Simone Zimmerman's fiery Haaretz op-ed, "American Jewish Millennials Aren't Disengaged From Israel, We're Angry" gave a voice to some members of our millennial generation. But her voice doesn't speak for me as a Jewish American who has a strong bond with Israel. And our millennial generation doesn’t speak with a single voice.
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We are tall. We are short.
We are Ashkenazi. We are Sephardic.
We are Democrats. We are Republicans. We are Independents.
We are Orthodox. We are Conservative. We are Reform. We are Traditional. We are “other.”
We millennials are many things but we cannot and should not typecast ourselves with a single brush stroke.
Zimmerman asks the question: "We millennials have one simple question for our community’s leaders: do you support equal rights for all people and if so, what are you going to do about it?"
As a millennial who believes in equal rights for all people, I am going to stand for Israel, because of the values that she has and that govern the nation and its people equally. No other nation in the region shares with America as similar a value-set as Israel. All Israelis, no matter of their race, religion, creed, skin-tone, gender, or sexual preference share the same basic rights and freedoms.
Zimmerman speaks passionately about her perspective of what she and others call “the occupation.” But nowhere in Miss Zimmerman’s op-ed does she speak of the peace that Israel wants to reach. A peace that was met and sustained with her neighbors Egypt and with Jordan and was offered and rejected by the Palestinian leadership on several occasions. When pro-Palestinian individuals and groups use clever terminology like "the occupation" to try to demonize Israel, they don’t define what "the occupation" means. They sing “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” Is Zimmerman relating to the 1967 or the 1947 borders when she speaks of “the occupation?” Are all millenials?
Zimmerman speaks passionately about some Jewish American millennials and their displeasure with some Israel policies that affect the Palestinian people. But nowhere does she mention Israel’s challenge in trying to protect and defend her citizens from Hamas — who publicly express not just a desire to kill Israelis through acts of terror, but also to commit genocide against the Jewish people. Nor does she speak about how the Palestinian Authority has entered into a unity government with Hamas; nor how the PA incites terror and how they reward it. Nor does she speak of the stabbings on the streets of Jerusalem, the suicide bombings of years past, or the tens of thousands of mortars fired indiscriminately by radical Islamic jihadists at innocent Israeli civilians.
She does not speak of the child abuse that is occurring every single day in Gaza and the West Bank — where children are taught to hate and not love, and the war crimes that are committed when Hamas uses human shields, nor the abuses of power in Gaza when rockets and mortars are stored in UN funded schools or fired from hospitals.
No nation is perfect. America isn’t perfect. But that doesn’t mean that I am not unabashedly proud to be a Jewish American. I am proud to be an American because of the values that this nation stands for. I cannot agree with every decision by every American president nor every policy of every U.S. Congress. I hear the vitriol of some of our candidates for president today and it doesn’t make me want to be any less American, it makes me want to be more American — and to vote in 2016.
Israel isn’t perfect. But that doesn’t mean that I am not proud to be a Jewish American who stands with Israel in her counter-terrorism strategy that is designed purely to safeguard the innocent lives of Israeli men, women, and children — no matter their religion.
I am for a two state solution. And therefore, I am inherently pro-Palestinian. I am for the Palestinian people to have a right to be free and to be prosperous. But I do not think being pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian are mutually exclusive. I am for a free and independent Jewish state to live in peace and prosperity with a free and independent Palestinian state.
If the Palestinian leadership truly were motivated to provide for the Palestinian people — they would have already negotiated to create a free and independent Palestinian state, from 1948 and onwards. But the Palestinian leadership cannot accept a Jewish democratic State of Israel.
And if the Palestinian leadership truly were motivated to provide for the Palestinian people — they wouldn’t divert the billions of aid relief that flows to them every year to build terror tunnels. The Palestinian leadership wouldn’t amass personal fortunes while their people starve.
Regarding Ari Shavit’s op-ed that triggered Zimmerman’s response ("Only a 'Jewish Peace Corps' Can Save Zionism From Its Millennial Crisis") — I disagree. Our generation is not lost. But many of us are confused. We are the hashtag generation where news is consumed in 140 characters or less, via memes and GIFs. What our generation needs is not handouts and freebies. Our generation needs unbiased facts, more dialogue, more understanding, and more than 140 characters to understand complex issues. We need to visit Israel and speak to Israelis. We need to understand what it means to have a child or grandparent who hears a siren, but who is immobile or incapable of finding the closest bomb shelter. We need to stop pointing fingers and placing blame and instead start pointing forward and finding solutions.
Like Zimmerman, I don’t feel American Jewish millennials are disengaged from Israel. We have traveled there more so than any previous generation. We have widely differing perspectives on Israel, but we aren't disengaged. Some of us are engaged in standing for Israel and standing for her policies that are designed to protect the lives of Israelis. Others in promoting a different path for peace, based on a different policy position they believe will bring peace faster. But both sides of the conversation are certainly engaged.
I hope Simone Zimmerman and the millenials who share her policy perspective, together with those who share mine, can find constructive ways to engage with one another, and with our community leaders and our institutional organizations, to find and reach common ground. On one point we have a single voice: to advance the shared aspirations of peace and prosperity for all people related to the conflict who have rejected violence and have chosen peace and prosperity.
Jason Langsner is an active member of the Washington, D.C. Jewish community, volunteers for local and national pro-Israel and Jewish organizations and previously headed the digital strategy and online conversation for B'nai B'rith International. Follow him on Twitter: @jasonlangsner