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October 10, 2018 2:14 pm

New York Times Blames Israel For Alienating American Jews

avatar by Ira Stoll

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The headquarters of The New York Times. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The New York Times carries an article by Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss about what they say is “a growing list of visitors to Israel who have faced deportation or harassment because of their political views.”

Leave aside, at least for the moment, whether the questioning these visitors faced rises to what may be accurately described as “harassment.”

Stephens and Weiss stumble when they write, “Detaining people like Ms. Alqasem also does little to stem a worrying trend among young American Jews, who are increasingly alienated from Israel because of its hard-line policies.”

This claim that young American Jews are “increasingly alienated from Israel because of its hard-line policies” doesn’t stand examination.

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When that claim was made at book length a few years ago, a reviewer demolished it. He wrote: “A whopping 82 percent of American Jews feel that U.S. support for Israel is either ‘just about right’ or ‘not supportive enough’ — and that’s just among those Jews who describe themselves as ‘liberal’ or ‘very liberal.’…Generationally speaking, there even seems to be a rightward tilt among younger Jews. Consider Jerusalem: 58 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 29 oppose re-dividing it. Just 51 percent of their parents and grandparents feel the same way.”

That reviewer was Bret Stephens himself, writing in 2012.

To support their unsupported claim that young American Jews are “increasingly alienated from Israel,” Stephens and Weiss link to an article by Dov Waxman, a professor at Northeastern University. Waxman’s book on this topic was panned by the Middle East Quarterly, which concluded, “the book’s systematic flaw of conflating left-wing, anti-Israel activism with liberal Jewish idealism muddies rather than clarifies an important subject.” The Washington Free Beacon described the book as “an apologia for radical anti-Israel Jewish organizations and a distorted image of organized American Jewry as intolerant, elitist, and intent on silencing those who dare criticize Israel.”

Actually, though you wouldn’t know it from reading The New York Times, support for Israel among young American Jews is strong. New York’s Celebrate Israel Parade fills the streets with Jewish day school students waving Israeli flags. Birthright Israel trips mean that more young American Jews than ever before have benefited from immersive and positive Israel experiences. The annual AIPAC policy conference in Washington is full of Jewish college students learning and lobbying. American Jewish high school graduates often choose to study in Israel for a year before college.

Even granting, strictly for the sake of argument, that some young American Jews are alienated from Israel, that’s not necessarily worrying or “increasing,” either. This has been going on in one way or another since the 1970s and 1980s, as Thomas L. Friedman can personally attest from his Brandeis and Lebanon days. Maybe today’s young Jews will grow out of it as they get older.

And also granting, strictly for the sake of argument, that some young American Jews are alienated from Israel, what’s the evidence that this alienation is because of Israel’s “hard-line policies”? First of all, what “hard-line policies” could the Times authors possibly be talking about? In recent years, Israel has exercised remarkable restraint. It hasn’t bombed Iranian nuclear facilities. It hasn’t reoccupied Gaza. It has kept the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque accessible to Muslim visitors to Jerusalem. It hasn’t annexed the West Bank.

A more likely explanation for any alienation is that young American Jews are alienated from Israel for the same reason that they do not keep kosher, light sabbath candles, join synagogues, or marry other Jews — their parents never gave them a Jewish education or conveyed to them any sense that Judaism was important or valuable. This is sad, and too bad, but it has nothing to do with Israeli government policies, “hard-line” or otherwise.

What else could possibly be alienating young American Jews from Israel other than the Israeli government’s “hard-line policies”? Perhaps a sophisticated and well-funded propaganda campaign aimed at discrediting the idea of a Jewish state. Or perhaps consistently inaccurate and negative press coverage from a newspaper that liberal American Jews mistakenly think is telling them the truth. If Weiss and Stephens are genuinely concerned about the so-called problem of young Jews being alienated from Israel, maybe instead of second-guessing the Israeli government’s border authorities, they could start by doing more to clean up the ongoing scandal that is their own newspaper’s misleading portrayal.

More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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