Why Zionism is unpopular with younger Jews

I was having a discussion with a friend about J Street, the recent BDS resolution at UCLA (which was defeated, but still…), disturbing trends in college Hillel groups, and similar examples of why some of the worst enemies of the Jewish people are Jews — especially young Jews. The question came up, as it always does: why?

Here are some answers:

The Oslo Syndrome, a coinage of Kenneth Levin in his book of the same name (which I discussed here): a disorder in which the sufferer, a Jew afflicted by powerlessness in the face of Jew-hatred, decides that the problem resides in himself rather than the Jew-haters. Thus he regains the power to affect the situation, by changing himself so that he stops being an object of hatred. This can take the form of trying to remove Jewish characteristics (nose jobs), renouncing religious observance, and of course opposing the Jewish state. The joke is on him, of course, since the Jew-haters will continue to hate him regardless.

Left-wing credentials. Since the 1960’s, when the KGB explained to Yasser Arafat that he would have more success with Western public opinion if he presented his cause as a national liberation movement for an oppressed people, rather than as the racist and genocidal project that it really is, it has been de rigeur for anyone aspiring to a leftist identity to adopt anti-Zionism as an article of faith. The need became even stronger with the Durban conference of 2001, in which Israel was equated with apartheid South Africa. Many Jews are attracted to left-wing or ‘progressive’ politics, and need the credentials to be accepted there.

Moral narcissism.

…the tendency of members of the well-meaning, intellectual elite to align with causes and ideological positions which are based, not on the actual viability or justice of a cause, but on how the moral narcissist feels about him- or herself by committing to a particular cause or movement. (R. L. Cravatts attributes this use of the term to Richard Landes)

Since the anti-Zionist position is often disguised as a moral concern for human rights, ending ‘oppression’, anti-racism, etc. (the double standard associated with its application to Zionism confirms that it is in fact a disguise), its adoption provides an emotional boost for susceptible individuals — and young Jews, especially those brought up in liberal religious and political traditions, are very susceptible.

Academic indoctrination. The large proportion of college teachers with left-wing politics, along with activist Middle Eastern students and ‘Middle East Studies’ programs, has created a strongly anti-Zionist atmosphere on many campuses. In addition, the influence of ethnic and gender studies in which politics and academics seem to have merged has made it more acceptable for teachers to use their classrooms for political indoctrination. Students strongly want to ‘belong’, and to fight the current is to risk ostracism. Together these factors have created loci of Israel-hatred like Evergreen State College.

The conventional wisdom. Jews are people like anyone else. They read newspapers, watch TV, listen to the radio. Here in the US, some of the most popular media among Jews — the NY Times, NPR, MSNBC, etc. are strongly biased against Israel. In many countries — certainly in the US — political leaders are anti-Israel. Even if a person tries to avoid it, he can’t help getting it by osmosis. Some time ago, a friend who is definitely pro-Israel said to me “if only that Netanyahu weren’t so stubborn about the settlements, there could be peace.”  When I asked him why on earth he thought that, he didn’t know.

To a great extent, these forces act on the emotions, and only peripherally by reasoned argument. Even the media coverage, which could be seen as describing facts, correctly or incorrectly, is often crafted for its emotional effect. As Jonathan Haidt argued in his insightful book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are divided by Politics and Religion (which I wrote about in more detail here), judgments of right and wrong are based on ‘intuitions’ — innate triggers of emotional responses — and only later justified by rational argument. This explains why it’s so hard to persuade someone to make this kind of judgment by citing facts and giving logical reasons.

These are some of the reasons Zionism is losing support among Jews, especially younger ones. In a forthcoming post, I will suggest ways to overcome them.

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One Response to “Why Zionism is unpopular with younger Jews”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    This is an especially interesting article. I have thought about this question a lot and my answers have always seemed to me inadequate. This list of reasons is very strong, and the first makes special sense. I see something of this by the way in the whole way the Israeli Left and even Liberal Left addresses the question of peace and the Palestinian Arabs. For them it is always a question of the Jews changing themselves and never has anything whatsoever to do with the Arabs or other enemies changing themselves.