US Jewry failed to teach its youth about Israel, here is the result

What was needed during the Gaza fighting when anti-Israel protests were taking place was a massive rally in support of Israel.

A participant burns an Israeli flag mockup during a protest to condemn Washington's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, outside the U.S. embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia December 15, 2017 (photo credit: BEAWIHARTA BEAWIHARTA/ REUTERS)
A participant burns an Israeli flag mockup during a protest to condemn Washington's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, outside the U.S. embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia December 15, 2017
(photo credit: BEAWIHARTA BEAWIHARTA/ REUTERS)
The Jewish Democratic Council of America, an organization that describes itself as “the voice for Jewish Democrats and socially progressive, pro-Israel and Jewish values,” put out a statement Tuesday highlighting results of a poll showing that 80% of Jewish voters support the job Joe Biden is doing as president.
The statement listed 10 of the “most critical findings about Jewish voters” in the poll conducted by the Jewish Electorate Institute. This included that 76% voted for Biden over Donald Trump in 2020; 68% would vote for the Democratic candidate if the 2022 midterm elections were held today; 74% approved of Biden’s approach to Israel; and 61% of Jewish voters were more concerned about antisemitism originating from the Right than from the Left (22%).
What didn’t make the top 10 was that 28% of those polled – and 38% of those under 40 – agreed with the statement that “Israel is an apartheid state”; 23% of those polled and 33% under 40 agreed that “Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians”; and fully one-fifth of American Jews under the age of 40 agreed with the statement that “Israel doesn’t have the right to exist.”
Not listing those findings in the “top 10” is an example of what journalists call “burying the lede,” or putting the most salient information way down in the story.
It’s obvious why the JDCA would want to downplay those figures. Nevertheless, those figures are astounding and much more significant than stating the obvious – that Jews voted overwhelmingly for Biden in 2020.
If one-fourth of American Jews truly think – as this poll claims, but which some observers of the American Jewish community find hard to believe – that Israel is an apartheid state committing genocide against the Palestinians, then there is something woefully wrong. And what is wrong is with American Jewry, not with Israel.
Israel is neither an apartheid state nor committing genocide. So if a third of American Jews under the age of 40 think otherwise, it shows that they either have absolutely no understanding of Israel’s reality or are influenced to an astonishing degree by the hard Left, which aims to demonize the Jewish state.
IN EITHER case, it bespeaks a dim situation. While some may argue that this is Israel’s fault and a result of its policies, others could counter that this shows the degree to which American Jewry has failed to adequately inform and educate its youth about Israel. This is a problem that clearly has ramifications for Israel, but is first and foremost a problem that American Jewry needs to address.
And the way to address it is not by keeping Israel at arm’s length. The way to address it is not to stop talking about Israel, but, rather, to talk about it more and more, to inform about the realities here.
Dozens of American Jewish organizations sponsored a rally in the shadow of the Capitol in Washington on Sunday called “No Fear: A Rally In Solidarity With The Jewish People.’’ The impetus behind the rally was the spike of antisemitic incidents in the US since the Gaza conflagration in May.
The organizers, realizing that Israel is a divisive issue among American Jews, played down the Israel angle – notice that it does not appear in the name of the protest. The reason was that they did not want to chase away any left-wing Jewish organizations that do not view strident anti-Zionism as antisemitism per se.
The idea, said Elisha Wiesel, the son of the late Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel and a major force behind the event, was to create a big tent into which all could enter.
Except that didn’t work, as organizations like Americans for Peace Now and J Street stayed away because they reportedly thought the gathering conflated criticism of Israel with antisemitism. So into that “big tent” in the nation’s capital – within a four-hour journey for millions of Jews who live on the eastern seaboard – entered a mere 2,000-3,000 people.
MARTIN LUTHER KING’S famed 1963 March on Washington this wasn’t. Nor was it a rally like the one that drew 250,000 for Soviet Jewry in 1987, or 100,000 in support of Israel during the height of the Second Intifada in 2002.
A rally against antisemitism a week after a rabbi was stabbed in Boston and a few weeks after Jews were beaten up eating at a sushi restaurant in Los Angeles and walking in the Diamond District in Midtown Manhattan drew only 2,000-3,000 people.
Or, as a Washington Post headline read, “Hundreds denounce antisemitism during a rally at Capitol.”
“Hundreds attend a rally” – talk about underwhelming.
And that underwhelming response is a problem. A rally like this is not meant solely for the Jewish community, but, rather, to leave an impression on the general public, to show that those rallying were – to quote from the classic film Network – “mad as hell, and not going to take it anymore.” Two thousand people do not exactly send that message.
Instead, another message was sent by the rally and the refusal on ideological grounds of certain Jewish organizations to take part: Jews are getting assaulted in major cities, yet they are debating among themselves about what exactly constitutes antisemitism.
If a Jew gets beaten up in New York during an Israeli military operation in Gaza by angry Palestinians, is that being anti-Israel or antisemitic? That these types of debates are not fantastical at a time when Jews are being bullied, harassed and stabbed, and as Israel – the home of more than six million Jews – is being demonized, is stunning.
THIS BRINGS us back to the survey. Perception is important. A perception is gaining traction in the US that American Jews are turning on Israel, especially young American Jews. This was especially true during the recent fighting in Gaza, when one report after the next appeared in the media – most based on the same spokespeople from the same left-wing Jewish organizations – chronicling this “phenomenon.”
Polls showing that a third of young American Jews view Israel as an apartheid state committing genocide will only boost that perception. And if American Jews don’t support Israel, and in fact view it as evil, then – non-Jewish Americans and their elected representatives could legitimately ask themselves – why should they?
What was needed in May during the Gaza fighting when anti-Israel protests were taking place across America was a massive central rally in support of Israel.
Not a rally about antisemitism, but in support of Israel to make it clear that American Jews have not turned their backs on the Jewish state, that they still feel passionate about the defense of the country, and that it is possible to come out and publicly support Israel even if you don’t like all its leaders or support every last one of its policies.
To those who would argue that such a rally in support of Israel would not be a big draw, or would turn certain prospective participants away, and that what was needed was a theme – like antisemitism – around which all Jews could rally, the reply now is that a protest against antisemitism in Washington was just held, at a time when antisemitism in America is at a peak, and only 2,000 people showed up.
It is not clear whether a major pro-Israel rally, pure and simple, would have brought more people out. But what is clear is that a demonstration against antisemitism, something that for Jews should be the equivalent of being for motherhood and apple pie, didn’t do the trick – even though the focus, so as not to offend, was not primarily on Israel.