Young American Jews Say ‘IfNotNow Doesn’t Speak For Us’
We are young Jews from across the United States. We represent the left, right, and center of the political spectrum. We are Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Mizrahi, Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. Yet, despite our differences, we are united in our view of the group IfNotNow (INN): they do not speak for us.
INN claims that Jewish institutions systematically censor the truth about Israel, taking advantage of our naivete and selling us a utopian image of the Jewish state that ignores its flaws. But this is not our experience.
We remember our youth as a time of joyous simplicity. Our Hebrew schools and families taught us the virtue of “Tikkun Olam” (repairing the world) and encouraged us to pursue justice. Israel was naturally a shared value for us.
Our youth in summer camps, synagogues, and day schools was suffused with education about Israel, and what it meant for the Jewish people. We were encouraged to unequivocally support the right of the Jewish people to a country of their own in their ancestral home. However, we also learned very early on that, as Zionists, we could love Israel while criticizing it at the same time.
Growing up, our educators and families did minimize our exposure to the worst of the conflict between Israel and its neighbors. We understand that they were preserving our innocence and do not blame them. We recognize that this is a privilege robbed from Israeli and Palestinian children, who must live within the conflict. No child should be exposed to war or terror, and we are grateful that we were able to mature before learning about the harsher realities in more depth.
University life was a whole new world that tested our knowledge and identities. However, instead of abandoning our values, our passion for Israel has only deepened. Exposure to different narratives and historical contradictions has motivated us to strengthen ourselves and our Jewish communities. We strive to meet our intellectual, social, and political challenges with engagement, understanding, pride, growth, and solidarity with other marginalized groups.
We continue to see Israel as a dynamic country involved in some of the most amazing technological, cultural, and humanitarian pursuits. The revival and resilience of this nation, surviving and thriving against all odds, is part of what makes us proud to be Jewish and supportive of Israel. And we also see a country only 70 years young, which is still a work in progress.
Debates about religion and state, struggles for social and economic justice, and tensions with neighbors are all part of Israel too. As young Jews, we differ about how to solve these problems, but we are united in our dream of a more just and peaceful future for all people in the region.
We also understand that there are no easy solutions — and no amount of slogans, chants, or entitled outbursts against Birthright Israel by IfNotNow and other groups can change the reality on the ground.
Palestinian leaders have rejected every major peace proposal since the 1937 Peel Commission Plan. In 2000 and 2008, the Israeli government offered to leave almost all of Gaza and the West Bank for the creation of a Palestinian state, in return for peace. Palestinian leaders said no, and refused to even make a counter-offer. In 2005, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdrew all Israeli soldiers and civilians from the Gaza Strip, despite harsh criticism from his own political party. As we all know, the result was not “freedom and dignity for all” (INN’s slogan), but a brutal takeover by Hamas, which oppresses its own people and uses Gaza as a launching pad for terror attacks against Israelis.
Israel’s attempts to “end the occupation” have been met with suicide bombings, rockets, terror tunnels, and genocidal rhetoric by terrorist groups. They have been met with Fatah rewarding terrorism, spreading antisemitism, and denying any Jewish connection to Israel in the Palestinian media, education system, and beyond. By ignoring these realities, INN perpetuates the conflict and reinforces a black and white narrative that fuels hostility against Israelis and Jews around the world.
INN is far from the first to promote external pressure on Israel without holding Palestinian leaders accountable. While INN might argue that this is legitimate because Israel has stronger defensive capabilities, nothing can justify giving Hamas and Fatah’s systemic exploitation of Palestinian suffering, nor their ongoing aggression against Israelis, a free pass.
Furthermore, in taking “no position” on Zionism or Israel’s right to exist, INN emboldens extremists who want the Jewish state dismantled. Pushing an immoral approach that has only pulled Israelis and Palestinians further apart is not revolutionary. In fact, it only serves to entrench the status quo.
As young Jews who want to stand on the right side of history, the lack of a clear solution to the conflict is deeply frustrating. Yet it is unthinkable for us to ignore the concerns of Israelis or Palestinians because of our frustration. The shallow, one-sided propaganda and instant social media gratification sold by INN is not a substitute for genuine engagement with those concerns.
Judaism teaches us to see dignity in all human beings and pursue justice because of that. As disappointing as discourse about Israel has been at times, we still maintain Tikvah — hope. We still believe young American Jews can come together, educate themselves, and be part of the solution. It starts with putting the slogans aside, recognizing the rights and dignity of Israelis and Palestinians, and approaching both peoples with the respect and agency they deserve.
Stephanie Margolis is a junior at UMASS Amherst. Justin Feldman is a Junior at UCLA. Neil Dasgupta is a junior at Stonybrook University.