Throughout my travels around the world, I’ve spoken with many young people about Israel. I heard interesting stories, opinions and points of view, all of them shows the wonderful diversity that Jewish tradition cherishes. But I also heard strange comments and opinions about Israel, remarks that led me to think: What do we, adults, miss about millennials and young liberals when it comes to Israel? What did we do wrong? Is the state of Israel really that bad? Do we honestly need to change?
That’s almost a progressive rule in life: if everyone around you tells you to change, perhaps you really have to. A more well-phrased version of this instructive lesson would be: If someone calls you a horse, punch him. If someone calls you a horse three times, you better buy a saddle. It sounds quite reasonable, until you hear the former Iranian president Ahmadinejad saying that if Israel has so many enemies, perhaps Israel is the bad guy in this story. I must say, I really appreciate his originality.
Among the remarks I can hear are sentences such as:
“This country is so annoying! why wouldn’t they sign the peace treaty with all of the countries around them? If you’d only just give them the Golan and the West Bank… would you at least try talking to them?”
“Israel has the best technology, the best army in the region, worst case if they cause you any trouble – you’ll beat them once again, just like in 1967… the world will support you in case you have to preempt. Anyway, warfare nowadays no longer requires strategic depth, it’ll be a ballistic warfare…”
“You can’t rule the Palestinians forever, they are a nation striving to be independent! You can’t occupy people and deny them their natural right for freedom. Just withdraw from the west bank, respect the Arabs, let the refugees come back to their homes, keep your borders open, and you’ll see how Palestinians accept you… just like with Sadat and Hussein!”
They could be Americans, Europeans, Australians or South Africans; The common denominator they have is that they’re all young liberals, and most of them live or come from Western countries. I could talk for hours about what’s wrong with their attitude, but that isn’t the point. We all know that the mainstream approach towards Israel, as we could see in mainstream Western media, is a dishonest, delusional and dangerous fantasy that laments in their hearts for various reasons. But what are those reasons? Why are so many liberals refusing to support Israel, and even becoming activists against it? Why do liberals around the world refuse to understand the complexity of the Israeli position? And why do so many of them constantly deny some indisputable and undeniable facts about our history even though they’re right in front of them?
The easiest answer would be antisemitism, of course, but I think choosing this answer would be the easy escape. Unlike many others in Israel, I believe reality is much more complicated, sprawling into the grey zone of sub-conscious feelings, common history, and youth stupidity. Also, it doesn’t explain why young liberal Jewish people oppose Israel so much. In this article I’ll explore two possible reasons for this unique phenomenon.
The first is a strange phenomenon that has started in the last two or three decades (some say after Edward Said’s book Orientalism), which prevents people from asking questions that contradict their beliefs. Previous generations were taught to seek the truth at all costs; an objective truth that is based on research and finding evidence. The equation was simple: seek the facts, and once you find them build your story and narrative. For millennials, the equation has turned upside down: they choose the story to which they connect and identify the most, then selectively and carefully choose the facts they want to relate to. Style and appeal to emotion become everything. This is a romantic generation, who’s driven by storytelling and unrealistic fantasies about humankind, at least not on a practical level.
The younger generations are not engaging themselves in truth searching. Why does this conflict prolong? Why does Israel have to control the Palestinians? Whose fault is that? What are the intentions of the other side? Why did the Palestinians refuse to end the occupation in 2000, or in 2008? Why does UNRWA pay Palestinian refugees 3 times more than other refugees around the globe? Why are the Palestinians the only multigenerational refugees who aren’t being absorbed by their surrounding Arab brethren? Is the life of Palestinian “refugee” worth more than a Sudanese one? Or Libyan? Why do the Palestinians even need the separate refugee agency? Do the PA leadership have a consistent message, or do they say different things in Arabic and English? Why does the BDS Movement reject the two-state solution? The important questions are not being asked, because we no longer live in a culture where people ask sensitive questions that may question a fashionable romantic narrative. Moreover, it became “non-PC” or “offensive” to even raise those questions. Combined with strong social pressure from the left, many liberals are likely to just line up and align in position with the rest of their political compatriots, fearing social isolation if they were to diverge in any way.
This makes people ask interesting questions, and I don’t mean this as a compliment. Young people around the world have asked me why Israel commits genocide or mass ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. These are very serious allegations. Leave alone the fact that it’s highly recommended to ask “if” before asking “why”, when mentioning a catastrophe that was never proven in the first place. The interesting point lies in the avoidance of numbers. The basic logic tells us, that when one nation performs a genocide on another nation, their population number, as a rule, shrinks drastically – just like with European Jews, Chinese people, Armenians (yes Turkey, Armenians) and so on. However, it is quite easy to see that numbers of Palestinians had quadrupled over the last 50 years. This is not a hypothesis, that’s pure black and white statistics. Even the Palestinians themselves admit that, as a part of their “intifada of numbers” as they call it – admitting that their biggest weapon is the womb of a Palestinian Arab woman. How can one explain this contradiction? Ask BDS, this is beyond me.
The diplomatic terrorism warfare against Israel, conducted by the PA with UN and NGO cooperation, has also led to interesting results. In another discussion about the BDS movement, a young man stood up and asked: “The UN has passed 16 resolutions against Iraq, and 45 against Israel. How come Iraq was invaded, and Israel was not?” Israel was positioned in the same category of Iraq and its violations, and yet no one has asked the requisite question: do they belong in that category? And if not, what went wrong with the UN?
The second reason is a conceptual reason. That isn’t easy to explain, because it represents a combined philosophy of image and reputation management. Millennials in the West were born into the 21st century, a century of the internet, knowledge & enlightenment, innovation, tech, free love, freedom, open borders, community versus individualism, futurism, free immigration, climate change issues, Bernie Sanders, Occupy Wall Street, and more. I could go on. These issues are the connotations that the 21st century brings to young people; they’re the future that was predicted to us by many. They think: the future looks so exciting, doesn’t it? Now after the big industrial war era is over, the international system will always move in the liberal direction, and most political systems will look almost the same. Democracy, liberalism (or social democracy), human rights and sustainability as a package deal for every country; and those who hesitate to join the club will be there soon.
When young westerners see images of Israel’s conflict, they see troubles. They see checkpoints, soldiers with guns against people waving their flags, arbitrary enforcement of power, shooting, taking lands, fighting for lands, ideology, preserving culture and identity instead of encouraging multiculturalism, nationalism over universalism, shutting down borders, limiting immigration to those who do not belong to the Jewish ethnicity. All those actions are terminology that belongs to the 20th century, a different era, different mindset, and an old way of thinking what is correlated with colonialism and violence: two tragedies that the West has constantly been trying to repress from its sub-conscious.
When young liberals see those photos – they immediately go back to the 20th century, to this terminology of struggle. They see the dark past. They see a small stubborn country that is still stuck in older days, in a giant, useless, tribal war on ideology and territory, a violent system that caused death and destruction anywhere it reached, an endless war over land that if only Israel would give up, there would immediately be peace. They see that Israel is incapable or unwilling to progress forward, towards to the bright beautiful 21st century, where it’s all flowers, startups, open borders, cultural mosaics, rave music, lifestyle and Snapchat. And this fact is terrifying for them.
More than often one could hear young Jewish people say: “Don’t they see that the era of colonization is over? Why can’t Israel stop controlling other nation? Why won’t they just withdraw to 1967 borders and remove all checkpoints? If you cease the occupation, the Arabs will stop the violence, just like in Northern Ireland… We’ve listened to Mahmoud Abbas on TV, he said he’s still willing to negotiate…”, and so on. It’s not about whether Israel is right or wrong. It’s about the very fact that it keeps fighting. It’s similar to having a friend who always argues with others. Even if he’s right, and even if he’s fighting for the right causes – he still has to fight, and still have to raise his voice and contribute to a negative environment. Eventually you will want to stay away from him, or change him.
You don’t want to be friends with someone who’s fighting all the time, even though he’s merely and justly defending himself. You don’t want to be friends with someone who’s considered “controversial”, who’s right to exist is continually being questioned; It’s too hard, the social price is too high. That fits perfectly with the BDS strategy of naming and shaming. Nick Cave has said in an interview, that every musician who want to perform in Israel needs to go through a vortex of shaming; to be regarded as the artist who actively ignores human rights. Nobody wants to be in that position, especially not self-proclaimed liberals.
In essence, the more our conflict with our neighbors is prolonged, the more the conflict reminds young liberals of what they don’t want Israel to be. It’s contains negative connotations for liberals. Once the cab driver in New York City tells you “you the Israelis, you’re causing troubles, ah?”, you know there’s something wrong with your image.
Israel once had a beautiful character named Srulik. Srulik was a simple young man with tembel hat, biblical sandals and khaki shorts. With a modest smile on his face, Srulik was a pioneering Zionist, a dedicated farmer with a passion for life. During wartime, Srulik put on a uniform and was drafted to raise national morale. However, Srulik had been in several wars during his lifetime, and his soul is wounded. He’s not dead from inside, but rather hurt, and suspicious about others: both friends and enemies. The truth is, that Israel’s Srulik had put a dark steel helmet on his head. He doesn’t see, and if he smiles his beautiful young smile, we the audience cannot see it. The big helmet hides it.
Young liberal Jews also know they cannot influence the Palestinians or the Arab countries. They could really influence only a stable democracy, where liberal and democratic tools could achieve significant change. The most convenient place to put pressure is where people listen to you and take you into consideration. So, they try to influence Israel. They do it through talented people in the diplomatic service, through NGO’s and civil society organizations, through online activists, and even by calling for boycott of Israeli products. They will do anything to avoid being mocked and disregard by their liberal friends. “Indifferent”, “careless for human rights” and “white privileged” are among the phrases they’re afraid to hear. Fear of verbal and implicit antisemitism, dual loyalty, nationalism, tribalism, is always present, even if it’s subconscious.
Even Jews, who should know better, are caught in this daunting trend. Jews in North America have reached an enormous position in American society. Thousands of articles had been written about that, millions of words had been spread, and there’s no need to elaborate on it in this post. What I’m trying to highlight here is the strange feeling that they have in their hearts towards Israel, which compared to other Americans, has another layer. This extra layer appears to be consistent of love, indeed true love, with a sense of condescension, disparaging and hesitancy. I don’t question their right to raise their voices for us; quite the opposite: I appreciate that beyond words. However, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Shared destiny doesn’t necessarily mean equal share of burden; nor equal share of price and sacrifice. Aristotle once said that a true friend means a single soul dwelling in two bodies. But in this case, the two bodies are so far apart, that one must love the other differently. Most importantly, one must put oneself in the shoes of the other before passing judgment.