When everybody goes one way, it’s cool to go the other way. These days, many young American Jews feel that it’s cool to go against Israel and take the side of the Palestinians.
In fact, it may be more conformist than cool.
On college campuses especially, where opposing Israel has become the norm, piling on the attacks on the Jewish state is the safe choice. To show real courage, one must stand up for the country that is singled out for animosity beyond all reason—and that country is Israel.
But for young Jews who think they’re being rebellious by taking on Israel, it’s about more than reason or information. It’s also about a feeling: How do I feel about myself when I choose which cause to support?
Until the pro-Israel community recognizes this reality—that confronting Israel has tremendous emotional resonance for young Jews trying to stand out—no amount of clever hasbara will suffice.
I remember once seeing a group of IfNotNow protestors sitting in the lobby of the ADL offices in New York. They were holding signs to “end the occupation,” waiting for the police to come arrest them. They were Jews taking the side of the Palestinians. How much cooler can you get than that?
The head of the ADL, Jonathan Greenblatt, invited them to his office to discuss the complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They refused. It’s much cooler, not to mention easier, to throw PR stunts and demand that Israel “end the occupation.”
What these wannabe rebels failed to realize, however, is that there’s nothing rebellious about following the herd. They have become obedient if unwitting foot soldiers in a ubiquitous global movement to undermine and demonize the Jewish state.
The boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) movement has zero interest in a peace agreement. The “occupation” that really bothers them is the Israeli occupation of Tel Aviv and Haifa.
Fueled by a rise in anti-Semitism, the key achievement of these relentless BDS activists is that they’ve made their movement mainstream. More and more professors on college campuses, to one degree or another, harbor negative feelings toward Israel. The level of animus against Israel is certainly not justified, but it is the reality.
You can never get in trouble today for bashing Israel. No country has received more condemnations at the United Nations. In the mainstream media, the bias against the Jewish state is palpable. Because Israel is no longer seen as David versus Goliath, it’s an easy target. Israel is strong and successful—it can handle all the bashing.
The net effect is that anger at Israel has become the world’s default position.
Of course, it’s OK to fight back the way Israel defenders usually do: Argue that the attacks on Israel are totally out of proportion; expose the destructive, anti-Semitic nature of the BDS movement; show Israel’s many contributions to the world and its vibrant, multicultural side; remind people of Israel’s multiple peace offers that were rejected; and nurture pride in the Zionist identity, among other things.
But this kind of traditional activism is not enough—it’s missing a compelling emotion. An emotion is like a key that allows people to enter a house of information. Before that information can resonate, it must be seen through an emotional lens.
I’d like to suggest an emotional lens that says: Fighting for Palestinians may be the popular choice, but fighting for Israel is the courageous choice. You can follow the herd or you can take the road less traveled. You can play it safe or you can be bold. You can stick to trendy platitudes or you can go deep.
In the world of causes, Israel is your ancient road less traveled.
To be sure, none of this means that Jews should not care about the Palestinian cause. They should. It’s a question of proportion: Since most of the world is already taking the side of the Palestinians, shouldn’t Jews feel obligated by fairness to somehow balance that out?
Fighting for Israel also does not mean abandoning dialogue and the search for peace. It means you search for peace and constructive engagement from your own side that needs you; from the side that much of the world opposes.
The college students who choose to support Israel these days are not just activists—they are courageous rebels fighting the good fight against an often hostile world.
How good must that feel?
David Suissa is editor-in-chief and publisher of Tribe Media Corp and Jewish Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.
This article was first published by the Jewish Journal.