US presidential candidate Donald Trump (L) and Democratic US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As the United States gets closer to electing our next president, it seems that the voices of young American Jews critical of Israel keep growing louder and louder.
What once seemed like healthy criticism as it related to the policies of the Israeli government has now turned into complete and utter disdain for the Holy Land and Zionism.
Frankly, I’m not surprised.
The recent candidacy of Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish, as well as the popularity of groups like J Street have given these young adults, who haven’t experienced the anti-Semitism of their parents’ or grandparents’ generations, newfound confidence to spew angry rhetoric without fear of offense.
A Pew research study on the attitudes of Jewish Americans conducted in 2013 shows that 40 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 29 feel no attachment to the State of Israel and almost 75% feel Israel is not making a sincere effort toward peace. I’d speculate that in today’s political environment that those numbers could be even higher.
There are many reasons for this alarming trend. It’s almost impossible from an American perspective to really grasp the complexities of the Middle East and the deep hate that many of Israel’s neighbors have for both the state and for the Jewish people. Additionally the media has misinformed the American public by painting an unfair and often one-sided picture of Palestinian oppression. This bias has played an integral role in perpetuating the myth that Israel is an evil and autocratic empire crushing anything and anyone standing in its way, especially the Palestinian Arabs.
Additionally, the enemies of Israel and the Jewish people have brilliantly and systematically implanted words that strike a historical nerve with the us, like “occupation,” “oppression” and “genocide,” and have deeply rooted them in the American as well as the global psyche, creating a fallacy that those concepts are synonymous with the State of Israel. They have preyed on our emotions and tapped into our ingrained American culture of “liberty, equality and justice for all,” successfully penetrating our ranks and turning us against each other to such a degree that some Jews, especially the younger generation, are now even questioning the necessity of a Jewish state, calling the concept racist. At the same time America is going through its own polarization, one that includes racial strife, tension between police officers and citizens, homegrown terrorist attacks that have been fueled by hate and a presidential election that has been so polarizing and divisive that it has created a volcanic powder keg, ready to explode at a moment’s notice. No matter who wins, the millennial generation doesn’t think the next president will address their concerns or have any impact on their lives. To them the entire election is one big joke.
All of this has set the stage and created a generational shift in the way that young Jewish Americans view and perceive Israel, and it comes through a cracked lens that can’t be fixed through the traditional pro-Israel strategy that no longer resonates with this group.
The American millennial generation is not only enraged but has a tremendous disdain for the traditional political process.
Unlike the previous two generations that finally came to terms with working from within the system, millennials don’t believe that government can be an agent of change and instead are choosing to work from outside the system. They are so incredibly disillusioned that they are incapable of recognizing the complexities of Israel and lines that are gray, blurred and shift on a daily basis. To them, these political issues are black and white and since they view government as the antithesis of any real solution (although they schizophrenically support social programs fueled by big government), their attitude toward most governmental entities is rage and pure hate.
Their animosity toward Israel is manifesting itself no differently than their disdain for the American government and institutions, including our financial and business sectors.
While I disagree, I have stopped entirely blaming them. We too are at fault for not adjusting our messaging in a more palatable way, in a language that they can understand and that resonates with them.
So where do we go from here? I don’t know. There is certainly no easy answer. Yet, I’m clear about where we shouldn’t go. First, we need to stop the constant barrage of criticism that we continue to lob at this generation and take the time to understand and empathize with their perspective, even when we disagree.
Our deep disdain is no secret.
Millennial bashing has become a “sport” and finally the ramifications of that arrogance are coming back to haunt us. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which I still believe plays a key role in the future of the US-Israel relationship, has done a lackluster job of connecting with millennials and has opened the door for other organizations to polarize and fuel their current divisiveness and anger toward Israel. The understandable hesitation of the previous, pro-Israel generation to criticize any Israeli governmental entity is going to have to change if we plan to gain the respect of millennials.
If not we risk losing an entire generation of Jewish support for the State of Israel.
We recently marked Tisha Be’av, a tragic time for the Jewish people and in many ways history is once again repeating itself. Our Temple was destroyed once because of our own internal battles that pitted Jew against Jew, weakening our resolve, distracting us, then allowing us to be defeated and giving way for our long exile from Israel. Today, part of the failure is ours: we are allowing this to happen again.
Our enemies have weakened our resolve by effectively and successfully creating deep divisions within our ranks by using our deeply rooted belief in “Tikkun Olam,” “repairing the world” and maliciously and manipulatively turning it against us. We took our eye off the ball and now in many ways we are paying the price for our sins.
There are many arrogant voices out there who will say, who cares? We don’t need them, they are unimportant and no threat to the future of Israel and to the rest of the Jewish people. I emphatically disagree. We must give this generation the respect that they deserve. The future of the US-Israel relationship is literally in their hands. If we lose them the repercussions will affect US foreign policy toward Israel for the next 40 years.
That’s not a risk any of us can afford to accept.The author is a political strategist, political columnist and frequent contributor to Miami Herald, MSNBC, The Palm Beach Post and Sun-Sentinel. He is also a member of the POLITICO Caucus team. He was the co-host and producer of the Gray Zone Radio show, a news breaking political talk radio show in Miami Florida. He is now living in Israel.Twitter @FredMenachem