The Lost Intellectual Maturity of Human Rights


Teenagers of my generation have a wonderful new religion. It is not Christianity. It is not Islam. It is not Judaism. It is human rights. It is peace. It is rainbows. It is feel-good protests. It is a burning desire to let everyone have their rights. It is the piercing will to fight for everyone’s right to live in peace, without getting off Twitter. (It is also the aching wish to claim the title of “human rights activist,” write it on a resume, and not actually break a sweat.)

Ever passionate and self-righteous, teenagers’ attitudes toward the world around them rarely change. Their collective interests and fads, however, do. Consequently, the new “rage” is rights. LGBTQ+ rights, black rights, Palestinian rights, Israeli rights, etc. We are a crowd of rainbow- hugging peaceniks who want peace for everyone. We are a hardcore team of Zionists which chants that Israel can do no wrong (and has never done wrong) and always grants equal rights to everyone. We are a band of (horribly misled) BDS-ers that want to “end the occupation” and “fight for human rights!” This is not to say that fighting for rights is a bad thing-- on the contrary-- but do we always know what we are fighting for and how we are fighting for it? Or are we being spoon-fed facts to spit out about a cause that looked impressive on a resume and worthy of our attention?

We are seduced by “pro-Israel and pro-Palestine.” (Sound familiar?) We are enchanted by promises of “pro-human rights organizations.”

We are painfully insecure.

We aren’t sure that we’re doing the right thing. We need the stability of knowing that we indeed are. We need an activist group, full of other equally insecure teenagers and a few adults who reassure us of our objectivity and righteous ways. We need something that protects rights-- of Palestinians, of settlers, of the LGBTQ+. We need our Peter Beinarts and Stav Shaffirs cheering us on at conferences as we complacently nod our heads and swallow whatever information they feed us, rarely stopping to digest it. Free trips and prestigious titles pull teenagers into the security of never questioning what our beloved organizations tell us. We fall into our comfortable cradles of human rights and never actually think about what we’re advocating and how we’re doing it. We gratefully accept and distribute truth in pamphlets and brochures. After all, we were “specially selected from an outstanding group to promote values or peace and justice in the region.”

Every youth organization that has anything to do with Israel advocacy (be it for or against it) has an agenda that rarely involves questioning a dogma-- of centrist balance, leftist peacenik-ism or rightist assertiveness. Leftists rarely think about their unflinching support of Obama since it is their dogma, and they preach it, without exception, to us all. Rightists rarely think about how their pamphlets may be one-sided before handing them out to hundreds at pro-Israel rallies. Teenagers rarely think about how their attachment to a certain brand of rights (and resumes and free trips) can damage Israel and their beloved human rights.

By feeding a one-sided story to our youth advocates of Israel, we deprive them of the intellectual maturity needed to actively engage (and defeat) the BDS, argue against the “pro-human rights, anti-Israel-rights” activists and find the nuanced flaws in anti-Israel media. And until we teach young defenders of Israel to think critically about its most pressing issues (rather than to memorize specific answers), we will lose the fight to the “human rights activists” who, in reality, care very little for human rights at all.