This is a minimally edited version of an article I wrote for the Beth El Synagogue Bulletin. J Street, that fringe, deceptive group many consider anti-Israel, was part of an early version but removed because of space limitations. I plan to modify this in the future to deal with their negative role.
In an article, "The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment," published last year in The New York Review of Books, Peter Beinart took up the question of "why American Jewish college students were not more vigorously rebutting campus criticism of Israel."
Beinart argued that Jewish students were turned off because they wanted "an 'open and frank' discussion of Israel and its flaws."
I believe Beinart is dangerously wrong.
There's no shortage of discussion and debate about Israeli policy within the Jewish community, whether in America, in Israel or anywhere else around the world. The real problem is that there is no real discussion or debate on the other side. This presents a confusing and distorted picture to our youths.
Within the Jewish community, there is a relatively open and balanced debate, with even the strongest advocates of Israel recognizing Israel has made mistakes and the Palestinian Arabs have serious problems, albeit primarily of their own making, and recognizing Israel needs to make painful concessions in any peace agreement.
From the anti-Israel forces, there is a litany of distortions, half-truths and outright lies demonizing Israel.
Not having lived through the re-establishment of Israel, the Suez Campaign, the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War and the intifada, too young to remember the beginning of the Oslo process, the bus bombings in the mid-1990s or even the way the Palestinian Arabs rejected the establishment of a state in 2000 and launched the Al Aksa intifada instead, today's youth aren't really equipped to separate fact from fiction.
We have failed, as Peter Beinart points out, but not in the way he argues.
It is not that we have lacked discussion or debate or criticism; it is that we have not sufficiently educated our community and we have not imbued in our youth the feeling for Israel that previous generations had in their kishkes.
The reality is that the Jewish homeland is in a fight for survival, against an enemy that has the automatic support of most of the world. We need to make sure our youth understand that and are knowledgeable enough to carry on with a sometimes neglected part of Hillel's admonition: "If we are not for ourselves, who will be for us."
As far as how we do this, I have no answers, but Beinart's prescription would only exacerbate the problem.
I do believe synagogue needs to play an important role, starting with educating our members and supplying parents with needed tools.