Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered another great AIPAC speech this week: yet again Iran, yet again the Jewish state, yet again how righteous we are. Unlike others, I think Netanyahu spoke the truth. Indeed, Iran. Indeed, the Jewish state. Indeed, we are right.
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But I have news for Netanyahu: Outside the giant conference hall on Mount Vernon Street, very few people listened to him. And even within the conference hall, many were tired of him. His justified message sounded like yesterday’s message. He is no longer convincing and no longer exciting; he’s no longer even Churchillian. Netanyahu’s unseen cigar is no longer understood as the cigar of heroism, but as the cigar of an anachronistic white conservatism whose time has passed.
Over the last few months, I’ve visited about a dozen leading American universities. I’ve spoken to thousands of people, and listened to hundreds. The situation is unambiguous: We’re losing the future. The younger generation of American Jews is much more Barack Obama than it is Netanyahu. Its world of values is the liberal world. Its perception of reality is a pacifist perception. It utterly rejects the occupation, the use of force and human rights violations.
Many of them still have a deep emotional affinity to Israel, but even they are perplexed and perturbed. It’s hard for them to reconcile the contradiction between the Israel of Taglit-Birthright, which injects hormones into the arteries of the Jewish people, and the Israel of the settlers and the ultra-Orthodox.
But Netanyahu, instead of extending a hand to these young people, is turning his back on them. He hasn’t been paying attention to the fact that even inside AIPAC’s giant and important conference hall, new winds are blowing nowadays. The hunger is for a new message. The thirst is for a different Israel. The demand is for a turnabout.
What slices American Jewry into segments is age. Anyone over 70 remembers the Holocaust and is religiously committed to Israel. Anyone over 50 remembers the younger Israel and finds it hard to free himself of its charm. But anyone under 30 experiences a duality: On one hand, he is drawn to the Israel of high-tech and Tel Aviv and night life, but on the other hand, he is horrified by the Israel of the “price-tag” attacks and the exclusion of women. When this duality comes into contact with a hostile left-wing atmosphere, the results are devastating. Many students at Harvard and Columbia and Stanford feel that current Israeli politics makes it hard for them to love Israel.
Thus when Netanyahu is getting high on the sweeping support of the American Jewish establishment, he is disconnected from reality. He has no idea where the new America stands, and he has no idea where young Jews stand. He doesn’t understand what’s happening at the universities where he himself studied. The first Israeli prime minister to speak perfect English speaks 1970s- and 1980s-era American.
American Jews in their 70s deserve great admiration. As a rule, their personal life stories are incredibly impressive. Their community’s success story is a tremendous one. Over the last half century, they have created and consolidated a Diaspora Jewry the likes of which has never been seen before. They deserve a medal of honor. Seriously, a medal of honor.
But today, the front lies elsewhere. Today, the battle for the Jewish future isn’t being waged in the luxury penthouses but on the lower floors of the house. Blue and white? If blue and white wants to be relevant in the land of the red, white and blue, it must redefine itself.
The Zionism of the 21st century must be open and liberal, as it was in the days of David Ben-Gurion, Abba Eban, Abba Hillel Silver and Stephen Wise. Only that kind of Zionism is one that American Jews in their 20s, like those in their 50s and 70s, could be proud of. Only a progressive, determined, patriotic and energetic Zionism can go out to the real America and the real Judaism and win their hearts once again.