On January 16th, I spoke at the Raleigh City Council public comment session in opposition to a “ceasefire” resolution drafted by the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network (NCEJN), the local chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, Muslims for Social Justice, People’s Power Lab and the Party for Socialism and Liberation. The proposed resolution did not mention Hamas or the atrocities they committed on October 7th. It also conflated the innocent Israeli hostages taken by Hamas with legitimately convicted Palestinian criminals and associated Israeli military efforts to gain their freedom with war crimes. Thankfully, the resolution was not even taken up for a vote but that was after four and a half hours of public comment that drowned out all legitimate Raleigh City Council business.
The night was at times surreal. Antisemitic tropes, distortions, lies and conspiratorial thinking were rampant in the pro-ceasefire talking points: There were no rapes. There are no dead Israeli babies. The IDF was responsible for a false flag operation that killed their own people at the Nova Music Festival. This war was started by Israel as a pretext to commit genocide against the Palestinians and to gain access to the “oil under Gaza”. Israel was committing an ‘environmental holocaust’. Wildly varying civilian casualty numbers were thrown around – 24,000 Palestinian children killed, no 30,000 children. The “facts” were all dependent on the level of emotional animation of the speaker. Raleigh City Councilmembers were often accused of not voting for a ceasefire because their pockets were “lined by the Jewish community”.
At times I thought: Am I on the same planet with these people?
My observation of those who called themselves pro-Palestinian or “pro-humanity” at this meeting is they were much, much younger than those speaking on behalf of Israel and the Jews – by decades. They were extremely emotionally invested in the fate of the Palestinians. In many ways these speakers had joined their own individual life’s discontents to the war and Israel had become the scapegoat for all that was wrong in the world – environmental degradation, racial injustice, economic disparity, indigenous rights (how ironic), etc.
To say that these people where historically ill-educated and misinformed would be an understatement. It was apparent they had absolutely no understanding of the State of Israel. The viral videos making the rounds on social media of protestors not knowing which river and which sea they were chanting about would have fit in well at this meeting. There was a shocking lack of interest in dialogue or reasoned public discourse. Before the speaking session opened, ceasefire supporters started chanting “Free, free Palestine!” almost like an army gearing up for battle. Theirs was a cult-like frenzy, completely removed from reality.
This brings me to why I say the worst may be yet to come. What I witnessed firsthand at my small city council meeting this January showed me the freight train of fanatical antisemitic tyranny headed down the tracks towards world Jewry in the coming decades.
The Harvard Harris poll, which takes a monthly “pulse” of approximately 2,000 registered voters on the headlines of the day has revealed a shocking generational divide, not only in support for Israel but more importantly, a shift away from objective truth and towards moral relativism by age group. Unbelievably, 66% of those under 25 believe Hamas have genocidal towards the Jews. 73% of them acknowledge October 7th was a terrorist attack yet still 60% believe Hamas’ actions were justified. Americans aged 18-24 are 50/50 on whether they support Israel over Hamas, a genocidal terrorist cartel, vs. a 96/4 split among those 65 or older.
Dara Horn, who I consider a Jewish national treasure, wrote I think the best explanation of what is coming: “Of all the tedious and self-serving explanations for why this scourge was apparently re-emerging in American life[….] the most convincing was actually the most boring, and also the most disturbing: The last few generations of American non-Jews had been chagrined by the enormity of the Holocaust—which had been perpetrated by America’s enemy, and which was grotesque enough to make antisemitism socially unacceptable, even shameful. Now that people who remembered the shock of those events were dying off, the public shame associated with expressing antisemitism was dying, too. In other words, hating Jews was normal. And historically speaking, the decades in which my parents and I had grown up simply hadn’t been normal. Now, normal was coming back.”
I am not alone or original in my conclusion that Jews have a big problem if the next generation of leaders in the West combine this moral bankruptcy with a deep ignorance and antipathy towards Israel. But as a newer generation of leaders within my Jewish community I feel an obligation to say we must not wait, and hope things will go back to the way they were on October 6th. Yes, Israel will defeat Hamas in this conflict. Of that I have no doubt. But are we shoring up our defenses for when the tsunami of Jew hatred leaves the universities? So, what to do?
Until October 7th, it had been a long time since the necessity of Israel in defending Jews from homicidal intentions was clear. The air lifts from Ethiopia and the liberation of Russian Jewry are now over 40 years old. American Jews in particular I believe have become shy in our embrace of Zionism. In a failed effort to ally with groups in hopes they will defend us when attacked, we have abandoned teaching our children the importance of Jewish self-determination. We must instill in our children the importance of Israel to their identity and equip them with the tools to meet challenges as they get older. Organizations like Young Judea and Club Z are important to support.
Our political and institutional alliances, now more than ever, should be based on our Jewish identity. I say this as someone who has truly believed in a civil society based on shared values and mutual goals not defined by race or religion. However, Jews cannot simply sacrifice our communal wellbeing by sending our children to colleges and universities that do not share our values. As Niall Ferguson wrote recently: “Anyone who has a naive belief in the power of higher education to instill morality has not studied the history of German universities in the Third Reich”. Stop supporting groups who were silent or supportive of the atrocities of October 7th. UNWomen, SpeakUp, BLM, I’m looking at you. Within our Jewish communities we have often tolerated voices like IfNotNow, Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace. No more! These organizations are bad actors and should not be given a platform within our synagogues and community centers.
A parting message to my fellow Millennials and Gen Z’ers – it’s so important we increase our participation in our Jewish institutions. We’re an incredible generation seeing authenticity and maximum impact in our communities. Let’s keep channeling that energy, confidently and unabashedly into supporting Israel.
Am Yisroel Chai.