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O My America: “Zionism” as a Dirty Word

October 16, 2013
by Lawrence Bush Oslo-Accords copyLots of folks in the Jewish community are buzzing these days about the Pew survey that shows a high level of irreligiosity among American Jews, as well as a 58 percent rate of intermarriage and other marks of assimilation. Among some in organized secular Jewish circles, there’s almost a celebratory, I-told-you-so feeling: Look how many secular Jews there are for us to organize! But there’s another trend noted in the Pew survey, and it’s nothing to celebrate because of the political reality it reflects: namely, 48% of Jewish Americans expressed the belief that Israel is NOT making a sincere attempt to make peace with the Palestinians — and 25 percent all Jews ages 18-29 expressed the belief that the U.S. is too supportive of Israel. That’s a lot of young Jews who are pissed off about Israel — and justifably so. Some recent conversations I’ve had with young American Jews, including progressive Jewish activists, have me taking that a step even further into the cautionary zone: I see among them a tendency to identify as anti-Zionist. Not as “pro-Israel, non-Zionist,” which is how our magazine used to describe itself, nor as “pro-two-state solution, anti-Occupation,” but as anti-Zionist, period. The nuanced sensibilities of the Israeli peace movement seem to have been obliterated, and the middle ground — between Netanyahu-styie aggressiveness and BDS-style Israel-is-the-problem sentiment — seems to have vanished. Identifying with Zionism seems to be equivalent, to these younger folks’ minds, to identifying with Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians and all the violence associated with it. We’ve been warning about this in Jewish Currents editorials for years — that Israel’s moral legitimacy and international profile required a two-state solution to unfold as quickly as possible — but to see a generational shift underway among progressive Jews is nevertheless painful. People in their twenties and thirties today never experienced the excitement of the Oslo Accords, or even earlier breakthroughs that made a two-state solution seem a plausible, welcome alternative to endless Occupation and tit-for-tat violence. They look at the security Wall without really understanding that it was built less to keep Palestinians locked in than to keep terrorists locked out. Many of them see the two-state solution as a never-ending postponement of Palestinian self-determination, and are drawn to the impossible but oh-so-humanistic one-state solution idea. Likewise, people in their twenties and thirties barely remember the years of relentless Palestinian terrorism against innocent Jews — international terrorism ranging from Argentina to Berlin to Uganda to a Mediterranean cruise ship — and so they barely perceive the mutual responsibility of Israelis and Palestinian leaders, both, for the suffering of Palestinians. Many people in their twenties and thirties, in fact, think of Benjamin Netanyahu and his variously racist allies as Israel’s permanent government. For the past week, we’ve been running “Letter from Birzeit” at our website — a blog by a Arab-speaking American college student who doesn’t quite identify as Jewish and is spending her autumn at Birzeit University on the West Bank. A few readers have communicated privately to me that they are offended by her steady stream of appalled reflections about Israel’s policies, origins, and occupation of the West Bank, and her broken-hearted reporting about Palestinian suffering. (There are also reflections in her posts of Palestinian anti-Semitism, but our blogger seems less aware of, or less appalled by, these.) Some readers want to know why the hell Jewish Currents is publishing such “anti-Israel” material. My answer is that the blog strongly reflects the reputation, accurate or not, that Israel is fostering for itself among progressive young people, including Jews — and that we’d better be aware of it and motivated by it. While our magazine strongly continues to oppose the Occupation and the expanding settlement movement, and to defend the two-state solution as the only answer for both Israel and the Palestinian people’s future, we need to know that our hopes for that solution are disintegrating fast, and that people of good will are being radicalized in ways that will not lead to mutual understanding — nor, in all likelihood, to affirmative Jewish identity. I urge readers to pay attention to the “Letters from Birzeit” series and weigh in with your reactions.