Monday, January 12, 2009


Jeet Heer, National Post, Israel - For all its tactical skills in turning Gaza into a charnel house, Israel is facing a serious strategic loss on the battlefield of public perception. As it did in earlier wars where Israel killed large numbers of civilians, global public opinion is cooling toward the Jewish state, which runs the risk of becoming an international pariah.

This shift in public opinion is most striking when we look at young Jews in North America, who are much more critical of Israel than their parents and grandparents. Given the fact that Israel has always relied heavily on support, both financial and moral, from the Diaspora, the loss of loyalty of young Jews is a dangerous trend. . .

No TV personality has a better sense of the pulse of the young than Jon Stewart, himself Jewish and hitherto a staunch supporter of Israel. On the Daily Show when commenting on Gaza, Stewart mocked politicians like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg for criticizing the Palestinians while failing to acknowledge their legitimate grievances. The show's studio audience laughed in agreement at Stewart's complaint that the American media and political elite were offering a one-sided pro-Israel perspective on the conflict.

A 2006 survey sponsored by the Andrea and Charles Bronfman philanthropies found that many young Jews were at best lukewarm about Israel. Only 48% of young Jews surveyed said that they would regard the destruction of Israel as a personal tragedy, as against 77% of Jewish senior citizens. Among Jews old enough to collect a pension, 81% were comfortable with the idea of a Jewish state; this number dropped dramatically to 54% among Jews in the much-coveted under 35 demographic.

Events like the war in Gaza are likely to intensify the post-Zionism of young Jews. In the public debate in America, it is striking that the strongest supporters of Israel tend to be writers like Alan Dershowitz (age 70), Marty Peretz (also 70) and William Kristol (a sprightly 56). As against this Geritol brigade, a group of young Jewish writers, many of them working for progressive think-tanks that are helping to shape the Obama administration, have been admirably sharp-witted in attacking the Gaza offensive as a moral and strategic failure. . .

Why are young Jews so harsh in their criticism of Israel? The only honest answer is Israel's terrible human rights record. The wanton slaughter in Gaza is merely the latest in a long litany of Israeli atrocities, all of which help the Jewish state win some short-term victories while making long-term peace impossible. If Israel is to survive it needs to listen to these critical voices, rather than the false friends who urge a continuation of the cycle of violence and retribution. And if Israel doesn't listen to its critics in the Diaspora, then it will face a friendless future.