Millennials are coming into their own. In the United States, we are now the largest voting block. If there is one thing that current times are showing us, especially around what we are seeing in response to the tragic death of George Floyd and the movement to counter systemic racism and injustice, it is that millennials are more now than ever focused on the future.
This is particularly true in American Jewry and our collective perspective on Israel.
This focus on the future is not about bringing to life a reality that ignores the past. It is about a world that builds on our strengths and overcomes the limitations that history placed on us.
In the blog post “Why History Still Matters: The 1967 Six Day War” by American Jewish Committee (AJC) President David Harris, he rightly calls to attention the need to understand history, especially in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Mr. Harris said, “But without an understanding of what happened in the past, it’s impossible to grasp where we are today — and where we are has profound relevance for the region and the world.”
Large national Jewish institutions, especially those working in the advocacy and pro-Israel spaces, have done incredible work with regards to strengthening Israel and its place in the world. I have seen this first-hand as I previously served on AJC’s ACCESS, a group of young professional leaders from around the country who regularly advocate directly with US and international leaders on behalf of the organization, its mission, and the Jewish people.
I agree with Mr. Harris’s recounting of history. There are many narratives in this conflict, but there are some facts and policies that are also undeniable. In an ideal world, we should all agree on basic facts around history. But even most historians would describe this as not always feasible for an array of reasons.
In the context of this complex conflict where there is already so much history, the sheer abundance of it can overwhelm the present and obfuscate the future. As Jews – and especially as millennials stepping into leadership – we must not stand complacent in looking back to what we view as a better historical record. We must use history as a launching pad to build a better atid, a better future.
To be sure, I am not suggesting the past is not important or used as valuable context. There are many millennial American Jews, who would agree with the importance of history when discussing Israel. Importantly, we hold and embody many of the same values and objectives that previous generations have fought for, especially regarding Israel. But a focus on the future requires us to identify more with the life we want in the times and generations to come, rather than the life that has already happened in time past.
In the way that Mr. Harris refers to many facts and policies relating to the 1967 Six Day War, let us focus on the facts and policies currently shaping Israel’s future as a secure, democratic, and a Jewish State, which together have been the objectives of so many of Israel’s leaders, going back to its forefathers. Israel is in a stronger position to do this than ever before with its relative strength greater than it has ever been over its adversaries.
Let’s start with security, which is perhaps the most important and existential of issues, Israel must proactively work to change what is becoming an increasingly likely challenging future. The status quo and developing policies, such as annexation, threaten security. This conclusion is based on the unequivocal statements by Commanders for Israel’s Security, a non-partisan group of over 300 retired IDF generals and their Mossad, Shin Bet (Security Agency) and Police equivalents.
Let’s consider Israel’s identity as a democracy and Jewish State together. After all, Israel’s forefathers very much looked at these two issues as one. Current and developing policies, especially annexation, threaten these unique identities because they challenge, if not eliminate, the viability of a two state solution in any future negotiated agreement. This is based on awareness of demography and expected response from Palestinians and the international community that would come to be if a two state solution is no longer viable. There are many unknowns in such an event, but it’s indeed hard to imagine the consensus solution not drifting to a one state movement whereby all the land becomes one. In this reality, Israel could still be a democracy, but not Jewish, or Jewish through legislative control, but not truly democratic.
As an American Jew, I ask that my leaders within my country and community maintain this future-oriented perspective when addressing and solving our most complex problems.
In regards to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, let us work together with the ultimate decision-makers who will decide Israel’s future – its politicians in Jerusalem and public citizens gathering on Friday nights all over Israel. As American Jews, we can be pivotal champions to provide support and share perspectives that can make a better future closer to reality. A future that brings to being what so many Israelis want – one that is secure, democratic, and Jewish.