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2010 Annual Assessment


The subject of this chapter is the effect of the de-legitimization of the State of Israel upon the Israel attachment of young Jews in the Diaspora. Many among Israel’s supporters fear that Israel’s case is being de-legitimized among highly educated, liberal populations-precisely the demographic of most American Jews. This anxiety is especially intense concerning young Jewish adults, who have been described in some research1 as less attached to Israel than earlier generations. On college campuses, anti-Israel programs, talks, rallies and petition campaigns have attracted attention.2 Some observers, both inside and outside the organized Jewish community, have assumed that this “Israel de-legitimization” is a primary factor in putatively decreasing support for Israel among younger American Jews. In a sharply-worded, much-discussed New York Review of Books piece, for example, journalism professor Peter Beinart declared, “Morally, American Zionism is in a downward spiral,” and accused the organized Jewish community of alienating young Jews by adhering to a repressive policy of blind support for untenable Israeli policies.3 Jewish publications produced a flood of responses, ranging in tone from angry defensiveness to expressions of concern to breast-beating admissions of guilt.4

While Israel has been the object of de-legitimization for many years, the de-legitimization of Israel has increased in quantum terms in the past decade. It is fast becoming a growing trend progressing from the Middle East and the margins into the mainstream of international discourse. Some observers perceive an imaginary line stretching from the Durban World Conference Against Racism in 2001, which was dedicated to the condemnation of Israel as a racist state, to the Goldstone Report of 2009, which condemned Israel as guilty of crimes against humanity in Gaza and continues to be featured on the UN agenda. A few days before this Annual Assessment went to press, Richard Goldstone published an article in the Washington Post, in which he reconsidered some of the conclusions of the Goldstone Report. He stressed that in contrast to Israel, which does its best to avoid civilian casualties and seriously investigates allegations regarding targeting of civilians and war crimes, Hamas commits war crimes and targets civilians deliberately and as a matter of policy. The Israeli leadership enthusiastically embraced the article, but it is too early to tell what the practical results of the publication of the article will be. Policy makers and research institutes in Israel and the Diaspora have become increasingly alarmed by this trend and are currently devoting significant resources to documenting and analyzing it as well as formulating adequate responses to it and the threat that it represents.5

Thus, the main focus of this chapter is the critically important but little documented intersection of the Israel attachment and Jewish identity of young Jews with the de-legitimization of Israel that is occurring on many university campuses in North America, Western Europe and Latin America. We will start by taking a short look at the concrete expressions of de-legitimization on college campuses and analyze their main thrust, arguments and appeal. We will then analyze the proximity of some manifestations of de-legitimization to contemporary liberal and globalizing discourses and practices and the implications of this proximity for today’s young Jews.