Let’s stop patronizing the new generation
In the Jewish world today, if you’re young and cool and love to criticize Israel, community leaders will treat you with kid gloves, because they’re afraid of “losing” you. They’re afraid, among other things, that you might join one of those anti-Zionist movements like BDS or Jewish Voices for Peace, or just abandon Israel altogether.
Fear of loss can make people overly timid and deferential.
Take the case of IfNotNow (INN), a young and trendy Jewish activist group that regularly demonstrates against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. These activists are proponents of “Jewish values” who care about Palestinians and are giving Israel a dose of tough love.
Evidently, they believe that the best way to fight the occupation is to demand that it end now, and to demand that other Jewish organizations demand the same. It’s social justice on demand.
Because it’s never too cool to take on young activists who represent the revered “new generation,” there’s a general reluctance in our community and in the Jewish media to criticize INN and its demonstrations. But putting that reluctance aside, I think their PR spectacles can use some criticism. For one thing, they distort the reality of a complicated conflict.
To attract media attention, INN activists like to target high-profile Jewish groups and make an effort to get arrested, as happened last week in front of the AIPAC offices in Los Angeles and last year in the lobby of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) building in New York City. Their message is conveyed in cocky slogans such as, “Moral Jews must resist AIPAC” and “Dayenu—End the Occupation.”
It hardly helps peace to make Israel look like the only bad guy in the conflict.
Now, if I’m a typical Israeli voter who’d love to end the occupation but believes that, at this moment, it will lead to war rather than peace, I might look at such scenes and ask myself: What do these American kids know that I don’t?
To its credit, the ADL called them out last year in a statement from national director Jonathan Greenblatt: “It is unfortunate that INN seems to be more interested in spectacles and ultimatums than in discussion and dialogue grappling with the difficult issues involved in achieving peace. Nevertheless, our doors are open, and our invitation to speak with INN still stands.”
They never took him up on the offer. Indeed, for young activists looking for action and attention, the notion of dialogue must seem dull and tedious. How do you compare a discussion of complex issues with an Instagram photo that makes you look like an anti-establishment rebel?
If there’s one thing rebels don’t like, it’s complications. When I meet with INN sympathizers, I try to offer at least one annoying wrinkle: After Israel leaves the West Bank, I tell them, it’s highly likely that terror groups like Hamas and ISIS will swoop in and start murdering Palestinians, as happened in Gaza. The ensuing chaos and violence would be a disaster for the Palestinians, significantly worse than anything they’re facing now.
That simple point alone gives them pause. It also challenges the delusion that Israel can just snap its fingers and end the occupation, as INN slogans demand.
It takes little courage to yell on a street corner and make demands on the most criticized country on earth. It takes even less courage to go after other Jewish groups because they don’t do things your way. Let’s see if INN activists will ever take on the biggest enemies of peace, those evil forces that make a living delegitimizing the Jewish state and promoting genocidal Jew-hatred.
Maybe one day, we’ll see some Jewish rebels protest outside INN offices and give them a taste of their own medicine. Here’s one idea for a pro-peace sign they can hold up: “Fight Jew-hatred: Are you INN or out?”
It should be clear by now that it hardly helps peace to make Israel look like the only bad guy in the conflict. If INN really wanted to work for peace, it would wrestle with the many difficult issues surrounding the conflict, as Greenblatt invited them to do. Last time I checked, wrestling with difficult issues is also a great Jewish value.
Of course, it’s always easier to just protest and make demands on the Jews, especially if you sense the Jewish establishment is walking on eggshells around you, because it’s so afraid to lose you. But from where I sit, I think we’ll lose the new generation a lot faster if we continue to patronize them and treat them with kid gloves.
Just like INN, I much prefer tough love.