I recently led a periodic outside review of the Young Judaea Year Course, the flagship gap-year non-yeshiva program for American teenagers. I discovered a striking but not surprising anomaly. Although most participants describe this year between high school and college as a “miracle,” “magical,” the best year of my life,” few American Jews bother attending. Only 400 to 600 non-Orthodox American Jews per year choose to spend a year living in Israel after high school. With all the anxiety about Israel’s standing on college campuses and the next generation’s Jewish identity, parents are overlooking an obvious solution to the twin problems.
Last week’s front page of Israel’s Yediot Achranot captured Israel society at its worst. One headline screamed about Tel Aviv youths repeatedly gang raping a 13-year-old, recruiting others to participate or watch. These monsters – and their parents — feeling victimized, blamed the victim, claiming she “consented.” Another headline told of dozens of young Israelis vandalizing a Peruvian archaeological site during an all-night “trance” party-turned-orgy. Blaming police for overreacting, these hedonists claimed they only used drugs and alcohol. Other headlines followed the latest sex and corruption scandals among Israel’s leaders, who, protesting their innocence of course, blamed their accusers for lying.
History teaches that hatred distorts, perverts and diminishes the hater and the hated. For millennia, the Jewish People have been targeted by an irrational, overwhelming force, what historian Robert Wistrich calls the world’s “longest hatred.” Tragically, as this anti-Semitism became illegitimate following the Holocaust, it morphed into anti-Zionism and anti-Israelism, what now may be considered the world’s “trendiest hatred.”
President Barack Obama’s disproportionate pressure on Israel in the peace talks is both one-sided and shortsighted. The central obstruction blocking an Israeli-Palestinian Peace in 2014 remains what it was when Palestinian terrorism undermined Oslo in 2004 and when the PLO resisted accepting Israel’s existence in 1994 and when the PLO began in 1964 – three years before the Six Day War: until the Palestinian leadership becomes more democratic and realistic, truly accepting Israel’s right to exist, the Palestinians will view every peace agreement as temporary, and Israelis will endure more bloodshed – exacerbated by the weakness concessions and territorial withdrawal telegraph. Democracies rarely fight other democracies. If the Palestinians focused on building their own prosperous democratic state rather than targeting Israel, peace would follow. Given those realities, America’s failure to demand and develop Palestinian democracy is a monumental error that risks worsening the conflict.
I first met one of my Jerusalem neighbors on a Shabbat as I returned from synagogue and he was working in his yard. After we chatted for a few minutes, he apologized that his gardening on Saturday included the occasional lawn mower and blower. He hoped the noise would not disturb our Sabbath peace. “No need to apologize,” I replied. “I’m North American. It takes a lot for what you do to hurt me.”
Epistemology – studying the nature of knowledge — is one of those words that academics love and normal people don’t. But thinking about thinking challenges us to understand how people understand things, sensitizing us to assumptions and distortions. It is important to realize that the systematic, longstanding campaign to destroy and delegitimize Israel has created a zero-sum, dualistic epistemology. Israel’s enemies can see Israel only as bad; in reaction, some friends see Israel only as good. With a complex democracy in a dangerous neighborhood viewed through this good or evil, black and white lens, reality becomes distorted. The messiness of life, brimming with nuances and paradoxes, vanishes. While we may not need 50 shades of grey (for SO many reasons), we do need a broader, richer, deeper palette for portraying the Jewish State.
As 14,000 Israel lovers convened Sunday in Washington for AIPAC’s annual policy conference, critics rejoiced that the Big Bad Jewish Lobby was on the ropes, while still claiming the the only reason the US supports Israel is AIPAC. In exaggerating AIPAC’s power while minimizing it, the clashing caricatures rest on subtleties only bigots can believe. Yet, attending my second policy conference, as an invited speaker not a member, I am again struck by what I called last year the sweetness of AIPAC. Rather than the meeting of a political cabal, a Jewish Skull-and-Bones society, this is an all-American, red-white-and-blue-mixes-with-the-blue-and-white, Zionist hootenanny – in both meanings of that Scottish word: as a rousing, joyous, pro-Israel celebration and a true meeting of the minds.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent trip to Israel was triumphal. At a time when Israelis frequently feel criticized, boycotted, abandoned, delegitimized, he represented the silent majority of citizens in the world’s major democracies who not only accept Israel’s right to exist, but cherish Israel’s contribution to the world.
The American Jewish Left loves labeling AIPAC, America’s pro-Israel lobby, as doctrinaire, unrepresentative, and bullying – adjectives which often describe the Far Left itself. This “AIPACing” of AIPAC – caricaturing the broad bipartisan lobby as monolithic and intimidating — reflects another, more insidious, scheme. Increasingly, the barrage of Israel criticism is escalating hopes of ending Israel’s West Bank presence into dreams of ending Israel.
Israelis face two fundamental peace process puzzles: how to stay safe if Israel withdraws from any territories and how to remain ethical if Israel keeps all the territories? These issues require careful analysis and alternating leaps of faith – either trusting the Palestinians to stop seeking Israel’s destruction or imagining away the political and moral problems with undemocratically controlling 2.7 million Palestinians. The latest peace-processing should inspire weighty debates by various smart people explaining their particular security and moral calculus. Alas, instead of the nationwide seminar we need, we get a three-ring circus we could do without, with Secretary of State John Kerry demonized, Israel bullied, and sideshows promoted as main events.