Hi, this is Phil Weiss, filling in for Michael Arria this week.For a while we’ve pointed out how much energy the Anti-Defamation League spends attacking anti-Zionists, including younger Jews, as supposed antisemites. Now the American Jewish Committee has thrown in. I watched a few hours of the AJC’s conference this month in New York, and my jaw dropped as speaker after speaker directed criticism at young Jews for not standing up for Israel.
The entire organization has signed up to the angry lament of its outgoing director, David Harris: “What are we doing wrong in our homes? What are we doing wrong in our schools? What is it that brings shame among some?”
The answer is, you can’t sell apartheid to idealist young people, but the AJC can’t hear that part.
Here are several voices from the conference’s opening and closing sessions earlier this month beating the war drums against the next generation.
Author Abigail Pogrebin despaired to Ted Deutch, the incoming director of the AJC, that young Jews won’t stand up for Israel.It’s harder for those under 30 to stand strong. We’re both seeing it. We have kids in their 20s. It’s a constant conversation at AJC. It’s gotten harder than it has ever has in my lifetime to stand up particularly with the pressures that are virulent on social media in May 2021 [during the Israeli assault on Gaza]. You know the challenges. The number of young people who are hiding their Jewishness [saying] It’ s not just a headache, it’s not worth the fight, I’m going to be canceled or attacked.
Deutch, a Florida congressman until he assumes his new position, said the next generation is the ballgame. And he said the mission of the AJC is to try to give those reluctant young Jews a spine.You have to prepare the young people to be advocates. People who aren’t comfortable but they want to [advocate].
That means telling “a very positive story” about Israel, Deutch said. Its technology foster agricultural production in food-insecure countries and battles climate change. “Our young people should feel comfortable telling it.” (And when people point to the human rights reports that say Israel practices apartheid, Deutch calls them antisemites.)
New York Times columnist Bret Stephens was pessimistic. He said you can “feel the energy” of young Jews turning away from Israel. Something really has “gone wrong” with the Jewish community, he said.”
The turn away from Israel is extraordinarily worrying for a variety of reasons… For millions of secular minded American Jews, Israel was the glue, Israel was the cause, Zionism was an effective and powerful and emotionally satisfying substitute for religious observance that many people found themselves leaving behind… At the height of last year’s war, so many young American Jews were eagerly signing letters denouncing Israel’s behavior with nary a word to say about suffering of Jews in bunkers under rocket fire… That should have been another moment for us to worry about what has gone wrong with the American Jewish community.
Again– no acknowledgment of Israel’s human rights abuses and unending occupation. Stephens even said antisemitism was gaining a foothold in the Congress, witness the introduction of a bill to commemorate the Nakba, the creation of 750,000 Palestinian refugees during the establishment of Israel.Daniel Pincus of the AJC bewailed the choice that young Jews face on campus. Social justice causes that Jews have traditionally allied themselves with, including women’s rights and LGBTQ rights groups, “demand a renunciation of Zionism,” he said. So, “What are proud Jews to do with this clash of core aspects of their identities?”
Pincus turned to Rachel Fish, an Israel educator, who said Zionists should take no prisoners. No, those young Jews have to learn to stand up to the “blood libel” against Israel.I get calls from those students… The majority of those students desperately want to be accepted by the group whatever it may be [feminist, LGBTQ, or other minority groups]… and they beg for a crumb to be accepted into that room. I have to tell you, it is all of our jobs to actually tell them to stop begging and stand up. We need to get them to stand up, to stand extremely tall and have the moral courage to recognize those organizations and individuals are engaging in acts [of antisemitism]
The AJC trotted out a number of young Jews who are standing up for Israel on campus. For instance, Natalie Kahn, president of the Harvard Hillel and an associate news editor at the Harvard Crimson, said that Zionists need to fight anti-Zionist fire with fire.”We are losing the marketing game and letting the loudest voices win while we attempt to play nice and let them walk all over us… We let the cancel culture mob ally with BDS supporters and now activists have channeled their fervor to the wrong side. People are afraid to go big, go loud, and create controversy.”
Obviously I have a bias, but I think the AJC strategy will fail because more and more young Jews are seeing that Israel has no desire to end the occupation– no Judea and Samaria are the crowning glory of the biblical Jewish state– so they will simply walk away from ethnonationalism (as both Bret Stephens and Eric Alterman say they are doing). And I’m hardly the first person to say that when people in their 70s scold young adults, it doesn’t work. You’d think that the AJC might spend a minute or two confronting the racist and murderous conduct that is driving young people away from Israel. No, the AJC can’t face that.
I heard only one intelligent response as I watched the AJC forum: Hebrew Union College president Andrew Rehfeld who said that the Jewish community “must allow diverse opinions within our communities flourishing about the very things we are challenged about.” He included BDS (which he opposes). “I believe we need to have broader shoulders, wider hallways for conversations, and not alienate our very people, our young people, who want those conversations.”
Rehfeld’s was a lonely reasonable voice. I think it’s just a matter of time before the AJC’s smashmouth strategy completely implodes. Or runs out of rightwing donors.
–Because as our Palestine bureau is documenting, Israel has no answers to inequality besides violence. This week there were four more killings of young Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, three by Israeli forces, and a fourth man killed by Jewish settlers seeking to take more Palestinian land.
–Oh and that’s why the one-year-old “Change” government fell in Israel. It sought to extend the apartheid law that governs the West Bank, and failed only because the further-rightwing parties wouldn’t sign on, in an effort to bring back the most popular leader in Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu.
–Speaking of anti-Zionism’s growth, there was a fascinating discussion this week between Beth Miller, the political director of JVP Action, and Robert Herbst, co-chair of the board of ICAHD, about the politics of Palestine. Miller is very positive. She said the movement is much further along than she would have thought five years ago. “People weren’t talking about conditioning military funding” to Israel in Washington then. “Now it’s constantly being discussed.”
That discussion will only widen, Miller said, as organizers publicize Israel’s human rights record. She looks forward to the day when overwhelmingly Americans conclude, “We shouldn’t be sending money to an apartheid regime.
”Miller acknowledged the power of the pro-Israel organizers. Progressive Summer Lee was up by 24 points in polls for the Democratic congressional primary in Pittsburgh last month and won by a nose thanks to millions spent for her mainstream opponent by AIPAC and Democratic Majority for Israel. Miller also explains why JVP Action is not endorsing incumbent Rep. Jamaal Bowman in New York. “Jamaal Bowman has done a lot in Congress that’s been really good for the Palestinian rights movement, and he’s done a lot that has not been good for the Palestinian rights movement… We have to change the political calculus for everyone.”
–And speaking of the lobby’s power, AIPAC isn’t starving. “Republican billionaires Paul Singer and Bernie Marcus each gave $1 million to the United Democracy Project in May as the new AIPAC-affiliated super PAC has intervened in Democratic primaries in NC, PA, TX, MD, and CA,” says Shane Goldmacher of the New York Times notes.
I see in Wikipedia that Singer is 77 and Marcus is 93. So no wonder the AJC has an outdated strategy. Like every other rightwing Israel lobby group it depends on older Zionists who have a ton of money.
— There was quite a setback this week. A federal appeals court ruled that Arkansas’s anti-boycott-of-Israel law is not an unconstitutional violation of free speech. The Arkansas Times joined by the ACLU had sued over the law, which requires anyone who receives state funding to pledge not to endorse boycotts of Israel; and they argued that boycotts are a longstanding element of political speech.
The very conservative court said that boycotts are strictly commercial activity, “not expressive,” and the state can regulate them. Pretty much what 28 states have argued in imposing these absurd rules on folks who don’t want to underwrite apartheid.
ACLU attorney Brian Hauss pointed out the important political history of boycott in a comment to the Arkansas Times. “This country was founded on a boycott of British goods and… boycotts have been a fundamental part of American political discourse ever since.
”The Times said it expects to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, and that overwhelming reader support for its position has cushioned the blow. Alan Leveritt, the Times publisher, is inspiring: “We consider being banned from doing business with our state government for refusing to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel a ridiculous government overreach that has nothing to do with Arkansas.”
|Stay safe out there,|
Phil Weiss,Founder and Senior Editorphil@mondoweiss.net