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Writer Describes Alienation of Young American Jews From Israel

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
May-June 1997

While the older generation of American Jews identify very strongly with Israel, this is not the case for many in the younger generation, writes Josh Rolnick in The Washington Post (Feb. 16, 1997).  

He reports that, "Many in my generation (I was born after the 1967 Middle East War and was only three during the 1973 Yom Kippur War) view Israel through a very different lens. We did not know crushing anti-Semitism or an imperiled Israel. And many of us grew up in America practicing a secular brand of Judaism that did not seem particularly relevant to a Jewish state thousands of miles away. Because of this, we had no natural stake in Israel the way our parents did."  

Beyond this, Israel’s policies have served to alienate many young people: "The massacres at Sabra and Shatilla, the invasion of Lebanon and the intifada transformed this disconnect into a more fundamental alienation: Israel’s occupation, settlement policies and human rights violations did not square with what I felt were my ‘Jewish’ values. My parents were also angered by Israeli actions in the occupied territories. But while they felt dismay at human rights abuses, their underlying faith in the state — rooted in their personal stories — remained firm. It was not this way for me. My view of Israel was shaped to a much greater extent by Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians."  

Mr. Rolnick cites a study by the Council of Jewish Federations’ 1990 Jewish Population survey, which shows only 25 percent of Jews ages 25 to 34 say they are very or extremely attached to Israel, compared to 44 percent of Jews age 55 to 64.  

Israel’s engagement in the peace process, Rolnick writes, has been a positive step: "I felt a great deal of pride as Israel led the way to peace and sought to resolve its conflicts. Suddenly, a country that had acted so often in opposition to my Jewish values seemed a perfect model for them."  

He concludes: "Israel’s agreement to withdraw from Hebron has shown us that the peace process is still alive, but it is advancing slowly. Given that, my generation can throw up its hands in frustration and disengage, relegating Israel to its former place — or we can pick up where Rabin left off and bring our critical perspective to our synagogues, hometown newspapers and family dinner tables. We can support politicians in this country who hew to a nuanced position: back Israel, yes, but not blindly. And perhaps, we can help push Israel toward a lasting solution in the Middle East in ways our parents and grandparents could not."

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