Stepping back, it seems that the Peter Beinart Syndrome — the concern, expressed a year ago in The New York Review of Books that young American Jews are choosing liberal values over Zionist ones — has reached our liberal rabbinic seminaries.
That shouldn’t be surprising. Our future liberal denomination rabbis are prime examples of the current generational clash over values, history and emotional attachment to Israel. On the one side are young people, raised as liberals and humanitarians, who have grown up seeing Israel through the prism of intifadas, harsh and inconclusive wars in Lebanon and Gaza, and increasing international isolation. On the other side are their elders who recall the courageous, even miraculous, early successes of the Jewish State and who are not afraid to call themselves nationalists when it comes to Israel.
First noted by Danny Gordis (and by our friends Moty and Udi here), it’s surprising that this issue waited so long for its 15 minutes of fame. As the controversy about the selection of Rabbi Richard Jacobs as URJ head shows, it’s not only the students and rabbis fresh out of school who are affected.
What did you expect? These students didn’t spring fully formed from the head of Zeus into the seminary. They went to American colleges and universities first, where they drank from the firehose of anti-Zionism that exists there.
And that’s not all they drank:
- They learned that the only legitimate ethical position is a universalist one (although strangely enough, ‘third-world’ nationalism and tribalism escape criticism).
- They learned that the US is one of the primary forces for evil in the world, and is irredeemably racist and corrupt (although such characteristics in its enemies get a pass).
- They learned that truth is relative to politics, so if, for example it serves the political ends of a Nadia Abu El-Haj to deny Jewish provenance in the Land of Israel, then she can receive academic tenure for saying that, despite its objective falsehood.
- And they learned that Humpty Dumpty was correct, words can mean whatever you want them to mean, so J Street can be pro-Israel and Rabbi Jacobs a Zionist.
They also seem to have learned that it’s OK to apply the double standard to Israel: you can call Israel a racist apartheid state because of its actions to keep terrorists from killing its population, but they rarely mention the racist propaganda and incitement to murder flowing from all the Arab (Palestinian and other) media, schools, etc. You can criticize Israel for not realizing full civil rights for Arab citizens — although it tries, in very difficult circumstances — while ignoring the fact that Jews aren’t even allowed to live in some Arab countries, even as second-class citizens.
So I’m not surprised that these young people who go to good universities grow up to be anti-Zionist and even antisemitic. What else would you expect?