Today a friend directed my attention to an op-ed in the Boston Globe, “The New American Jew on Israel” by Jesse Singal. Singal asks why Jewish college students are less supportive of Israel than in the past, in the context of a talk at Harvard’s Hillel house by J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami. He does not discuss the question of J Street’s lack of legitimacy as a pro-Israel organization, its funding from sources that are anything but pro-Israel, or its recent embarrassment when Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren refused to attend its convention because he found J Street’s policies to be damaging to Israeli interests.
But according to Singal, its position meshes closely with that of many students. Here’s one horrifying example:
…when asked about the prospect of Iran destroying Israel, Harvard Divinity School student Kenan Jaffe, 26, said he thought it was “unlikely.’’
“I also don’t think it’s directly related to the Palestinian question,’’ he said, “and it is only to the extent that if Israel comes to a final status solution with the Palestinians, Iran will have nothing to say about Israel and no reason to make threats against it.’’
Whether or not the Iranian regime will succeed in its oft-stated goal of bringing about an end to the Jewish state by means of its Lebanese and Palestinian proxies or even directly is certainly moot — it won’t happen if Israel has anything to say about it — but the idea that a ‘solution’ of the argument with the Palestinian Arabs, if such were possible, would end the Iranian threat is ludicrous. Iran’s quarrel with Israel has to do with its desire to push out Western influence from the region, its desire to dominate the conservative Sunni states (and their oil), and to unify the Mideast under a Shiite caliphate. There’s clearly no room for a Jewish political entity in this picture.
The students are “less likely to see Israel as threatened by its neighbors, and therefore less worried about Israel’s security”, says Singal, and quotes the glib Ben-Ami:
If you’ve had personal experience – if not you [then] at least your parents – with the destruction of your people, you’re more likely to take it as a possibility that it could happen again,’’ he said. “If you have grown up here in complete comfort and safety and no one you know in an immediate sense has been through that, I do think [you’re] going to have a very fundamental[ly] different view, a different take, on how you view the Iran threat.
Ben-Ami seems to be saying that it’s all about the Holocaust, and that older Jews are psychologically scarred by either remembering the time or by hearing firsthand accounts. So they react in a way which is understandable, but according to Ben-Ami, inappropriate. But this is very misleading (and insulting).
What is different about the young Jews, as Ami Isseroff recently said, is that they have grown up without ever knowing a world without a Jewish state. There has always been an Israel for them; the idea that it could disappear is unthinkable. After all, hasn’t Israel won all of its wars? 62 years is longer than the parents of today’s college students have been around, although in geopolitical terms it’s not very long. Israel and its partisans quite naturally try to present an image of success and permanence, so it’s not surprising that it’s hard for young people to see its very real vulnerability.
Indeed, pro-Arab propaganda always emphasizes the underdog status of the Palestinians, always opposing them to the relatively mighty Israel, while leaving out the relative size of Israel vs. the Arab nations and Iran, and ignoring the military capabilities of all of Israel’s enemies.
While Ben-Ami attributes the difference in attitude to a psychologically damaged older generation, it’s more correct to say that it is caused by a perceptual inadequacy in the younger one. It’s not that Age is paranoid; rather, Youth is blind. So whose impressions are closer to the truth?
Singal goes on to distill the students’ position, with which he clearly agrees, as follows:
…they were worried about the grim prospects that face Israel if it can’t make peace with the Palestinians. Given the region’s demographic patterns, absent a two-state solution, Israel will soon have to choose between being a Jewish state and a democratic one.
This presupposes that an additional partition of Israel would actually end the conflict, rather than simply provide a platform for more effective attacks against Israel. But there are plenty of indications that this is false. The refusal of Fatah to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and its demand for a right of return for Arab ‘refugees’ is one; the continued incitement to hate Israel and Jews coming from the Palestinian Authority despite its alleged participation in a ‘peace process’ is another; the preeminence of hardliners in Fatah is another; and the fact that at its convention last summer, rather than moderating its charter which calls for the violent destruction of the Jewish state, Fatah chose to reaffirm it, is yet another. And I haven’t even mentioned Hamas yet!
Saying that the creation of a Palestinian state under the control of Fatah (at best) would provide a solution to the conflict is like saying that a fleet of flying pigs carrying mail would fix the postal service. Perhaps in theory — an entirely uninformed and highly imaginative theory — it would.
The reality is much more difficult, and therefore unpalatable. It’s necessary for Israel to keep doing what it has been doing since 1948, fighting for its existence while trying to maintain its democracy and Jewish character. It wasn’t easy and it doesn’t promise to be easy in the future. But wishing can’t make things so.
The message of J Street is highly dangerous: don’t worry, Israel isn’t in danger (or if there are dangers, Israel shouldn’t defend herself against them in any real way), go to almost any length (i.e., make all the concessions the Arabs demand) to ‘make peace’ (i.e., to weaken Israel and strengthen its enemies).
Both the message and the messenger are suspect.