What the hell is going on? I ask that honestly as I sit here in Israel, reading the latest survey of Americans conducted by the Brand Israel Group. The study found that Israel is received positively by some of the groups one would expect: the political Right, and Evangelicals, while falling pitifully short when it came to Jewish college students, coming in at 57% (down from 84% in 2010). Which leads me back to my original question, what the hell is going on? In 2017, when information is more readily accessible than at any time in human history, how is Israel falling so short when it comes to connecting to the next generation of American leaders? What can change? How can we, the Jews of this generation, who hold pro-Israel views, reconnect to our brothers who have formed these misinformed, sometimes misguided, but especially harmful views?
Look, I get it. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that American youth as a whole, and especially Americans on college campuses have leaned to the left in the past decade-plus. I was there. I went to college in the States. I get how being a pro-Israel Republican on certain campuses is considered the ultimate sin. Going to a Quaker high school in Philadelphia, I understand how this trend starts even before college. Yes, I am looking at you Abington Friends School which banned IDF shirts for 40 years. It also does not take someone with a Mensa IQ to understand that in today’s political climate, being on the left means automatically supporting the Palestinians, despite a human rights record that rivals Venezuela, Iran, and Turkey. And yes, Obama’s tenure, perhaps the worst in US foreign policy history did us absolutely no favors. That said, people with attention spans longer than squirrels can realize that the Left tends to support the underdogs (hence why Democrats were always the pro-Israel party until the 1970’s), and in the warped view of international relations, Israel has become the Goliath to the Palestinian David.
Still, I sit here and I read the results of this study, and I don’t get it. Participants claimed a knowledge of Israel 14 points greater than the last survey in 2010, but support dropped by almost double that. I am no professional researcher, but I would have to say, maybe these students are being fed “knowledge” as opposed to actual knowledge. Look, it is no secret that many professors are anti-Israel, and it is not a huge leap of faith to suggest that professors, protected by tenure, are not afraid to inject their anti-Israel views into supposedly-factual and anti-biased lectures. In a year when Taglit-Birthright brought 45,000 Jewish teens to Israel, how can we end up in a situation where we are turning on ourselves?
Perhaps the problem is that today Israel is not viewed as the underdog. From 1948-1967, Israel was the scrappy, little country that rebuffed every attempt by Arab neighbors to massacre its citizens. But today’s college students aren’t 50 years old. They don’t remember the “last one to leave the country, shut the lights off” joke that was told here leading up to the Six Day War, when 100 million Arabs thirsted for Jewish blood. American Jewish college students are one of the most comfortable subgroups in human history and I understand how they can not empathize with Israelis who lived, for weeks, waiting for an Egyptian invasion and massacre. Does that mean they should forsake their brothers living in Israel? Not at all.
College means a lot of different things to a lot of different students, but those of us in Israel, and those American Jews who care about the Jewish state would be wise to take note of these numbers. Realize that support for a country you care about is dwindling. Take note of what is happening at San Francisco State University where the University President ordered police not to protect Jewish counter-protesters. Get involved in your AEPi and ZBT chapters. Work with Hillel and Chabad to combat this anti-Israel pressure on campuses from Boston to Seattle.
In a world fighting on two fronts, against Islamic terror and a major decrease in available farmland, maybe the global community would be wise to learn from Israel. While the rest of the world is waking up to the threats from both, maybe they should take notes from a country which has been fighting against Muslim terrorists and a lack of natural resources its entire life. Perhaps countries throughout the world should note the success Israel has had in protecting its civilians and in “making the desert bloom” instead of organizing anti-Israel marches on every campus.
I get it, American Jews, I am one of you, I grew up in the States, I lived there for 24 years, I went to college there, but there is no reason you should not support Israel. Yes we have our problems here, but I challenge any of you to look me in the eye and say America doesn’t have comparable problems, or even worse. Like it or not, you are the next generation of leaders and your support for Israel means more than you know.
Step up, work with your local pro-Israel advocates, and do not let SJP or anti-Israel activists intimidate you because you have the might of the Jewish people behind you.