May 18, 2022 — Washington, D.C.
This piece originally appeared in Washington Jewish Week.
We have all heard the stories. Many young Jews who speak out in support of Israel are being maligned and silenced and the problem is growing.
Most American Jewish millennials (ages 25 to 40) express support for Israel, consider it an important part of their Jewish identities and remain emotionally attached to the Jewish state, according to a recent American Jewish Committee survey. But this support is costing them socially and professionally. Young Jews are feeling isolated, erased and “othered” by their peers, employers and some parts of the public.
None of this is happening in a vacuum. Anti-Zionist campaigns of “non-normalization,” isolation and antisemitic attacks on Israel are increasing. Last year, Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza unleashed global torrents of antisemitism, on social media and in person. It resulted in violent attacks against Jews in New York, Los Angeles and London. We witnessed vandalism in Washington, D.C.
Though its proponents deny it, anti-Zionism has become the new antisemitism. The idea of Zionism is complex and there have always been Jews who opposed the idea of a Jewish state. Today upward of 81 percent of American Jewish families describe themselves as pro-Israel, for reasons that span from concern for Jewish wellbeing in the diaspora to those who embrace the State of Israel as the fulfillment of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in our ancient homeland.
Anti-Zionists now invoke classical antisemitic tropes that have been used against Jews for centuries: Jewish money and power, dual loyalties and the blood libel. Israel has become the “new Jew” — a target of ancient and modern calumny.
This social isolation is having a profound impact on millennial Jews. Many are being forced to choose between outwardly supporting Israel and being comfortable in their jobs, their social circles; it significantly impacts their wellbeing. A significant minority (23 percent according to the AJC survey) of millennial Jews have, in effect, become Marranos, the Spanish Jews who survived the Spanish Inquisition by converting but practiced Judaism in secret. These young Jews are hiding their Jewish identities and opinions from their friends, and only sharing their connections to Israel with those who can be trusted. Even among their Jewish friends, they cannot assume support. To be clear, this generation is not whining. This is not drama. It is trauma. Being blackballed because of support of Israel is real, and it makes a difference in careers and lives. Twenty-one percent of Jewish millennials report damage to relationships with friends and, most troubling, 28 percent have rethought their commitment to Israel as a result.
It is encouraging that the vast majority of Americans reject radical anti-Zionist ideology. But its supporters persist, and their philosophy has taken root on campuses across the country and in “polite circles” in the workplace and elsewhere. As these radical voices have increased their power in our country and around the world, Jews, condemned as “Zionists,” are now in the crosshairs of a campaign of vilification and erasure. Zionism itself is becoming a dirty word.
Fighting a culture war against an increasingly dominant progressive paradigm that paints Jews as white and privileged, and Israelis as “settler colonialist occupiers,” is arduous work; it cannot be done alone. This problem will not be solved with a set of magical talking points or information about Israel’s contributions to the world. For the anti-Zionist, these achievements are irrelevant. Israel itself — its very creation — is illegitimate and a product of settler colonialism; and the state, in their view, should be destroyed like the fruit of a diseased tree.
Ending Jewish erasure requires creating communities of support where people gain strength and power. Numbers matter. People should not have to feel alone or isolated. Jews need to stand together proudly and demand respect for our traditions and connection to our ancient homeland. It’s time to push back, and hard.
When Jews feel unsafe, it’s time to take notice. Our challenge is to confront the problem through embracing one another across generations and across the political spectrum. Our work is to push back against our detractors and build support among our allies.
Throughout our history, we have seen what happens when Jews become the “other.” We cannot permit history to repeat itself.
Alan Ronkin is regional director of AJC Washington, D.C.