File photo: An IfNotNow activist being dragged away by an Israeli officer at an anti-occupation protest in Jerusalem. Jon Atkins

Young American Jews Increasingly Turning Away From Israel, Jewish Agency Leader Warns

The Jewish Agency's CEO and director-general called the trend 'extremely worrisome,' and said that a new strategy must be undertaken to engage young American Jews with Israel

Israel is rapidly losing its hold on young American Jews, who increasingly view the Jewish state as antithetical to their liberal values, a leader of the Jewish Agency warned on Monday.

Speaking in uncharacteristically blunt terms for an official in his position, Alan Hoffman, the CEO and director-general of the Jewish Agency, described the trend as “extremely worrisome” and said it was time to take a different approach to engaging young American Jews with Israel.

“I think it’s very important that we move to a new mode and encourage young Jews not only to engage in Israel advocacy and in defending Israel – those are all important things – but also to have them accept the legitimacy of challenging Israel,” Hoffman said. He was alluding to the tendency among Israeli political leaders to view Jewish students as their ambassadors on college campuses.

Hoffman was addressing a conference sponsored by the Israel Democracy Institute on Israel’s relations with Diaspora Jewry.

He cited a recent study conducted by the Brand Israel Group that showed that support for Israel among Jewish college students in the United States had dropped 32 percent between 2010 and 2016.

“In the year since Trump was elected, the situation has only been exacerbated,” he said. “Jewish student college students in the United States, not including those who are Orthodox, see Israel, justifiably or not, as something opposed to their basic liberal and progressive values.”

He added: “If I were to target one demographic that is critical for the future of Israel and the Jewish people, it is them.”

The growing rift between Israel and American Jewry in general, according to Hoffman, was “like nothing we have ever seen before.”

Older American Jews are not as disengaged from Israel as their younger counterparts, he said, but they were deeply offended by recent actions of the government. “Among large sections of American Jewry, there is a real question today about how much Israel is home to them,” he said.

Hoffman relayed that during a presentation last week before the board of the New York Jewish Federation, he was bombarded with questions pertaining to Israel’s attitude toward Jewish pluralism. “Every single question had to do with pluralism,” he said. “The Western Wall, conversions – how could Israel do this to us? They asked. And these questions were coming from the older generation of leaders and donors at a huge federation that raises $200 million a year for Israel.”

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