On Tuesday of this week I received an email from friends back in Washington D.C., my home for almost seven years before I made aliyah last summer, asking if I had any ideas how to increase turnout to the planned vigil at the White House tonight. I suggested reaching out to Muslim or Arab groups in the region who also have condemned the kidnappings. I figured the novelty of those on the ‘other side’ supporting the issue would generate media attention, and ideally that could lead to a higher turnout. I put them in touch with an pro-Israel Muslim acquaintance in the area, and patted myself on the back for doing what I felt like I could from Israel.
I was more than a little shocked at the emails that came in after. My suggested point of contact wrote me that while he feels deeply for the kidnapped boys, “ the political dynamics thanks to popular media portraying the Palestinian people as underdogs makes [sympathizing with the kidnapped boys] difficult to many millennials. Even many Jewish millennials I know personally have declined to take part in public protest for the safe return of these youngsters,” and apologized for not being able to do more to help.
I was dumfounded – this was a vigil! No intention had ever been given that this was going to be anything other than peaceful gathering in front of the White House to show the President the U.S. that the American people care about what is happening to a U.S. citizen abroad. The more I argued the fact that the whole event was being misconstrued, the more I realized that it is fruitless to shoot the messenger. At the end of the day a whole generation of Jews in the US have developed an automatic reaction when they hear of tragedy in Israel – and it doesn’t include feelings of solidarity or compassion with their fellow Jews.
It slowly sunk in – it’s not the President of the U.S. that needs convincing of the value of the life of Naftali Frankel – it’s our fellow U.S. Jews! I myself am a millennial who used to not care about current events in Israel. I bear no grudged nor harbor any ill-will towards my peers. I can say in my case it came from a place of ignorance – I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. I got my news from popular sources that I later came to realize offer at best an incomplete or skewed view of the events here. I took comfort in the realization that if I could come around to a more complete understanding of life and politics in Israel, than so can other young American Jews.
Here’s the hard part, I’m not sure what to do now. I just know that Obama shouldn’t be our target audience. From a purely political perspective, he’s leaving office in two years anyway, and basically can do what he wants without concern about re-election. Let us instead put our time and energy where it is most effective – at our fellow brothers and sisters living across the U.S. Let us hold a vigil towards them, to foster a better understanding of life in Israel. No one in the U.S. should feel ashamed of coming out to support the release of three innocent teenagers being held hostage – regardless of their race, religion or creed.