In a meeting with U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman on Wednesday, Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni warned that ties between American and Israeli Jews are weakening.
Livni cited recent "radical legislation" passed by the Israeli Knesset, Jewish violence against IDF soldiers, and religious extremism causing discrimination against women as reasons for the tension. She said that these events "make it difficult for [Jews in the Diaspora] to defend Israel."
Partly, Livni's comments represent an attemp to jockey for power and discredit her long-time political rival, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, for leading the country astray. But, at a deeper level, Livni is correct to raise this important issue, which echoes the sentiments expressed by Peter Beinart, who wrote in a widely circulated article in the New York Review of Books that American college students are becoming increasingly disengaged from Israel.
While Livni correctly identifies hardline Israeli policy as contributing to American Jews' growing disenchantment with Israel, her diagnosis of the core problem doesn't go deep enough. American Jews, particularly young people, are becoming increasingly disenchanted because they have little hope that peace is on the horizon and little faith that Israel's current leaders will change the status quo.
To be clear, support for Israel amongst the American Jewish public and millennials remains high. As just one example, Taglit-Birthright will bring 17,000 young people from a record 32 countries to Israel this winter. A recent Brandeis University survey about American Jewish attachment to Israel found that 63% of respondents felt "very much" or "somewhat" connected to Israel.
But, that same study also found that respondents under age 45 were less likely to feel connected to Israel. There is a simple explanation for this: The longer the conflict rages on without an end in sight, the more our generation tunes out. The more that Israeli and Palestinian leaders hold peace talks that end without a breakthrough, the more my generation stops listening.
My sense is that my generation has little faith that current leadership can break the stalemate, and why should we? Since Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister, Israeli policy has gotten increasingly more hardline, pulled farther and farther to the right by the conservative-leaning government. Netanyahu talks about peace, but has yet to bring Israel closer to achieving it. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas hasn't fared any better. Palestinian nonviolent peace activist Fadi Quran recently told me that young people have lost faith in Abbas' ability to lead, and the ability of any of Palestine's current leaders to break the endless cycle of fruitless peace talks.
What's clear to me is that only innovative, grassroots action like the Palestinian Freedom Riders and Israel's Young Conscientious Objectors led by everyday people with the conviction to change the status quo will restore our generation's faith that change is possible.
Young American Jews can identify with young people in Israel and Palestine that are trying to break the exasperating current cycle. The more these grassroots initiatives emerge, the stronger our connection to Israel will grow.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons