Last week the New York Times reported a shocking statement from the former University of California chancellor on the importance of stopping the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) on campus because it threatens to poison the next generation of American leaders against the special relationship between the United States and Israel.
Linda K. Wertheimer reported:
[I]n December, Mark G. Yudof, former president of the University of California system, helped create the Academic Engagement Network. The group has some 275 members, mostly faculty, on about 110 campuses working in opposition to the B.D.S. movement. “I don’t want to see B.D.S. become stronger because, 20 years from now, these students will be judges, heads of Congress,” Mr. Yudof told me. “We have to respond now to maintain the historical relationship with Israel.”
Yudof is not alone in being panicked about the effect of college politics on the future of the Israel lobby.
Last December, the leading US Jewish journalist Jeffrey Goldberg and the Israeli politician Yitzhak Herzog expressed the same concern, specifically about young Jews, in a conversation at the Saban Forum.
Goldberg noted that Jewish Voice for Peace, which supports BDS, is the fastest-growing organization on his daughter’s college campus in the northeast, then went on:
This is not speculation on my part, that things are shifting radically not only in non Jewish America but in Jewish America as it concerns Israel and its reputation… What are you going to do about it?… The reality among liberal American Jews and liberal Americas is that they are turning, slowly sometimes, not so slowly other times, against Israel….
Goldberg then expressed his own contempt for those young Jewish Americans:
A lot of very mainstream Israelis ask, Why should we risk our lives by taking positions that could in fact hurt us physically, so that a group of spoiled children at Harvard and Yale and UCLA feel better about the Jewish state? The Jewish state was not created so that 18 year olds at Berkeley feel good.
Herzog responded that BDS is the latest manifestation of the “onslaught against Zionism for generations;” but he said that he is worried about it, for the same reason Yudof is:
The problem that you’ve mentioned is the growing disparity between the Jewish community in the United States, and the next generation who are going to take the leadership, who are going to be government officials, who are going to be opinion makers, who might be the next Mark Zuckerbergs’– and Israel.
And that’s definitely a strategic risk because part of our national strength was derived from the fact that the Jewish diaspora especially in the United States was extremely close to us, extremely supportive, and had major influence on the American policy overall. And what we will see in the next generation is if we hear and listen from our young generations– is Israel hate. Without understanding the case, without having a clue… about the vibrant, aggressive, impressive democracy that we have got.
Both these items (from last week and last December) underscore a profound truth that the Israel lobby has been denying for ten years: the power of the Israel lobby in U.S. politics. That’s what Yudof is afraid is being undermined; and Herzog is even more straightforward about it: It’s Jewish power, the “major influence on the American policy” exerted by older American Jews.
This is no casual matter; the loss of the lobby is a “strategic risk,” Herzog said; and this is precisely why Jeffrey Goldberg and Alan Dershowitz and Dennis Ross and Aaron David Miller and Richard Haass and others vehemently denied the allegations in the paper and book The Israel Lobby, published 9 and 10 years ago, because identifying this power openly was a threat to it. To “Jewish enfranchisement,” as Goldberg stated on the stage of the Center for Jewish History.
Now ten years on, the Israel lobbyists face a greater threat than academic critics of the Israel lobby: young Americans, who are awaking to Palestinian conditions on college campuses, thanks to the efforts of Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, and Black Lives Matter. And, pace Herzog, young Jewish Americans, the very Jews who are supposed to compose the leadership of the lobby– they’re deciding that Zionism with its inherent ethnic discrimination is not an ideology worth living for, yet alone dying for.
I would only comment that Yudof, Goldberg and Herzog are the real threats to the Jewish future. They would happily swap out any real intellectual and moral engagement with the world on the part of their children for an attachment to Israel. They have thereby destroyed the vaunted Jewish mind, which produced so many wonderful achievements in the west over the last 100 years, and given us Jewish automatons.
Thankfully, many young Jews are thinking for themselves, and their dependence in doing so on Palestinians and non-Jewish groups will forever change the definition of the liberal American Jewish community. And not a moment too soon.