don’t have to drink the kool-aid to know we’re talking about kool-aid.

    - That ‘the facts’ clearly spell out one thing or the other. Not with so much lying about the facts, like the accusations that flotillistas werre armed, connected to al-Queda, etc.

    - That ‘history shows…’ Sorry. It doesn’t. Not really.

    Israel won’t change until it recognizes that something is deeply wrong with itself, just like an alcoholic needs to hit rock bottom before joining AA. Not only does it not need more enablers, the very best form of support is ‘tough love’ from friends who say ‘no more.’ No more hugs, no more money, no more visits from the Pixies, no more guns. But when she’s ready to swear off the booze – my arms will be wide open.

    Better that than to continue on the path that leads to being set on fire by skinheads in an alley.


    Jew Guevara · June 6th, 2010 at 10:49 pm
  12. Jew Guevara, I was speaking of the people Kung Fu Jew mentioned. It seemed to me that he was speaking of Jewish American “young leaders” in New York.

    The opinions of Jewish Americans are not necessarily the result of ignorance, lack merit or standing, but you have to admit that they will probably be different than the opinion of someone who comes from a much smaller, less assimilated, community of Jews (in my case, Brazilians). Growing up I experienced a lot of classic anti-Semitism which had nothing to do with Israel. I think I can appreciate the need for a Jewish state more than Jewish Americans who number in the millions and live in a country where they are protected from hate by law and generally accepted as part of society. That is just my opinion.

    The point that I was trying to make previously is that while progressive Americans in general (Jewish or not) are criticizing Israel, the US has been involved in two bloodier conflicts (conflicts it chose to enter). These Jewish individuals who are “giving up on Israel” due to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, are obviously not giving up on the US and moving to a less bellicose nation.

    Nowhere I said that only Israelis understand the situation. I am not Israeli either, and I have not commented in this website enough for you to come out and say that I am “parroting the Zionist party line”. Frankly, it makes me sad to read the word Zionist be used like a dirty word. Zionism is the Jewish idea that we too have the right of self-determination. I’m a Zionist, but I’m not a racist against Arabs and I understand that the suffering in Gaza will not bring peace to anyone. Jews have a homeland in Israel, but are nowhere near being free from undue influence from another country. Our self-determination is not yet complete.

    I agree that Israel will have to change itself in order to reach peace, and peace is what anyone who really loves Israel wants. I simply think that the Palestinians and all those using them (Lebanon, Iran, Syria and now Turkey) will have to change as well.

    Kung Fu Jew – I don’t know which part of my comment gave you the impression that I did not think like you, that the best short term solution would be to allow a search for weapons while letting the rest in. You know that these ships are more about challenging the blockade that actually bringing in aid, which can also be done, and has been done, by land. I don’t think Israel should be prohibiting any food items from entering. There are of course, items which Hamas uses for military purposes that are also needed by the population, such as cement. I don’t know if there is a mechanism that would allow the population to get these items while preventing Hamas from using it for its purposes. I just tried to point out that Hamas is known for improperly distributing the aid. Is that not true?


    Brazilian_Jew · June 6th, 2010 at 11:54 pm
  13. here is a fascinating perspective from the arab side, you can use google translate to read it:

    www.elaph.com/Web/opinion/2010/6/567744.html

    it’s titled: What about Hamas’ blockade on Gaza?


    Oren · June 7th, 2010 at 12:10 am
  14. Western democracies are based on civic nationalism, not ethnic nationalism. “Self-determination” can, and here does, seem to shade off into the idea that any means–even collective punishment of civillians–are acceptable to promote the ends of ethnic nationalism. The Enlightenment-inspired Utopianism that characterized early Zionism (seeking a Jewish homeland, but not at the expense of the humanity of other groups) has dissipated and what’s left is, in practice, rather unpleasant. Color me disillusioned.


    Jamie · June 7th, 2010 at 9:11 am
  15. Beinart did a great job of defending his essay on NPR’s On the Media this weekend, where he debated Steven Rosen about the degree to which you can criticize Israel and still be Zionist.

    www.onthemedia.org/transcripts/2010/06/04/04


    themicah · June 7th, 2010 at 12:53 pm
  16. A point: if Israel insists that it has the right to control Gaza’s sea air and land borders, it is the occupying force, and as such is responsible for the welfare and wellbeing of every man woman and child in Gaza. If it is not the occupying force, it has no such right.


    Amit · June 7th, 2010 at 6:02 pm
  17. So well said, Ben. Thanks for writing this.


    Alix · June 7th, 2010 at 7:59 pm
  18. Western democracies are based on civic nationalism, not ethnic nationalism.

    Tell that to the French. Or the Irish, the Quebecois, or the Czechs & Slovaks.


    chillul Who? · June 7th, 2010 at 10:19 pm
  19. Not one of the examples that you mentioned equates to the disgusting spectacle of a majority of Israelis opining that Israeli Arabs shouldn’t have the right to vote.


    Jamie · June 7th, 2010 at 10:55 pm
  20. And they have the right to their opinions, no matter how you distort them.

    Civic nationalism means nothing. Why not civic universalism? You’ve tripped over your post-modernist theory, Jamie.


    Anonymouse · June 7th, 2010 at 11:53 pm
  21. I’m far from being a postmodernist. Civic nationalism is the kind of nationalism a diverse, pluralistic state can foster through shared institutions like a Constitution, Bill of Rights, national holidays, the common law, etc. Israel hasn’t followed through on any of that because ultimately, they don’t want a democracy.


    Jamie · June 8th, 2010 at 8:21 am
  22. Peter Beinart’s Sunday interview on NPR versus Steven Rosen, former AIPAC hack, is iconic on this topic.

    In it we hear a young leader in the Jewish community reject the the self-perpetuating victimization and fearmongering worldview of the establishment:

    I see in what Steven is saying a reflection partly of the generational divide that I was talking about in my piece. And I say this with great respect, but I just do not identify with this vision that he seems to have in which the entire world is destined to hate Israel and Jews, regardless of what Israel does, that it’s basically somehow just in the soil, that we should assume that everybody who criticizes Israel, particularly every non-Jew, is doing so from a position of ill will.

    There’s a bleakness, a pessimism to that, that I think is not in what I think of as the best Jewish traditions that animate me in my life. Many people who criticize Israel, they believe, understandably, in a post-colonial world, that it is not just to keep control of large numbers of people who you don’t give the right to vote. Rather than seeing those people as eternally hostile to Jews and Israel, we should be willing to listen to their criticisms. But the blanket assertion that everybody hates Israel and everybody always will, I think, is part of a bunker mentality that is making it harder for Israel to live out its best traditions.

    Meanwhile, Steven Rosen says that criticism of Israel while under fire is “eroding Zionism” not strengthening it. Beinart is in the camp of the Israel haters, along with Hamas and Hezbollah, because as Rosen asserts, “there are only two sides.” More from Rosen:

    Well, it is true that when you write an article like Peter’s, which just piles on criticism and barely mentions the threats to Israel – it hardly mentions Hamas, Iran. The world consists, as he tells it, of Israeli sins, which he recites very passionately – he’s extremely eloquent. May there be intellectual merit in point number 7 or point number 11? Probably, here and there, yeah. But you’re not building Zionism, as he says in his article. You’re eroding it.

    Does it mean that you don’t have the right in a democracy to say these things? No. But you don’t have the right to call it pro-Israel activity. That, it is not.

    The last two weeks, Peter, Israel’s been under assault, and you’ve been on the radio reciting what’s wrong with Israel. The last two weeks were the acid test, the rainy day, a day in which, yes, there are questions about whether Israel handled the boarding of this ship properly. And people who say they’re friends have to be there on a rainy day, not just on a sunny day, not just if Israel does everything perfectly and lives up to your golden, shining Israel on the hill, in your imagination. But on days when Israel’s imperfect, you have to be there. And if you’re not going to be there when the going gets rough, then don’t call yourself a friend.

    According to Rosen, true friends of Israel don’t criticize her publicly.


    Kung Fu Jew 18 · June 8th, 2010 at 11:02 am
  23. KFJ-
    I agree with your point in general, but since when is Beinart “a young leader in the Jewish community”?


    BZ · June 8th, 2010 at 11:12 am
  24. BZ, more clearly: “A young American liberal leader, from the Jewish community…”


    Kung Fu Jew 18 · June 8th, 2010 at 1:11 pm
  25. KFJ, I think your writing is getting better and better. Nicely done.


    Chorus of Apes · June 8th, 2010 at 3:26 pm
  26. Jamie, Israel doesn’t have to look like America to be a pluralistic, democratic state. you’re allowing strong emotions to obfuscate reason. Does Israel have elections? Yes. Are they free and fair, open to all citizens (and even residents in local elections)? Yes. Does Israel have the equivalent of a constitution? Yes. Does Israel have an independent Judiciary? Yes. Are citizens free to create political paties, including those that absurdly advocate the destruction of the state, without advocating for doing so violently? Yes. Name another democracy that tolerates such dissent from the overwheling will of its residents.

    Furthermore, you say “they” don’t want to have a democracy. Who is “they”?


    Anonymouse · June 8th, 2010 at 5:03 pm
  27. what equivalent to a constitution? and i’m pretty sure J’slem Arab residents cannot vote in municipal elections. And I am also pretty sure the branches of israeli gov’t are not separated in the same way, and i’m also pretty sure the occupation authority is the military and not the courts or the parliament… I don’t think Jamie is looking for Israel to look like America, I think she’s looking for it to look like the Israel which Israel purports itself to be…


    Justin · June 8th, 2010 at 5:18 pm
  28. “Our loyalty is not to Israel, but to the values we thought she was founded on, and our involvement extends only as far as those values blossom.”

    This is where I feel divided from many of my peers (not sure what the cut-off age is for being ‘young’ in the Jewish community any more).

    Actually my loyalty *is* to Israel *and* to the values to which I aspire for her. It’s not based on my beliefs about the founders’ values, and my involvement isn’t contingent on it living up to my ideals.

    That’s not how my ‘loyalty’, if loyalty is even the right word, to Judaism works, and it’s not how my loyalty to Israel works either.

    To be fair, it seems like that’s not what you’re really saying either, to the extent that it continues to be a goal to get young people involved in the Israel-related policy activity that you support (like JStreet). I think you’re talking about young people’s loyalty to (old?) Jewish leaders and (old) Jewish political institutions.


    Tara · June 9th, 2010 at 11:52 am
  29. Justin- municipal elections ARE open to non-citizen residents. If I recall correctly, Arkadi Gaydamek was courting the Arab vote in the last Jerusalem elections.
    Jamie- proof that the majority of Israelis (or even Jewish Israelis) oppose the right of Israeli Arabs to vote? If we assume that voters of Balad, Ram-Tal, Hadash, Meretz, Labor, Kadima and Likud don’t feel that way (with maybe a few exceptions), probably most, if not all voters for Haredi parties (they oppose a Jewish state, though I’m not sure all feel overwhelmingly positive toward democracy), and I’m willing to bet a sizable proportion of the remaining parties (let’s say Yisrael Beiteinu is split down the middle, but for the sake of argument, b/c they voted for them, they support disenfranchisement)–where do we get a majority? Jamie- I color you disillusioned indeed.


    arie · June 9th, 2010 at 4:40 pm
  30. am i totally off base? is it elections for Knesset that J’slem Arab residents can’t vote? Where have I developed this idea that J’slem Arab residents have a different voting standard than other citizens…


    Justin · June 9th, 2010 at 8:10 pm
  31. My understanding was that Arab residents of “East” Jerusalem can’t vote for Knesset, but can vote in municipal elections, but don’t.

    (Arab residents of West Jerusalem, e.g. Ein Karem, are Israeli citizens like anyone else.)


    BZ · June 9th, 2010 at 9:58 pm
  32. [...] to such soul-searching. Astonishment at the flotilla fiasco is one reason that more U.S. Jews are talking about their relationship problems with Israel. But lest we forget, Peter Beinart’s [...]


    Letter from the Hotel Zamenhof · June 11th, 2010 at 3:28 am

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik