Addressing The Discomfort Young Liberals Feel With Israel
Tue, 11/29/2011
Special To The Jewish Week
Mike Prashker
Mike Prashker

During a recent conversation about the circumstances, future and significance of Israel for liberally minded North American Jews, the 20-something scion of a prestigious American Jewish family, with long Jewish and Zionist credentials, made a clearly painful confession; “To tell you the truth, Israel disgusts me.”

While I am well practiced in arguing with many kinds of “Israel skeptics,” the harshness of this outburst, and coming from this particular person, left a deep impression. I worried about this person’s relationship with Israel and with Judaism, and I worried that such negativity and even outright hostility towards Israel is not uncommon today among younger Jews.

How did such a troubling rift develop, and how can we go about fixing it, for the sake of all concerned?

The obvious explanation is, of course, that many of the things that have happened and are now happening in Israel are deeply disturbing by pretty much every decent-minded Jewish and liberal-democratic criterion. Most recently we have seen a concerted assault on Israel’s democracy by many elected leaders, often with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s support. This attack has featured proud contempt for the basic rights and feelings of all “others” and the cynical deployment of democratic mechanisms — a parliamentary majority — to undermine fundamental democratic and basic Jewish values.

But closer to home, when sensible and nuanced liberal American Jews have rightly been appalled by actions here, these same Jews invariably stop short of finding “America disgusting.” They rather find specific eras, policies, trends, movements or individuals to be “disgusting.”

This profound inconsistency is related to a broadly held tendency to relate to Israel’s establishment, history and the uniquely complex realities it now faces, in entirely unrealistic ways. While Israel’s many international detractors and outright enemies have always viewed all aspects of Israeli history and society as unreasonably black, many friends and Jews around the world have too often viewed Israel through an entirely unrealistic rose-tinted lens. 

One result of this long-standing delusion for liberally minded Jews around the world — and also for many liberally inclined Jewish-Israelis — is a profound sense of mourning for something that never existed. The result is disgust and disengagement at critical juncture of both danger and opportunity, exactly when we so desperately need hope and principled engagement.

The reality is that from its bloody birth, Israel has struggled with every kind of obstacle imaginable as related to humanistic Jewish and democratic traditions.

Rather than teaching, learning and mourning an idyllic past of social justice that never did or could exist, the current meta-struggle for Israel’s Jewish and democratic soul can also be seen as a necessary step forward. Truthfully, after decades of avoidance, the many diverse and previously excluded groups in Israeli society are now staking their claim; to judge, work, marry, pray, participate and live — as equals.

Seen in this light, Israel’s journey and current democratic anguish can be better understood and even compared to America’s epic and inevitably unfinished journey towards greater inclusion and opportunities for all.

Indeed, recent public-opinion polling conducted for Kulanana, a new collaboration of NGO, businesses, governments and philanthropies committed to making Israel fairer for all its citizens, paints a far more nuanced and positive picture about what Israeli citizens of all backgrounds actually want.

Despite the very troubling state of inter-group attitudes and relations that our research revealed, our research also identified substantial grounds for hope and significant potential for change:

For example, even in the current atmosphere of extreme tension and suspicion, Israelis of all groups condemn discrimination on a number of different levels, including on a moral and existential level: between 65 and 80 percent of all sectors agree with arguments that discrimination is immoral, damaging and dangerous. The principle of fairness towards all citizens by all citizens, regardless of identity, is accepted by broad majorities of Israelis — of all backgrounds.

Both Jewish and Arab citizens are aware that guarantees to equal rights as stated in Israel’s declaration of Independence are far from the current reality. Under these conditions, it is not surprising that majorities express dissatisfaction with the direction in which Israeli society is currently headed: over 60 percent among Jewish and Arab respondents said so, while less than 30 percent said things are going in the “right” direction.

Israelis under 30, while disturbingly less accepting of “others” than their elders, display greater curiosity than adults towards “other” citizens. This curiosity can be leveraged for the strategic design of a campaign to improve inter-group attitudes.

In addition to our public opinion research, the experience we have gathered in creating an initial coalition of 20 NGO partners representing the full diversity of Israeli society has demonstrated a strong interest among civil society organizations in working together to serve consensual society-building goals.

So now, faced with unprecedented dangers to and opportunities for moving toward our ideal Israel, it is essential to educate, engage and catalyze the energies of all those who can help Israel press forward on its epic journey. This must include creative, young liberally inclined Jews around the world whose values, skills and voices are now needed more than ever.

Mike Prashker is founder and director of Merchavim-The Institute for the Advancement of Shared Citizenship in Israel, and founder of Kulan

 

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I found your article a bit feckless - and spineless. Young Jews who "hate" israel are the product of their hippee liberal parents who never understood that nations have to fight to be free. Most jews never understood the notion of "nationalism" or "patriotism" because they havent had a country of their own since 70ad. "Liberal" jews are the worst kind because they are also advancing the jihad against israel - who never learned their own history (they dont know where josephs tombs is of who is buried there - hence why Israel is NOT an occupier of Judea and Samaria) etc etc - is the picture getting clearer..

Wow. You have no understanding of why people hate israel. It's the hypcrisy, stupid.

Israel's "right to exist" is based on one thing and one thing only: Might. Add to this the fact that Western jews (secular and orthodox) are busily advocating and promoting massive immigration into the US and Europe as well as multiculturalism (which is, frankly, suicidal to the existing native cultures) all the while openly advocating or silent when it comes to israel's ethno-nationalism, which is protected by explicitly racist immigration and anti-miscegenation laws.

That this causes a degree of cognitive dissonance among liberal American jews is actually a healthy sign that they are becoming, to paraphrase that ignorant red-neck goy George Bernard Shaw, human beings and not merely jews.

'Most recently we have seen a concerted assault on Israel’s democracy by many elected leaders, often with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s support. This attack has featured proud contempt for the basic rights and feelings of all “others” and the cynical deployment of democratic mechanisms — a parliamentary majority — to undermine fundamental democratic and basic Jewish values.'

What a lie. On the contrary, the laws you refer you are increasing and protecting democracy. Israel has become a left-wing judicial dictatorship where non-elected ashkenazi secular judges decide for everybody and in contradiction to the law. The elected representatives of the people are just reasserting the sovereign rule of the people. Don't believe the spins from the far-left extremists in Israel - most people in Israel support what this government is doing.

Mr. Prashker said, 'Most recently we have seen a concerted assault on Israel’s democracy by many elected leaders, often with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s support. This attack has featured proud contempt for the basic rights and feelings of all “others” and the cynical deployment of democratic mechanisms — a parliamentary majority — to undermine fundamental democratic and basic Jewish values.'
When one considers that Israel is surrounded by nations that are in the midst of many thousands of the most barbaric acts of violence EVER committed in history by governments against their own people, I don't know what can be said to Mr. Prashker that would shake him off of his self-important perch. Let me start by suggesting that rich, liberal, US Jews have little idea what the real world is like outside of their well-protected, well-insulated environment, so it really doesn't matter that a few snobs find Israel 'disgusting'. I am pretty sure you are a well-meaning guy who wants to see Israel do better. Congratulations, but self-righteous criticism of the popular, conservative government in Israel is NOT an endearing quality and it will not accomplish what you say you want.

The key here is "prestigious Jewish family" which means wealthy. Which means this is a kid who never had a tough day in his life, or even a fist fight in high school. Enough with the angst of spoiled children.

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