It is so distressing to see a generation of young Jews turn their backs on their heritage and Israel. Things were rough for Jewish students on campus when I was a Hillel Director at the University of California, Riverside from 1999-2003, especially after 9-11, but we could always count on the support of the Jewish students.
The catchphrase of the day was “wherever we stand, we stand with Israel.” All of our political and religious differences were easily set aside when it came to protecting the Jewish state. These were the early days of the campus wars against Israel, and we could count on unanimous support from all of the Jewish students who were horrified by the blatant anti-Semitism of the anti-Israel advocates.
How have we gotten to the point where the most vociferous anti-Israel voices on campus come from the Jewish students? What happened?
As a case in point, an organization of mostly younger Jews that calls itself “If Not Now” recently protested the AIPAC Conference in Washington.
Highlighting their bravery by protesting in a country where that right is Constitutionally enshrined, If Not Now shockingly appropriated the term “Jewish Resistance” for their anti-Israel movement. If Not Now fearlessly faced the dangers of 45-degree temperatures while dancing and singing under police protection outside of the AIPAC Conference (by contrast my grandfather was a member of the Bielski Partisans, you know, the REAL Jewish Resistance).
It is not surprising that a group so ignorant of Jewish history refuses to take a position on the anti-Semitic BDS movement, or that their spokespeople can’t articulate a workable plan for Israel if they got their wish and the “occupation” suddenly ended. Strategic or even deep thinking, it seems, is well beyond If Not Now’s capabilities.
The question is why? How can they be so ignorant? Why can’t they see the truth?
Ironically, the answer lies with a quote from the same Hillel they use for their organization’s name. Slogans are easy, but If Not Now had looked past the opening pages of “Ethics Of Our Fathers,” they would have seen that Hillel makes several other assertions, including at least one that better applies to them. In “Ethics Of Our Fathers” (2:5), Hillel also said that “a bashful person cannot learn.”
That I believe is the true explanation behind If Not Now. We all know that Israel is portrayed as the oppressor in the world media. It takes courage to dig beyond the headlines and understand the historical and geopolitical justification for Israel. Advocates for Israel have to be willing to face down their adversaries at school and in the media and take the full picture of the situation.
As Hillel pointed out, bashful people cannot do so because as soon as they are faced with claims of Israeli abuses, they retreat to their drum circles and are not able to look for the truth that explains it. They can’t face challenges, so they demand that the “abuses” end immediately without ever really understanding the situation. They demand capitulation without a care in the world for the real world consequences of their advocacy.
To put it simply, the real reason they won’t advocate for Israel is because they can’t. That would take courage, and as Hillel said, “A bashful person cannot learn.”
Sadly, “wherever we stand, we stand with Israel” will remain an impossible dream unless and until we teach the next generation to have pride in themselves and their heritage and empower them to see beyond the headlines.
If organizations like If Not Now could educate themselves, they would see that Jewish and Israeli history are truly amazing and that there is NO need to be bashful. If I may offer a recommendation, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for them to start by studying about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the Bielski Partisans, and the REAL Jewish Resistance.