Inside the fraying of American Zionism


“The assumptions that young Jews grew up with about Israel were shattered along with the assumptions that anti-Semitism was in the past and Jews becoming whites were shattered.”

In the years that followed 67, the Palestinian cause gradually gained ground on the world stage. Yet young baby boomers, Generation X and even those of us born in the 1980s, who were charmingly labeled “geriatric millennials,” grew up with an optimistic view of the peace process, especially so. more than, as Jews, we generally viewed it through an Israeli lens. There was peace with Egypt, then with Jordan. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shook hands with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn in 1993, before his martyrdom. (Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing Israeli Jew two years later.) When the Israeli-Palestinian accord, the Oslo Accords, failed to achieve peace and Palestinian suicide bombers killed hundreds of civilians Israelis in buses and cafes during the Second Intifada in the early 2000s, the specter of terrorism was first anticipated and then coiled into 9/11, making Israelis righteous victims. This story was of course incomplete, but it offered narrative coherence to young minds hungry for her.

On the other hand, if you are 26 years old, you were not yet born when Oslo was signed and you only faintly remember the height of the Second Intifada. Your impression of Israel may well be that of an occupying power and a fortress protected by militarized barriers and the US-funded Iron Dome missile defense system – a powerful country which, in a war in Gaza in 2014 responded to the Hamas murder of three Israeli teenagers. and rocket attacks on Israeli towns with airstrikes and ground incursions that killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, many of them non-combatants. Israel for you is not personified by Rabin, or statesman Shimon Peres, or even reformed hawk Ariel Sharon, but by Netanyahu, who has not only presided over the building of new settlements in the West Bank, but sided with the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate on the issues. both religious and civil, tried to cripple liberal NGOs, engaged in racial demagoguery against Palestinians and made common cause with Republicans, including and especially Donald J. Trump.

The 26-year-old reportedly saw Republicans use a dogmatic pro-Israel stance as a political club, while the Democratic center of gravity on the subject, while still strongly pro-Israel, shifted to the left. Our 26-year-old has also seen the Israeli government explicitly embrace right-wing American evangelicals, who are staunch Zionists, while despising American Jews. Last May, Ron Dermer, Netanyahu’s longtime adviser and former Israeli ambassador to the United States, dismissed American Jews as “disproportionately among our detractors.”

Several academic studies over the past decade have researched Israel’s disengagement among young Jews. Instead, some have found passionate involvement, but on terms politically different from what the establishment might prefer. Dov Waxman, professor of Israel studies at UCLA, relied on data from Pew in a 2017 article that found that millennial Jews engage with Israel, even when they are young, so much than previous generations – they were simply more likely to question his actions and policies. . “In the past, the support was really unconditional, unequivocal,” Waxman told me. “Most American Jews today believe that it is quite possible to be pro-Israel and at the same time criticize many policies of the Israeli government, especially policies towards the Palestinians.

Isabelle’s freedman The Jewish Retreat Center is a bucolic kibbutz and summer camp located in the hills of northwest Connecticut, in a town aptly called Canaan. One August afternoon Leah Nussbaum, who signed the letter in the spring and is now in fifth and final year at the HUC New York campus, took a break from farming and met me on a gravel road. Nussbaum, who is 28, was one of 10 center farm fellows last summer. The comrades would wake up early each morning for prayer and meditation at 6 a.m., doing chores, taking agricultural and Judaism classes, and tending to the land throughout the day. They grew leeks, tangy blueberries, and juicy Sungold cherry tomatoes, all pollinated by the bees they kept. On Saturdays, they rested – although they still milked the goats, to ease the goats’ discomfort, and then gave the milk to neighbors who did not observe Shabbat. The ordinarily vegetarian Nussbaum had eaten a farm-raised chicken the night before I met them, after seeing the bird ritually killed kosher by a chochet. “There is a lot of intentionality,” Nussbaum said, “and it sounds Jewish – deliberately thinking about what you do.”

After weeding the potato plants and touring the center, which hosts holiday events and retreats for the Jewish institutional world, Nussbaum and I sat in Adirondack chairs in a tent and chatted for a while. Growing up, Nussbaum was settled in a welcoming Jewish community, a Boston-area Reformed congregation that was a refuge from the homophobia they experienced in public school, and supported their interest in interfaith work. HUC also agreed; in particular, Nussbaum praised his one-year program in Israel for exposing them to all kinds of Israelis and Palestinians.

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