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.