The Real Reason They Walked Off: I Know Because I Was One of Them

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Many people have cited many different ideas as to why young Jews are turning away from Israel, epitomized by the proliferation of groups like #IfNotNow (INN) and Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP).

Most have blamed the drastic shift in Jewish teachings, the “watering down” of the Jewish identity to one thing: Tikkun Olam (repair the world), most notably in reform congregations, which are increasingly distancing themselves from Israel and supporting groups like JStreet, with leader Rick Jacobs sitting on the board. A recent blog post in the Times of Israel placed all the blame on that, but I think it’s only part of the story.

If the watering down of Jewish practice, increased intermarriage, and the emphasis on Tikkun Olam were entirely to blame, then we would have seen this transformation happen as early as the late 1960’s. But indeed, in the 1960s and 70s, Zionism was considered cool, even a bona fide social justice movement. Volunteering on a kibbutz was considered the epitome of living the socialist dream and strongly encouraged. Even though the UN turned on Israel, most notably with the “Zionism is Racism” resolution in 1975, anti-Zionism was still relegated to the margins, especially among young Jews. Yet the “Judaism is Tikkun Olam” belief was all the rage during the hippie years.

The explosion of anti-Zionist Jewish groups didn’t happen for another 40 years.

Indeed, it is a fairly recent phenomenon of the late 2010s. The year I graduated from Columbia, in 2016, was the first year JVP was in operation. INN wasn’t even on the radar until after I graduated.

The oft-mentioned dilution of the Jewish identity indeed set the stage for this radical transformation of young Jewry, but I think the explanation is far simpler than that. The watering down of Judaism in a desperate attempt to keep it relevant for the younger generations as synagogue attendance plummeted was the substrate. However, in order for the reaction to happen, which changed the entire “substance” of young Jewry, we needed a catalyst. So, what was it?

1. Following the Trends

The truth is, in recent years, anti-Zionism has become a zeitgeist of the late 2010s, a fashion trend, kind of like how #BlackLivesMatter was a trend of the early 2010s. Indeed, I think the Palestinians piggybacking on BLM was the smartest thing they did and, in my opinion, was a huge catalyst for this massive shift in the younger generation.

But to truly understand this paradigm shift, you have to understand the psychology behind it. Teens and young adults want to fit in and be considered cool. anti-Zionism has recently trickled down into the mainstream through the likes of major mid- to late-2010s influencers like Zayn Malik and the Hadid sisters. Magazines like Teen Vogue, Glamour, and Elle, among others, are publishing anti-Israel articles written by Palestinian-American women, because those magazines set and follow the trends, and anti-Zionism is a trend.

2. The Only Way of Tikkun Olam

Among a subset of the more erudite individuals, the “eager beavers”, so to speak, SJW is “in.” They’ve taken over student governments and most of the “student role model” positions. So ambitious students with their eyes on these positions, or those virtue-signalled into wanting to bring about “change” to “make the world better” by their peers and professors, look up to these students. Jewish students, who are raised on the Tikkun Olam doctrine as being what Judaism is all about, gravitate towards the those who claim they are doing just that.

3. Fitting In

Since they want to fit, and SJW is their trend, they have to tow the party line. anti-Zionism is a huge part of the party line among SJWs, who see Jews not a historically oppressed, but as rich, powerful, and white (more than 80% of American Jews are Ashkenazi) as per the Jewish American stereotype. That stereotype, projected onto Israeli Jews, in concert with cries from “Palestinian civil society” decrying their “occupation” “colonialism” and “oppression,” creates an image of the Big Bad Rich White Jew tormenting innocent People of Color. This phenomenon was exacerbated when supporters of the Palestinian cause did the most brilliant thing they could have ever done: they jumped on the intersectionality bandwagon, citing their guru, Edward Said. Since then, being anti-Zionist has been seen as equally mandatory as supporting gay marriage, as much a part of the package they must accept to fit in. And so they, like I did as a college student, desperately looked up anti-Zionist arguments in hopes that one would stick. And since these arguments have gotten much more clever, sophisticated, and professor-approved as time went on, especially as more intersectional groups take on the cause, it’s harder to stay away.

4. Because Everybody’s Doing It

The “apartheid wall” at Columbia had a dozen organizations on it last year – including the black, Latino, Native American, Arab, and Asian students organizations, the queer alliance, feminist groups fighting sexual assault, the student workers union, environmental groups fighting against climate change and the keystone pipeline, and so many more popular student clubs – it’s safe to say that students will feel that not supporting the Palestinian cause means not standing with marginalized groups, or means being racist, or not caring about the environment, or not into helping the underdog, in other words – heartless. And nobody wants to be heartless. When I was a student at Columbia, the list of endorsements was less than half that. One of the major strategies of anti-Israel groups is to make it appear as if their cause is far more popular than it is – to give the illusion that “everybody’s doing it, so why not you?”

5. And Now They’re Stuck…

If you want to fit in with the SJW crowd, who paint themselves as the only people who care about making a difference, the only people with ambition and heart, you have to accept the entire package, otherwise you can’t possibly be accepted as a real SJW. You can never accept the more powerful group in a conflict. You must support the group with more melanin no matter what. It sounds dumb at face value because it is – but these SJWs have thousands of pages of readings from famous philosophers and theorists to back up their views, taught and supported by their professors whom they assume are the knowledge Gods. And since the SJW profs speak up and the non-SJW profs don’t, you have an imbalance of what these students are exposed to. So once these students are stuck in the SJW vortex it’s hard to get out, they would have to both restart their social lives from scratch, be labeled a bad person, and even put their grades at risk! Nobody wants that, so they don’t even bother to LOOK at alternative views. This is why so many of them are in favor of censorship – they are petrified that if they are ever exposed to these views that are contrary to the views of their group, that their intellectual honesty and integrity (which they are actually taught in college) might force them to see a more nuanced view – or even change their views entirely – and lead them to lose all their friends and even identity. And they’d rather not go there. They’d rather stick their fingers in the ears, sing la la la, and pretend opposing views don’t even exist. Because if they existed, they would have to consider them.

6. Being “Powerful” Has a Price of Admission

Just as whites have to denounce colonialism excessively in order to gain admission to the clique, if you’re Jewish, you have to work extra hard to prove you’re anti-Zionist to gain their approval. One of the things you can do is walk off a birthright trip or be active in JVP/SJP to avoid accusations of dual loyalty. So these kids did it for adoration and admiration, for the approval of the SJW clique, whom they know they have to work extra hard to prove their anti-Zionist identity to because of their Jewish background. I once asked a leader of an SJW organization why she thinks Jews are considered powerful despite centuries of oppression. She said, “look around you, look at the names on the buildings at this university, look at Israel brutally oppressing Palestinians, you have your answer.”

To sum it all up, anti-Zionism is a new trend, and these young Jews are part of a larger “clique” whose price of admission is being anti Israel, among several other beliefs. All they need to do is hold onto these beliefs and presto – they have a warm and loving group of friends for life! These kids are constantly trying to gain mega brownie points and hero status among their clique so they do things like #INN. Once they are in, they can’t get out without losing their entire social life, and as Jews they have to work extra hard to “prove themselves.” So for many young Jews, the pressure is on.

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Lex is a trained comedy actor who is Montreal's second-favourite export aside from poutine.

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