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Reaching: "Generation Save the
By Hannah Niebulski
I'll admit, I don't normally crusade for political causes, and I've never been moved to write an opinion piece. Instead, I was initially drawn to hear a noted anti-Israel speaker, Ali Abunimah because I needed to finish my Advocacy requirements for a scholarship to Israel I received last summer. Before attending this lecture, I thought the Israel Advocacy requirement was a little unnecessary. I've been taught horror stories of anti-Semitism on college campuses, but none of my Jewish friends in college seem to feel any threat. For the most part, my generation considers this old news.
In addition, as Jewish teen who has traveled to Israel with family and friends, I've never considered that Israel's right to exist was even open for debate. Whether or not you've been raised in Jewish day school and been active in Jewish Community, the spirit the Jewish people and Israel are inextricably connected. Yes, I've followed the news since the Second Intifada broke out in September, 2000. I am fully aware that Israel's world press has not always been positive, and Israel's policies are legitimately subject to scrutiny. Still, reasonable Americans, sitting in a lecture hall on the University of Washington campus wouldn't blindly accept fundamentally anti-Israel doctrine, without at least posing some basic questions, right?
Wrong. Abunimah used the University lectern as his personal platform to exploit innate human emotional response. He painted a one-sided picture which, if taken at face value effectively closed down all avenues of questioning. According to Abunimah, there is no "other side of the story". Instead, according to him, Israel is simply an occupational military dictatorship with Israel's ultimate goal being ethnic cleansing. These words evoked horrific World War II images, but, he quickly escalated his rhetoric by essentially calling Israel's policies genocide. Even that wasn't far enough.
Abunimah then drew several supposed comparisons between Israel and South Africa's apartheid. At one point, he even claimed that Israel's policies regarding the West Bank were analogous to China's occupation of Tibet, an immediate hot-button issue for today's students who have embraced Human Rights issues as their own. Abunimah clearly knows his demographic and he chose his remarks well. Framed in the context of Human Rights, and with only half-truths being told Israel was demonized in front of an audience primed to sympathize. Audience members cheered him on, and yelled exclamations of solidarity.
If I could pick a name for my generation, it would be Generation Save the insert cause here. Today's American youth are far more motivated by social action than by political action. We line up behind causes where we see victims being subjugated by a perpetrator. A classic example of this is Darfur. It's everywhere. Of the hundreds of thousands of young people wearing shirts demanding peace in Darfur (myself included), how many can really tell you exactly what is happening and by whom?
This isn't to say that donating to cause is wrong unless you are a bona fide expert, but there's got to be a clear line between a concerned, educated citizen and the "cool factor" of mindless group think. My generation is quickly approaching the brink of blindly following a cause based on its emotional draw. In this case, Abunimah has marched his supporters right over the edge, and they've gone willingly and unquestioningly.
Yet, the Jewish community is not blameless in this lopsided equation. Our response to anti-Israel rhetoric is well-intentioned but, increasingly ineffective with my generation. Our defensive method of countering every factual error in the battle of "he said/she said" simply doesn't resonate. Americans listening to patently emotional arguments aren't committing the details to memory. Instead, when offered the imagery of a Palestinian cancer patient struggling to pass checkpoints for a chance at treatment, people come away feeling the powerlessness of the Palestinians against the might of the Israeli Army.
As Jews and as educated world citizens, we need to strategically decide when to go on the emotional offensive. Let's not only engage the minds of our audience but their hearts as well. Tell them about the Israeli couple getting married in a bomb shelter in Sderot last summer, all because Hamas launched a record high of 275 Kassam rockets, solely directed at civilians. Tell them about the moral battle an Israeli soldier faces when his unit discovers that innocent Palestinians have been forced to harbor suicide bombers in their homes.
In order to reclaim my generation, Israel must first establish emotional legitimacy, but, ultimately that is not enough. Instead, we must effectively preempt Abunimah and his kind before they twist Israel's legitimate actions into those of a calculating, terrible monolith. Our goal must be to humanize Israel as a democracy of individual citizens with the same hopes and fears as their Palestinian neighbors.
Then and only then will Generation Save the insert cause here consider Israelis on a comparable footing to that of Palestinians. In the process one can only hope that my well-intended generation will eventually learn to ask tough questions of both sides.
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from the June 2008 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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