Talkin’ Bout Our Generation

Ezra is right on the mark here, on why J Street has made an impact earlier American pro-peace groups haven’t:

Being a privileged member of the majority in the most powerful country the world has ever known is a fairly unique experience for Jews. Israel, though hated and vulenrable to terrorist threat, is nevertheless the dominant military power in the Middle East. A history defined by agonizing persecution has given way to a present defined by relative power. But that has, inevitably, changed the relationship young Jews have to both Judaism and Israel. And that’s created substantial concern among older Jews, who sense that the younger generation’s connection to Israel is either slipping or, at the least, becoming something less visceral and recognizable. Just ask my grandfather. J Street — which has always sold itself as a net-oriented enterprise for the Obama generation — inflames that anxiety. My hunch is an examination of AIPAC’s demographics — and even more so its active membership — wouldn’t bar the organization from membership in AARP.

I’m not even sure this is a uniquely Jewish experience. I think it’s fair to say that gentiles of my generation are significantly more critical of Israeli policy than our parents and grandparents, for similar experiential reasons. The Israel my parents grew up with faced Nasser’s coalition, the slaughter in Munich, and a violent nationalist movement aligned with the Soviet Union. The Israel I grew up with bulldozes Palestinian homes, is unthreatened by any neighbors, and has repeatedly disrespected a moderate movement that had offered it significant concessions. It’s easy for someone with the former experience to view Israel as an ally in need of American protection, separate from any personal connection to its mission as a Jewish state. Similarly, it’s easy for someone born in the ’80s or ’90s to view Israel as an incredibly powerful nation that not only doesn’t need America’s help, but could afford to be pushed into a more sensible course of action by Washington. These aren’t identity shifts so much as pragmatic ones, but they result in the same trends Ezra outlines within the Jewish community.

One thought on “Talkin’ Bout Our Generation

  1. The Israel my parents grew up with faced Nasser’s coalition, the slaughter in Munich, and a violent nationalist movement aligned with the Soviet Union. The Israel I grew up with bulldozes Palestinian homes, is unthreatened by any neighbors, and has repeatedly disrespected a moderate movement that had offered it significant concessions.
    “Grew up with” and “moderate movement” are vague references, but with a reasonable interpretation, this is certainly a false distinction. The year before I went to college, Israel invaded Lebanon. It attacked Palestinians and other Arabs more aggressively and on a greater scale than any military operations that it has undertaken since. It was not any more threatened by neighbors in 1982 than it is now; the idea that it is “unthreatened” now as compared with then makes no sense. On the contrary, more Israeli civilians died in the Second Intifada than Israeli soldiers died in the 1982 Lebanon War. When I was in Israel just after the Second Intifada, every mall and university had airport-style security to look for bombs.
    As for moderate movements, the Munich “slaughter”, which killed a total of 11 Israelis, was carried out by a side group of Fatah. Sure, there are moderates in Fatah and there are moderates not in Fatah, but there is no moderate “movement” among the Palestinians. Besides, if Munich was a slaughter, what about the Second Intifada, which had dozens of Munich-scale suicide bombings? Sure, the standard comparison is that Israel killed even more Palestinians, but the same was true in the aftermath of Munich.
    No, in most respects it has been the same story every year for decades.
    Similarly, it’s easy for someone born in the ’80s or ’90s to view Israel as an incredibly powerful nation that not only doesn’t need America’s help, but could afford to be pushed into a more sensible course of action by Washington.
    Except that being pushed into a more sensible course of action is a form of help, and one that Israel does need. That’s the difference between the two sides. The Palestinians may have been pushed as much as they’re going to be pushed — the West can’t even stop them from burning the Danish embassy. Besides, the Palestinians are also influenced by other Arab countries, and look at what those countries have to say about Bashir of Sudan. But Israel could still be pushed to treat the Palestinians better, which it will have to do to avoid the fate of Rhodesia.

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