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September 27, 2017 3:21 pm

The Rebellious Teenagers of Jewish Voice for Peace

avatar by Jonathan Greenberg / JNS.org

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A demonstration in Seattle by the anti-Israel group Jewish Voice for Peace. Photo: Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.org – Most Jews look on the segment of the Jewish community that hates Israel and Zionism with a mixture of disdain, irritation and puzzlement.

Yet, despite data indicating that a split between American Jewry and Israel is deepening, the organized Jewish world has yet to seriously and effectively address the problem.

Now, the anti-Israel voices in the Jewish world have decided to attack Birthright Israel — the largest educational organization in the world — for offering free trips to Israel for young Jews between the ages of 18-26. This would be a good time to fight back against our anti-Israel minority.

The campaign against Birthright Israel was launched by the anti-Israel organization Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). This group may be the single-most misnamed organization in the history of section 501 of the US tax code.

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While some JVP members might be Jewish according to religious law, their Judaism exists only to the extent that it can be used as a cudgel against the people with whom they claim to identify. They aren’t “for peace.” They’re in league with, and providing cover to, some of the planet’s worst Jew-haters.

The Anti-Defamation League has even published a thorough takedown of JVP, explaining that the group supports a Palestinian “right of return,” which would effectively end the Jewish state. JVP also describes Israel’s founding by the name the “nakba”– which is Arabic for catastrophe. JVP’s views often line up with those of Hamas, and JVP is actually more radical than the Palestinian Authority.

The JVP anti-Birthright manifesto reads like the kind of self-centered, labile poetry that an adolescent might write. Despite being faux-erudite, meaningless-intersectional-jargon-filled garbage, JVP’s statement — and its campaign to damage Birthright — won’t work. But then, its primary purpose is not to damage Birthright the organization. It’s primary purpose is to chip away at the heart of Zionism — the need for and desirability of Jewish national consciousness.

JVP isn’t even interested in damaging Birthright as an organization. If it were, their marketing campaign would be #RejectBirthright. Instead, it wants to #ReturnTheBirthright. Return is a permanent state of surrender, and the manifesto is explicit: it’s not okay that Israel exists. The JVP campaign seeks to fertilize the idea among young Jews that it’s acceptable to reject the Jewish national homeland, with the ancillary benefit of maybe damaging an organization that they dislike.

For decades, the American Jewish community didn’t need to make the case that Zionism addressed an urgent, ongoing Jewish need. The case was obvious. But as the founding generations and miracles of the Jewish state fade into history, that clarity has been lost.

Yet now that we need to make the case for Israel, we seem to lack the conviction to do so. Whether out of a misguided desire to make the enemies of Jewish national aspiration welcome in our communities, exhaustion from an argument that never seems to end, or our own political misgivings about Israeli policies, we have failed to support Israel and the very idea of Zionism.

The best response to the irritant of JVP would be to create and promote a core curriculum of unapologetic Zionism to every Jewish religious school and an adult education program at every synagogue and JCC in the country. This curriculum should not focus on the history of Israel nor the details of her defensive wars and conflicts (although that would also be valuable), but on the tremendous historical and intellectual roots of what Arthur Hertzberg called “the Zionist idea.”

Imagine if the resources of the broad, organized Jewish community were brought to bear on such a project. Imagine if the rebellious teenagers of JVP and their ridiculous manifesto had to compete in the marketplace of ideas with Hess, Ahad Ha’am, Klatzkin, Brandeis, Rabbi Kook and Jabotinsky.

So let’s make them. This attack on Birthright — an organization surely among the greatest in our people’s storied history — should be the last straw.

Jonathan Greenberg is an ordained reform rabbi and the senior vice president of the Haym Salomon Center. Follow him on Twitter: @JGreenbergSez.

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