Friday, May 7, 2010

A Jewish Generation Gap?

This article from today's New York Times is quite good, especially because I can relate 100% to it. In my Jewish family, criticizing Israel is the same as saying you support Hitler. But as the article points out, younger Jews do not share the views expressed as those of the "American Jewish Community" which is typically older and more conservative. A few key quotes:
In the 2008 election, 78 percent of Jewish voters supported Mr. Obama, and surveys have suggested that most continue to back his policies.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the founder of a Washington lobby known as J Street, the latest of several organizations representing the voice of liberal Jews who support Israel but not all its policies, said many people have long felt ignored or silenced by the pro-Israel establishment in the United States.

“People are tired of being told that you are either with us or against us,” he said. “The majority of American Jews support the president, support the two-state solution and do not feel that they have been well represented by organizations that demand obedience to every wish of the Israeli government. If you had taken their word for it, Obama should have gotten 12 percent of the Jewish vote. But he got 80. That should say something.”

But Professor Steven M. Cohen, a sociologist at Hebrew Union College in Manhattan who co-wrote a study last year charting a steep decline in attachment to Israel among younger Jews, said the younger and liberal-leaning are frustrated at being labeled “anti-Israel” or even anti-Semitic for expressing opposition to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories.

The questions that Jews are now facing are rooted not in being for or against Israel, but in the shadings of difference over how to achieve peace, and the complexities of the relationship between Israel — a state whose government is now dominated by nationalist and ultrareligious politicians — and the predominantly liberal-leaning and secular base of Jewish support in the United States.


T. Paine said...

I don't understand how those that love and want to protect Israel could support Obama.

He has shown nothing but disdain towards our ally.

He purposely snubbed Netanyahu when he visited the White House, and wouldn't even grant him a photo-op, something that is standard protocal for all visiting heads of state.

Obama went to the Middle East and visited Cairo and I think Amman, but had no time to visit Israel.

He "condemed" Israel in a press conference for its building of settlements, when that term is the nuclear option in diplomatic circles.

He seems to put demands on Israel for the peace process, but requires nothing of the Palestinians.

Israel should absolutely be held to account for its actions, but so should the Palestinians, don't you think?

I don't get it, Splash.

Dave Splash said...

Ummm...I think this is the basic point of the article. In the US, the pro-Israel lobby has boxed people into a corner with a "with us or against us" argument, that doesn't allow for any criticism of the country at all, and essentially requires blind obedience to whatever policy the government engages in.

I completely reject your characterization of President Obama's dealings with Israel. I think it is a highly selective recitation of the last two years of diplomatic efforts. But, regardless, would you accept being called anti-American simply because you reject the policies of our current government?

You attack our president on a daily basis. You criticize everything he does and says. Every initiative, every bill, every plan. Yet, you're not anti-American are you?

That is what the vast majority of American Jews want for Israel: to be against the current government, but not against the state itself. Blind obedience is not something that Jews deal with very well.

As for the Palestinians, they are held accountable for their actions. In fact, the entire population is being held "accountable" for the actions of a few. But, you know, go to Israel, if you've never been. It's a beautiful place. But if you have the guts, take a trip into the territories and see how those people have to live. It is a living hell. There are some of the worst living conditions and oppressive poverty in the world in Gaza, for example. I'm not comfortable as a Jew with their mistreatment being done in my name. It is wrong and immoral.

I love Israel, and want it to succeed. But the occupation is ruining the country. It's been over 40 years, and it has done nothing but drag Israel down. What I don't get, is why in America, I'm constantly being told that if I don't agree with everything the Israeli government does, I'm anti-Israel. There is almost no serious debate/discussion of the reality in Israel. There is serious debate in Israel, but not here.

That is the point of the article. Younger people don't support the government's policies, but still support the country. Seems perfectly logical to me.

Dave Splash said...

I do think you have fallen victim to some anti-Palestinian propaganda (not painting them as saints by any means, but your characterization is not too accurate, especially of the ones from the West Bank), but frankly, that is not relevant to this posting.

The comparison is apt, though, because all Jews are citizens of Israel in one way or another. If I decided to move there, I would be a citizen automatically, and could keep my US citizenship as well. Israel's economy is heavily dependent on tourism, and especially Jewish tourism. If Jews from outside Israel are told that they either follow whatever the current Israeli government's policies are, without question, or you are "anti-Israel" or worse "anti-semitic" that is ridiculous. Younger Jews are finding themselves disconnected from Israel, and this is a huge problem for the country's future. It is a greater problem than the Palestinians, and some loudmouth in Iran.

The thing is, in Israel, there is much more of a real debate on the future of the territories and the treatment of the Palestinians, and public opinion is divided. In America, Jews are denied the basic principle of disagreeing. It is a real problem.

But what I find so confusing is why the right in this country cares more about the feelings of Benjamin Netanyahu (who has been difficult to work with throughout his career under three different administrations) than the President of the United States. It is in the strategic interest of the US to settle the Palestinian state issue. The President is pushing Israel and the Palestinians to finally make some very difficult final status decisions, and yeah, there is some pushback. Leadership is not easy.

But when members of the Netanyahu government call Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod "self-hating Jews" because they have a different opinion, and the Prime Minister's own brother called Obama "anti-Semitic" (both clearly bogus), why did the right-wing only criticize Obama and not stand up for America? If some backbench cabinet member of any ally nation criticized the Bush Administration like that - so personally and publicly - you guys would have been outraged, and justifiably so. Same with this situation.

T. Paine said...

I understand and actuallly have some appreciation for your point, Dave.

The problem is that it would appear to me that President Obama is asking for nearly all of the concilliatory measures to come from Israel and yet he requests next to nothing from the Palestinians.

I would agree that the settlements need to stop, as Obama has asked. By that same token, the Palestinians need to stop launching rockets into Israel's cities every single time an opportunity presents itself.

They both should agree to the joint administration of Jerusalem, or let it be an international city run by neither side, if they cannot come to terms on this.

The "right of return" for the Palestinian refugees to the Jewish state is a non-starter. If Israel were to do so, it would cease being a Jewish state.

The corruption and terrorism that is perpetrated by Hamas and Hezbollah in the name of the Palestinians must be eradicated. They obviously have no intention of stopping, especially if that is the cost of peace though.

I don't know all the answers on this, nor does anyone else apparently. I simply am sympathetic to the plight of Israel as it's very survival is at stake.

I am also sympathetic to the ordinary people of the Palestinian territories. I am less so of their corrupt and inept leadership, although I think Abbas is infinitely better than the terrorist Arafat was.

Criticism of Israel by American Jews is fine and sometimes absolutely in order, but I wonder if many of these same people truly understand the necessity of much of the distasteful practices that Israel must do simply to exist.

That is where the disconnect is, in my opinion, sir.

Dave Splash said...

I agree with many of those points (i.e. right of return, administration of Jerusalem, etc), but you just put yourself squarely in the moderate to liberal camp on Israel. Any candidate for federal office in America who said explicitly that they favored dividing Jerusalem would have AIPAC so far up their butt they would never get elected.

It's the rigidity and refusal to compromise in any way that has paralyzed this process and made it so difficult for some Israeli supporters - like me - to remain involved. Likuud elected officials in Israel actually compared being asked to halt settlements to the Holocaust. WTF?