Naftali Bennett’s response to the dramatic shift in recent years in American college students’ traditional sympathy for Israel is both ridiculous and megalomaniacal: The Diaspora Affairs Ministry will fund a project “to strengthen Jewish identity and connection to Israel.” As it happens, many have lost their emotional attachment to Israel, their pride in it has been reduced, and some even say they are ashamed of it. Leadership of the project was handed to a company called Initiative for the Future of the Jewish People. So much for the comedy. Now for the real farce.
The future of the Jewish People in the Diaspora in general and North America in particular is excellent. Its main concern is that the future of Israel may not be all that great. “Activity on campuses around the world is the real answer to the growing anti-Semitism and delegitimization of Israel on campus.”
Really? The likes of Bezalel Smotrich, Ayelet Shaked and Bennett himself can also be credited with much of the delegitimization of Israel on campus. Smotrich’s appalling statements, which represent a particularly off-putting strain of Judaism, and especially his encouragement for racial separation in public places, are not well-received by most students. The undemocratic legislation that Shaked promoted runs counter to their liberal values. Their skeptical Jewish spirit is averse to the literal interpretation that Bennett’s party gives to the Divine promise that the Land of Canaan shall be given to Abraham and his descendants for all time – they notice the word “occupation” peeking between the lines.
So there’s a much easier and less expensive solution for halting the erosion in sympathy for Israel. “Jewish identity” does not need strengthening. It only needs to stop being bothered. It may sometimes fray a bit at the edges from mixed marriages and assimilation, but the Jews are a stiff-necked people who insist on sustaining their identity, even at a terrible cost. The years of Benjamin Netanyahu’s rule, to which Bennett and friends are a party, are the biggest threat to their identity.
Bennett’s project is not beneath using atrocity as therapy. “The trip to Poland was the most shocking and most amazing experience,” one American student is quoted on the organization’s website. “They showed us the beauty even as they taught us about the horrors that happened there,” said another. Bennett appears to be a man of little faith who believes that the way to strengthen “Jewish identity” and boost support for Israel is to keep bringing up Auschwitz.
Well here’s a lesson that should be taught to students of Jewish history: Like all history, it is dialectical. The persecution and torture tie both sides together in a reprehensible and unbreakable bond. The victim who was deprived of his humanity is obligated to behave with compassion and humanity so as not to succumb to the temptation presented by the abuser. If instead of Bennett’s party this would be Israel’s dazzling contribution to the world, Israel’s delegitimization problem would be solved.
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