[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”no” equal_height_columns=”no” menu_anchor=”” hide_on_mobile=”small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility” class=”” id=”” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_position=”center center” background_repeat=”no-repeat” fade=”no” background_parallax=”none” parallax_speed=”0.3″ video_mp4=”” video_webm=”” video_ogv=”” video_url=”” video_aspect_ratio=”16:9″ video_loop=”yes” video_mute=”yes” overlay_color=”” video_preview_image=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” padding_top=”” padding_bottom=”” padding_left=”” padding_right=””][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ layout=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” border_position=”all” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding_top=”” padding_right=”” padding_bottom=”” padding_left=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility” center_content=”no” last=”no” min_height=”” hover_type=”none” link=””][fusion_text]It is a question discussed throughout the Jewish world at conferences, synagogues and in editorials. It is a question that I, as an Israel educator on college campuses, have spent hundreds of hours contemplating, explaining, and debating with students, university administrators, and community members alike.
The fundamental complexity of the question can be summed up as follows: Judaism is an extremely ill-defined entity. Jews have ethnic, religious, cultural and national components intersecting our Jewish identity and there is minimal consensus in terms of the actual definition of Judaism altogether. The inability to arrive at a single definition of what Judaism is, directly translates into the inability to arrive at a single definition as to the exact parameters of anti-Semitism. In fact, one of the chief claims of anti-Israelists is “Judaism is only a religion, how can being against a nationalist or political entity be anti-Semitic?”
On October 23, the UCI community was plunged into the epicenter of this debate as Bret Stephens and Michelle Goldberg, two Pulitzer prize winning New York Times columnists, went head-to-head discussing this exact question as a part of a UCI sponsored series titled “Confronting Extremism.” While both Stephens and Goldberg are self-identified Zionists, they disagreed on whether most anti-Israel activism—specifically movements such as BDS—are anti-Semitic.
Recent polling has shown us that the percentage of American Jews who are “pro-Israel” hovers around 90% (Gallup), to say nothing of specific Israeli political figures or decisions, and that 84% of American Jews find the statement “Israel has no right to exist” to be anti-Semitic (AJC). Given these numbers one can find the context of this debate to be problematic in and of itself. After all, when it comes to other parts of this series, topics dealing with racism, sexism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hate, there will only be one speaker talking about the negative impact of such views on their community. Only anti-Semitism is portrayed in the context of a debate. Which other community with an 84% consensus of what constitutes hate against them would ever be questioned so explicitly?
But there is another angle to this discussion, one that Michelle Goldberg repeatedly brought up in defense of the viewpoint that being anti-Israel cannot be conflated with anti-Semitism. Young American Jews, at a rate much higher than any other Jewish demographic, are beginning to turn on Israel. Another recent survey, conducted by the LA Jewish Journal, found that only 55% of LA-based Jewish millennials “strongly endorsed” the need for the preservation of Israel as a Jewish state compared to 73% of total Jewish voters. As anti-Israelism is becoming increasingly popular within various social circles, the need for genuine and critical education in the realm of Israel is more evident than ever before.
Most Jewish organizations and communities either teach an idyllic and un-nuanced version of modern Israel or just simply avoid it altogether. The pathologies of each of these methods are immediately apparent when young Jews come across any dissenting opinion. As views about the Jewish state become increasingly polarized, Jewish organizations have a fundamental imperative to educate the next generation in a thoughtful, factual, and refined way.
This means studying Jewish history and literature, noting the ubiquity and centrality of Israel to our tradition and what modern Zionism would have meant to millennia of Jews. Studying the foundational texts of Zionist thinkers and truly conceptualizing the inherent difficulties within renationalizing an ethno-religious tradition. It means talking in an honest and open way about the different wars, tough governmental decisions, and even, at times, nefarious actions committed by Israel.
Knowing how to respond to anti-Semitic canards hurled at them on campus by radical anti-Israel groups such as SJP and the like. It means understanding the anti-Semitic nature inherent within much historic anti-Israel activity and how that intersection relates to today’s political climate.
And, perhaps most importantly, it means instilling young Jews with a deep and impassioned love for Israel—one that is strongly bound up within their identity—and one that will carry with them throughout their entire view.
DANIEL LEVINE IS A CONTRIBUTING WRITER TO JLIFE MAGAZINE.[/fusion_text][/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]