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Young Jews Are Turning Away from Israel. What Will Get Them to Turn Back?

Last Sunday, at the final seminar of the semester for the Write On For Israel class of 2022, a piece of heartfelt but troubling advice to the students from one of the guest speakers drove home for me the depth and seriousness of anti-Israel sentiment in our society today.

The speaker, a former college admissions officer, is an alum of Write On, the two-year Jewish Week program that has helped educate and prepare high school students for the Mideast debate on campus since 2002. (Nearly 1,000 students from public, private and Jewish day schools have graduated from the program; founded with the support of the Avi Chai Foundation, its chief sponsor today is the Paul E. Singer Foundation.)

In responding to a question about whether the students, currently juniors in high school, should highlight their involvement with Write On and deep engagement with Israel in their college admissions essays, she began: “I hate to say this … it’s not what I’ve been telling Write On students the last six years when I speak to the group, and I would not have said this two weeks ago, but I think you should avoid controversy in your essays.”

She went on to explain that in the current climate, “it’s not just Israel, but any topic that is highly controversial” might have a negative effect on admissions staffs in the highly competitive quest for placement.

Clearly pained by her own advice, the woman, who in the past encouraged students to “write your truth,” said that if students “feel the need to write about Israel,” they should focus on how they have learned to engage in difficult conversations in a respectful manner, acquired qualities of leadership, and shown willingness to embrace diversity and be open-minded.

One key question that admissions officers ask themselves in reading college essays, she said, was “can you be a good roommate? That’s the litmus test.”

The speaker was being sincere, honest and focused on helping students gain acceptance into the colleges of their choice. But I was left with the lingering question: Can you be a good roommate if you’re a Zionist?

More and more, and especially in the wake of the most recent Israel-Hamas conflict, the answer for many college students may well be “no.”

I shouldn’t have been surprised.

For some time now, we’ve been aware that Jewish students – not just Zionists – are being marginalized from a variety of liberal activities on a relatively small but influential number of U.S. campuses.

“Intersectionality” is the term du jour, meaning that categories of race, class and gender are seen as “overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination and disadvantage,” according to the dictionary. In practical terms, groups that promote progressive causes, minorities, social justice, LGBTQ students, etc. tend to perceive Jewish students as “privileged” and “white,” and thus excluded. The Israel-Palestinian conflict only heightens the tensions.

According to the new Pew Research Center study on American Jews, younger Jews are less inclined to come to the defense of the Jewish State than their elders.

The troubling trend is not new, but it is increasing.

Young Jewish adults (ages 18-29) “are less emotionally attached to Israel than older ones,” the report found. “As of 2020, half of the Jewish adults under age 30 describe themselves as very or somewhat emotionally attached to Israel (48 percent), down from 60 percent in 2013.

In addition, 13 percent of young Jews support BDS (the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel).

There are numerous reasons one can cite for these disturbing statistics, ranging from the fact that younger people in general are moving further left, to the policies of an increasingly right-wing Israeli government led for the last 12 years by a prime minister on trial for fraud and bribery and closely associated with Donald Trump.

In recent days we are seeing that many Americans, including Jews, see direct parallels between the struggles of African Americans in the U.S. and Palestinians in the Mideast. They get most of their information – and misinformation – from social media, which is subject to false narratives and emotional videos that portray the suffering of Gazans without explaining that Hamas, whose charter calls for the death of Israel and all Jews, initiated the conflict.

In an increasingly binary and toxic atmosphere, you are either pro-Palestinian or pro-Israel; there is no room for historical facts, complexity, nuance or appreciating that one can be both a fervent supporter of the Jewish state and critic of some of its policies – just as many Americans love their country while disagreeing with the administration in Washington.

‘Fervent Debate is Good for Israel’

Another critical factor is that the great majority of young American Jews are woefully under-educated about modern Israeli history and culture.

John Ruskay, former CEO of UJA-Federation of New York, believes the Jewish community is too focused on Israel advocacy and not enough on Jewish education. In a paper he wrote recently for the Jewish Policy Planning Institute, a Jerusalem-based think tank, he asserted that “the conflation of Israel advocacy and Israel education has resulted in growing numbers of North American Jews ill prepared to understand and negotiate the complexity of contemporary Israel.”

Ruskay adds that “leadership avoids investing in substantive Israel education and as a result, the drift continues, gulfs widen, large numbers turn away.”

He told me the issue calls for “massive investment” from Israel and American Jewish organizations and foundations, beyond funding. The goal would be to convince the community that “fervent debate is good for Israel” and can “strengthen connection and engagement.”

Students and faculty meet online for the final seminar of the semester for the Write On For Israel class of 2022, May 23, 2021. (WOFI)

Avoiding the difficult and complex issues and only presenting one side of the Israel narrative results in more and more young American Jews hearing “the other side” for the first time on college campuses, leading them to often ask, “why didn’t they tell us?”

Ruskay acknowledges that in encouraging debate over “core assumptions and policies” regarding Israel, the process will be “messy and noisy,” but he believes it will lead people to develop their own visions of “what Israel can and should be.” Otherwise, he worries, “more and more Jews turn away – not in anger, not as opponents – but because there is simply no place within our community to grapple with the complexity and contemporary Israel.”

Wonders and Dilemmas

Write On For Israel, committed to that struggle, has walked a fine line between advocacy and education from its beginning, in 2002, at the height of the Second Intifada. At the time, with suicide bombers killing Jewish men, women and children at an alarming rate, the issues seemed more stark, and advocacy was strong. Over the years, though, as events made Israeli life less dramatic but more complicated, Write On has championed education as primary. There has been a recognition that tough issues must be confronted rather than avoided. Visits to Israel, which are part of the Write On curriculum, have focused on both the wonders and dilemmas of the Jewish State.

“The challenges have increased, but so have the rewards,” noted Linda Scherzer, who has directed Write On from the beginning. “We continue because it’s important,” noting that she still hears from early graduates of the program, now in their mid-30s, who describe the two-year experience as pivotal to their Jewish identity.

But the goal is always to find a balance between love of Zion and the realities of Israeli society, understanding and appreciating both.

During the Write On session last Sunday, which was on Zoom, an instant poll found that 94 percent of the students said they were getting most of their Mideast news on social media, much of it critical of Israel, and that only a small percentage were responding to it.

Should they be more engaged?

Charlotte Korchak, an American-born senior educator of StandWithUs, an Israel advocacy program, provided context on the conflict and advice on how to counter some of what she called “the overwhelming onslaught” of accusations on social media – including from popular celebrities like Trevor Noah and John Oliver – that portray Israel as an apartheid state, guilty of racism, colonialism and ethnic cleansing. She also said the students could be most effective in engaging friends who spout these false views on social media by sending them private messages offering to talk about the issues. “Explain that you can be pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel,” she said.

In an end-of-year wrap-up in the closing moments of the three-and-a-half-hour program, several Write On students reported that they appreciated feeling encouraged, as one girl said, “to make room for other voices, see both sides and advocate our own views.”

That was deeply satisfying to hear, but the road is long and steep, and the trend lines are going the other way. The time for communal action is now.

The post Young Jews Are Turning Away from Israel. What Will Get Them to Turn Back? appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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University of Toronto seeks injunction to end protest encampment over ‘harmful, discriminatory’ speech outlined in court filing

The University of Toronto is now seeking a court injunction to put and end to the encampment in King’s College Circle after the 8 a.m. deadline passed Monday morning—while unionized workers joined students, faculty and other protesters at a rainy morning rally. Shortly after the ultimatum hour, the university announced in a statement from UofT […]

The post University of Toronto seeks injunction to end protest encampment over ‘harmful, discriminatory’ speech outlined in court filing appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Monday morning saw the Toronto community and politicians showing support for the Chabad girls’ school struck by weekend gunfire

Mayor Olivia Chow was among those who addressed the crowd.

The post Monday morning saw the Toronto community and politicians showing support for the Chabad girls’ school struck by weekend gunfire appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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‘A Call for Genocide’: South African Jews Blast Country’s President for Chanting ‘From the River to the Sea’

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in Chatsworth, South Africa, May 18, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Rogan Ward

South African Jewish leaders castigated their country’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, for what they described as him calling for a “genocide” against Jews in Israel over the weekend.

Ramaphosa was speaking at an election rally in Johannesburg on Saturday when he deviated from his prepared speech to lead the crowd in in a chant of “From the River to the Sea, Palestine shall be free” — a popular slogan among anti-Israel activists that has been widely interpreted as a call for the destruction of the Jewish state, which is located between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

The address took place at FNB Stadium, where South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) held its final rally before South African elections on Wednesday. According to Politicsweb, a news website focused on South Africa, a call for the release of the “hostages held in Gaza” who Hamas terrorists kidnapped from southern Israel on Oct. 7 appeared in Ramaphosa’s prepared remarks but not in his final speech.

The South African Jewish community lambasted Ramaphosa for his remarks in a statement shared with The Algemeiner, expressing “its revulsion at the introduction of a call to exterminate Jews from their homeland” by the president.

“The president of the ruling ANC party and the head of state of a democratic country has called for the elimination of the only Jewish state in the culmination of the ANC president’s election speech made to thousands of ANC members and on national television,” said Wendy Kahn, national director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD). “He uses the populist slogan ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be Free,’ which is widely regarded as a call to genocide of the Jewish people. The call to remove all Jews from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea equates to removing all Jews from Israel.”

Kahn compared the slogan with Hamas’ goal to “see Israel as ‘Judenfrei,’ or Jew free,” before noting that such an endpoint contradicts the South African government’s stated policy of supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The chanting of this slogan by a head of state of a government that recurrently tries to express their commitment to a ‘two-state Solution’ as their policy on Israel and Palestine is hypocritical to the full,” the SAJBD said. “How does a sitting president reject his own government and own party’s international relations policy? This reconfirms our understanding that President Ramaphosa and his government are not looking for a peaceful solution to the tragic conflict, but rather to cause discord among fellow South Africans against its Jewish community.”

Kahn added, “The president’s contempt for South African Jewry is evident in this unscripted outburst at the rally which amounts to nothing more than Jew hatred. The SAJBD is reviewing its options for holding the president accountable for these hateful words.”

South Africa’s ANC government has been one of the harshest critics of Israel since Oct. 7, when Hamas terrorists launched the ongoing war in Gaza with their invasion of and massacre across southern Israeli communities.

South Africa temporarily withdrew its diplomats from Israel and shuttered its embassy in Tel Aviv shortly after the Oct. 7 Hamas pogrom, saying that the Pretoria government was “extremely concerned at the continued killing of children and innocent civilians” in Gaza.

In December, South Africa hosted two Hamas officials who attended a government-sponsored conference in solidarity with the Palestinians. One of the officials had been sanctioned by the US government for his role with the terrorist organization.

Earlier this month, members of South Africa’s Jewish community protested Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor’s recent call for students and university leaders to intensify the anti-Israel demonstrations that have engulfed college campuses across the US.

In January, the South African government failed in its bid to argue before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that Israel’s defensive war in Gaza constituted a “genocide.” However, the top UN court last week ordered Israel to halt its military operations against the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. The emergency ruling was part of South Africa’s ongoing case at the ICJ.

The post ‘A Call for Genocide’: South African Jews Blast Country’s President for Chanting ‘From the River to the Sea’ first appeared on

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