I am a Zionist. Though I live in a comfortable New York suburb, never fought for the IDF and never lived in Israel except for two years of post high school study, I bleed blue and white and speak a fluent Hebrew. I am also a liberal. Liberal today has many meanings but my liberalism is one that believes in marriage equality, equal pay, immigration reform, financial regulation and as far as Israel is concerned, a two state solution.
Despite my sympathies for the peace camp in Israeli politics, this current war in Gaza has sidelined my Mid East views. Today I am a member of only one camp; the pro Israel one. Like most Jewish Americans my only concern today is for the survival of Israel and the defeat of her enemies. When circumstances allow and the environment changes I will revisit my belief that Israel can live in peace with her Palestinian neighbors.
Along with many of my friends I have taken to social media to defend Israel and the justness of her current struggle with Hamas. Like many of my pro peace – liberal friends I am appalled but not surprised by the by the less than steadfast support and sometimes outright demonization of Israel by liberal Jewish intellectuals. More worrisome to me is the apathy towards Israel by a great many of the Jewish “millenials,” including many who were educated in Yeshivot and Jewish day schools.
While this war continues, I keep the television news on in my home whenever I am here. But I of course am a dinosaur. Young people could care less about CNN or Fox News; they get their news from social media. And the images from social media outlets like Twitter are powerful even if misguided or wrong. How can we convince a twenty something Jew who only knows Israel as an economic and military powerhouse that a tweet from #NalainGaza showing two dead babies killed by an Israeli airstrike is really the fault of Hamas using human shields? Or that the photo like so many posted on social media is actually from the Syrian civil war and not Gaza?
If we add into the mix the fact that the most vocal Israel supporters come from the political right we are left with a recipe of young Jewish alienation from Zionism and Israel in greater numbers than a Zionist like me is comfortable with. While I take great solace in days like today, when Nefesh B’Nefesh sent a planeload of over three hundred Jewish Americans on Aliyah, including one hundred soon to be lone soldiers (including my best friend’s daughter) and programs like Birthright that connects young Jews to Israel, I am frightened by the outside influences who skew the reality of what Israel endures and how important she is for Jews the world over.
Recently, a lively debate has taken place in the US media over the importance to Israel of the support of Jewish American liberals. Shmuel Rosner’s recent piece in the New York Times concludes that Israel will survive without their support regrettable as the loss may be. No doubt that is true. However, the Roger Cohen’s and Peter Beinart’s and Jonathan Chait’s of the world will continue their crusade to demonize Israel despite their doubtless good intentions if not totally misguided sense of justice.
Zionists and lovers of Israel both in Israel and the diaspora will have much of a reckoning when this war is over. I’m still an old timer who believes Israel is more important for us in the diaspora than the diaspora Jews importance is to Israel. I am a boomer from the post Holocaust generation that understands that Israel means my ultimate safety net, my final haven and my ancestral homeland, my kids’ generation less so.
Jewish education, Birthright and sending our kids to study in Israel certainly helps, but let’s face it, most diaspora Jews don’t take advantage or are not exposed to those worthwhile endeavors. It is our responsibility both in Israel and in the diaspora to come together and bring our youth into a Jewish Peoplehood of which the viability, strength and existence of Israel is the central theme. Otherwise I fear that despite my deep belief that Israel will survive, it will lose the love and support of the next diaspora generations and we will have no one to blame but ourselves.