How do we address Jews within our community who seem to see the conflict solely through the Palestinian lens?
Last week, Philadelphia Jewry got a direct taste of the anti-Israel venom taking aim at Jews around the world over Israel’s war with Hamas. But this time the animosity wasn’t emanating from ignorant Jew-haters shouting Nazi-inspired epithets and attacking Jewish properties.
In some ways it was worse: This attack came from Jews themselves. Though there has long been a smattering of Jews at pro-Palestinian demonstrations around the city, this time, Jewish Voice for Peace, a notorious leader in the boycott movement against Israel, used subterfuge to gain entry to the Jewish Community Services Building in Center City on Aug. 8.
Once in, they refused to leave until their demands were met. Among those, they wanted Federation CEO Naomi Adler to arrange a meeting with the head of Jewish Federations of North America to deliver a petition that accused Jewish leadership of standing “with the oppressor rather than the oppressed.”
The saddest aspect of these misguided millennials (there were a few middle-agers in their midst as well) is that many of them come from strong Jewish backgrounds, with experiences like Jewish overnight camp and Hebrew school. They recite Jewish prayers and sing Jewish songs that too many of their contemporaries wouldn’t even recognize.
Yet nowhere in their petition — or in their recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish — did they express one iota of concern or sympathy for the Israelis, who spent the summer under a barrage of rocket attacks and who lost young soldiers’ lives battling terrorists who built tunnels for the sole purpose of murdering and kidnapping Jews. We can understand empathy for Palestinian casualties, but it’s much harder to comprehend a Jewish view that sees the conflict solely through the Palestinian lens.
The question is: How do we address this phenomenon? As college students begin to return to campuses, we are likely to see an upsurge of anti-Israel activity, to which many young adults are susceptible. Even before the war, the climate on some campuses made it intolerable for even the most liberal pro-Israel students.
Now is the time to redouble communal and philanthropic efforts to support Israel educational initiatives and advocacy programs. In doing so, these programs and educators have to be careful not to come on in such a way that they alienate those with genuine questions. At the same time, they must provide a strong platform from which to help young adults understand the history and context of the long Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as understand Israel beyond the conflict.
We need to work harder to ensure that young Jews, when talking “peace,” are not ready to throw Israel to the wind.