Those reasons barely scratch the surface. They are non-reasons.
College students aren’t that stupid. They won’t go against decades of pro-Israel indoctrination for superficial reasons like that, despite what one may intuitively think.
There is a concerted effort to turn Jews against their own, which is often supported by mainstream Jewish organizations.
There are three major catalysts, usually combined, and allowed by Jewish parents with only the best intentions, that typically churn out those loud, raging Jewish JVP and SJP activists you see, with shock, on college campuses. These three strikes must be dealt with at their levels in order to reverse the inevitable.
Step 1: Jewish Education
The Problem: First, some good news. I can comfortably say that, on average, at least 80% of Jewish Day School alums retain their staunch Zionist leanings. The percentage seems to be higher with increasing religiosity of the institution. I went to a tiny Modern Orthodox Jewish Day School – I’d maybe give it a 7 on 10 for religiosity (with 0 being public school and 10 being Satmar Yeshiva) – and am still friends on Facebook with all but one or two of my 27 classmates. Other friends of mine are friends with the missing links, so I still know enough about them to conclude about their outcomes.
Out of 27 classmates, only one is an outspoken anti-Zionist. She’s quieted down in the last year or so, but she was outspoken during Protective Edge, touting J-Street and JVP party lines.
She was always very deeply connected with her Judaism on many levels, playing in a klezmer band for years, attending Jewish learning festivals, and observing Jewish holidays.
She was known throughout elementary school as the smartest person in our grade. She was the one studying third grade phonics when nearly everyone else was still on the first grade book. She was also in the advanced math section, and asked the most provoking questions. She was a skilled artist, and a talented musician.
Why is this information relevant? It’s because people like her, people who are intelligent, who have a propensity for critical thinking, that are most likely to see the perspective taught in Jewish Day School as limited.
People like her likely developed their advanced language skills from reading the newspaper, magazines, materials from outside the curriculum. These materials likely shocked her with their anti-Israel bias, as the media often exhibits. These media outlets, which portray themselves as the ultimate truth, the truth that adults read, truth that is not dumbed down or simplified for her consumption, are seen as more legitimate. As such, the questioning begins.
The biggest complaint I get from anti-Israel or left-leaning Jews is that their Jewish Day School didn’t teach them the other side, painting Israel as this beautiful miraculous utopian oasis that can do no wrong. This completely monolithic portrayal of the conflict will lead them to rebel out of contempt for the assumption that they can’t intellectually handle the other side. As they begin to explore the other side, their contempt will grow, as they will also see their Jewish Day School as lacking empathy for Palestinian suffering.
This complete failure to address the other side, to teach students their arguments and counter-arguments, will get the more intelligent, critical thinking, curious students to seek information elsewhere.
And that is exactly what this girl did. Her and many other young Jews, including the types who claim they are “uncomfortable” with their Zionism.
The Solution: Jewish Day Schools need to be proactive, they can no longer afford to stick their heads in the sand. With the proliferation of the internet, our most curious, open minds will stray. That’s why we need to arm students with a prophylaxis, the tools to combat antizionism, and prepare students for the pitfalls they would otherwise be most susceptible to as curious, empathetic human beings. It is essential that we acknowledge the other side exists, otherwise these students will find it on their own, without our guidance.
Step 2. Birthright (Unplugged)
The Problem: Now that students are done Jewish Day School, many are excited to visit the country that was raved about so glowingly throughout their studies.
Fortunately, thanks to generous donors, they can do it for free.
Many students, fresh out of high school or partway through college, go on Birthright trips, and again, the most curious among them will find themselves unsatisfied with the pro-Israel bias and the deliberate obscuring of the Palestinian narrative. This angle leads the trip to feel to many like a prolonged Jewish Day School field trip.
Whoever designed the Jewish Day School and Birthright curricula clearly has never heard of the forbidden fruit concept, which is ironic because it’s one of the first things taught in Bereshit.
Perhaps they believe that addressing bogus narratives will legitimize them. This claim, given by the majority of the sha shtil anti-Israel-advocacy club as well as most mainstream Jewish organizations, assumes that those who will address the other side will do so stupidly or irresponsibly.
When I talk about not obscuring the other side, I don’t mean describing both narratives side by side, or teaching the pro-Palestinian agenda. I mean presenting the opposing arguments and then destroying them, rather than pretending the opposing arguments do not exist. We need students to not feel blindsided when they go to college and SJP is basically going against everything they’ve ever been taught, showing them a perspective they’ve never been exposed to and of course causing students to wonder why, cynically, they haven’t been exposed to it.
This shortcoming on most birthright trips, the complete obscuring of the other side, is where so-called “Coexistence Trips” come in.
These trips are lavishly funded, because they work. Trips run by organizations such as Encounter, Breaking the Silence, and Green Olive Tours’ Birthright Unplugged, portray themselves as fair, balanced, unbiased, and adept at showing the objective truth on the ground by highlighting both sides and promoting peace. What they actually do is the opposite.
The trips are tours of the Palestinian Territories, endorsed by groups like JStreet and funded by myriad organizations, including the New Israel Fund. Unlike birthright, they make participants feel special, like they are part of something hugely important and revolutionary. Birthright Unplugged is described as:
In six days, we visit Palestinian cities, villages and refugee camps in the West Bank and spend time with internally displaced Palestinian people living inside Israel. Throughout the journey, we help participants develop an understanding of daily life under occupation and the history of the region from people profoundly affected by and under-represented in Western discourses about the occupation.
The bias is evident from the description, but the truth is a lot more sinister. McGill student Zac Kauffman, who is active in SPHR and other antizionist organizations, discusses his transformation as made possible by a post-Birthright coexistence trip. Survey the executive board of any Jewish Voices for Peace chapter and I can promise you that at least half of them were “converted” by one of these trips. It’s a story I hear often.
These trips mainly involve touring the Palestinian territories, living with Palestinian families, hearing all kinds of bogus or out-of-context stories by people who have been brainwashed with incitement propaganda since birth. Since Arabs have a strong tradition of warmth and hospitality, they typically win these young tourists over by hosting them in their homes, with their proximity, accessibility, and down to earth kindness. They tell heartwrenching stories while sitting around tables packed with delicious homemade food: husbands and sons who were arrested or “martyred” for no reason (obviously omitting the fact that they were arrested for incitement or terrorist activities, but of course that’s “resistance” so it’s okay), houses bulldozed in cold blood, as if Israelis do it for fun, olive trees burned down, hours (which are actually just minutes) spent at checkpoints being strip searched and robbed of their dignity. They make you feel like family, which is something Birthright’s sleek, corporate introduction to Israel doesn’t quite accomplish.
Participants of trips like Birthright Unplugged are given resource booklets when they leave, in order to prepare for the student activism that the rage they have developed from “witnessing” the “injustice” has incited and encouraged them to engage in. They are also given activist contacts on campus, mostly antizionist Jews, so that they feel less alone and are better equipped to fight the Jewish State.
The Solution: Birthright trips should present the Palestinian Narrative, and show as well as tell why and how these allegations are false. Rather than broadly dismiss the narrative as false, break down the components and debunk them one by one, over the course of the trip instead of all at once. We don’t want to appear insensitive or uncaring, so we must show that Israel’s existence will actually help the Palestinians live better lives than a Palestinian regime would.
Step 3: Infiltration
The Problem: “Coexistence” trips have a way of instilling a great amount of zeal into their participants. Since Birthright brought them close to their Jewish identities, and the “coexistence” trips brought them their antizionist identities, they are in the perfect position to infiltrate Jewish institutions. When I was an undergraduate, I was shocked at how many of Hillel’s highest student executives were antizionist, hiding under the mask of “azionist” or “post-zionist” or whatever avant-garde fake-zionist term is in vogue. Even the president, a girl I’ll call Cassie F., was extremely involved in causes that undermined the Jewish State, an active executive of the so-called “Progressive Zionist Club,” a student group that did nothing but criticize Israel and legitimize the haters, making excuses for everything from Breaking the Silence to BDS.
The coexistence trips give these students initiative, so much so that anti-Israel sentiment becomes normalized among Jewish students, as exemplified by the executives that represent them.
These infiltrators serve to promote and normalize their agenda, silence or dilute Zionist activities, and create an unsafe space for Jewish Zionists. During my entire time in undergrad, I remember only one pro-Israel activity being held, an event surrounding the Israeli elections when I was a senior.
The Solution: Jewish schools, birthright trips, and synagogues must find ways to appeal to its youth, and encourage leadership and activism instead of discourage it. The leftist, antizionist Reform Jews have cornered the market in activism and initiative-taking. If we want our next generation to actually be leaders of tomorrow, we must encourage leadership and self-advocacy, not staying under the radar and keeping quiet. There’s a reason we’ve been taken advantage of for so many centuries.
So sure, some Jewish antizionists are the way they are in order to feel like they belong to a close-knit, exciting, revolution. But the staunchest ones, the leaders of these movements. almost always have the same story:
I went to Jewish school, I was unsatisfied by its one-sided education that Israel can do no wrong, so I looked elsewhere, went on a co-existence trip after birthright that was so much more satisfying than the former, and got involved in student social justice organizations on my college campus with the help of this trip.
Israel is a human rights violator. Israel isn’t needed because antisemitism isn’t a problem in America. Israel created unnecessary conflict in the Middle East that could have and should have been avoided. Whatever the party line these students tout, remember this: they are this way for a reason, and there is something we can do to stop it.
And we must act fast, before they become the leaders of tomorrow.