‘Everyone” knows that young American Jews are abandoning Israel. Leftists particularly blame Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightwing, pro-Orthodox, anti-Palestinian government, claiming, as Peter Beinart did in 2010, that young American Jews are tired of checking “their liberalism at Zionism’s door.” By contrast, rather than blaming Netanyahu or Israel’s policies, rightists blame America’s cowardly, disloyal Jews.
The report – whose first author is my Taglit-Birthright Israel colleague and friend Professor Leonard Saxe – discovered that one-third of Jewish college students surveyed reported “having been verbally harassed during the past year because they were Jewish.” Even more astonishing, “nearly three-quarters of respondents report having been exposed at least occasionally during the past year to at least one of six antisemitic statements, including the claims that Jews have too much power and that Israelis behave ‘like Nazis’ toward the Palestinians.”
Most Jewish students today are sophisticated. Most distinguish between criticizing Israel and Jew hatred.
They see that the new Jew hatred begins with a harsh, disproportionate, obsessive overreaction against Israeli policies. It has now metastasized into open season on Jews and Jewish sensibilities for fanatic students and professors who call themselves “progressive” but are acting abominably, betraying liberalism with their intolerance, insensitivity and insane support for totalitarian terrorists against democratic Israel.
In response, most Jewish students are not abandoning Israel. The Jew haters – and BDS/boycott proponents – have become the most effective on-campus recruiters for Jewish involvement and the pro-Israel movement since detestable Yasser Arafat died. Saxe and his team surveyed 3,199 students who had applied to attend Taglit-Birthright this year, some of whom did not participate because (potential donors take note) there was not enough room for them. The pre-trip pool was large enough – and politically diverse enough – to provide a representative sample of young Jewish college students.
Both the Hamas war against Israeli civilians last summer and the campus war against the Jews this academic year increased Jews’ support for Israel: one-third “report feeling ‘very much’ connected to Israel and another third report feeling ‘somewhat’ connected.” These figures are higher in 2015 than in 2014. They reflect a decade-long trend, whereby twenty-somethings feel more connected to Israel than thirty-somethings, because of the Birthright Bounce.
Visiting Israel and seeing the real Israel intensifies Jews’ (and non-Jews’) connection to Israel.
Yes, there are disturbing signs that six years of a president who is increasingly hostile to Israel, er, excuse me, I meant to write “Israel’s Best Friend Ever,” is taking its toll. A new Los Angeles Jewish Journalpoll shows that while most Israelis fear President Barack Obama’s too-generous Iran deal, 49 percent of American Jews support the deal and 31% oppose it (among all Americans 28% support the deal while 24% oppose it). The pollster Frank Luntz recently reported that well-educated, wealthy, activist Democrats, whom he dubbed the “opinion elites,” increasingly consider Israel a racist country resisting peace with Palestinians and exerting too much influence on US foreign policy.
In short, the Obama Effect – I mean “Israel’s Best Friend Ever” effect – is intensified by the anti-Semitic propagandizing on college campuses, poisoning typical college graduates, who become America’s “opinion elites.”
This growing epidemic of campus Jew hatred requires a three-pronged strategy. First, every college president, every college administrator, every college tuition check-casher, must launch a “zero tolerance” campus policy toward true Jew hatred – not Israel criticism. Thirty-two percent of Jewish students feeling “harassed” is completely unacceptable.
These insults have become tolerated, politically correct macro-aggressions even though administrators do not tolerate the slightest micro-aggressions against other minorities. That disparity itself is bigoted.
Fight Jew hatred as a modern Jewish civil rights issue; as a consumer protection issue, because students are paying too much money to feel unsafe; and as an educational malpractice issue because hijacking college courses to perpetuate bigotry and hatred is not about academic freedom but is about classroom abuse, by professors or students.
Second, remember that fighting for Israel is fighting against terrorism; against nuclear proliferation in the Middle East; and for openness, democracy, human rights, individualism, equality and collective self-determination, the core values of Zionism opposed by real Palestinianism, as opposed to the romanticized Palestinianism imagined on campus.
Finally, advocating for Israel must be the outcome, not the goal or primary focus of a broader campaign to build Jewish pride, Jewish identity and a deep, enduring, pro-Zionist Israel connection. Judaism has survived by having a positive vision, not just a defensive position. Zionism built a state by planting trees, not fighting fires.
Our enemies are stumbling, unintentionally encouraging Jewish undergraduates to rally around Israel and Judaism. Let’s intensify that Jew-jitsu, to forge a modern, inspiring, Jewish community that is welcoming, nurturing and challenging, spiritually, ideologically, psychically.
It is more important to renew Jewish and Zionist identity than to score points against anti-Zionists. Let Jew haters stew in their poisons as we blossom amid all our old-new intellectual, ethical and emotionally satisfying nutrients.