Thursday, June 03, 2010


Some Thoughts on I/P Narratives and "Those Kids Today"

There is a lot of discussion lately within the Jewish community about "why aren't Jewish youth more supportive of Israel" and the nature of the correlation of lack of support of Israel with lack of involvement of Jewish youth in Jewish communal life.

Allow me to put in my $0.03 (gotta figure on inflation) here -- it seems to me there are (at least) two competing narratives about Israel:

(1) Israel is a plucky nation of immigrants -- who have fled or are descendents of those who fled centuries of persecution where they were deemed permanent outsiders -- struggling against a sea of hostility to form a nation where they could finally be considered native inhabitants of that land, and it's done quite well for itself, thank you very much -- so who are you to criticize what it does to survive?

(2) Israel, in its very creation, displaced a native population from its ancestral homeland and, when that native population, quite understandably even if wrongly, resorted to violence, Israel, out of all proportion to the damages it suffered, lashed out at that population it displaced (thus starting all these problems in motion to begin with). Ironically (and leftists love irony, especially when "it figures"), a nation founded by displaced, oppressed people has become a nation of oppressors that has displaced another oppressed people. (*)

Of course, narrative #1 tends to resonate more with people in, e.g., the US, a "nation of immigrants" (**). And this narrative is often re-enforced in Jewish communal settings, so Jews who affiliate strongly with communal Jewish life will naturally reflect upon their or their ancestors' experience as "wandering Arameans". Thus to American Jews to whom the "Jewish experience" is a very direct influence, narrative #1 resonates most strongly.

On the other hand as Jews become more assimilated and established in, e.g., American society, narrative #1 looses its resonance while narrative #2 gains resonance. Whereas a Jew, embedded within a Jewish community and fully aware of our history, will always feel a degree of displacement in the diaspora, an assimilated Jew established in the US identifies as someone who is a "native", of the US -- to them the establishment of Israel and displacement of Palestinians is as much of an injustice as would occur if a swath of the US were deemed a "Native American homeland" and some group of Europeans of partial Native American ancestry and practicing Native religions were to establish a state displacing them from the communities in which they were born!

Moreover, to the extent which young, assimilated Jews identify with the Jewish tradition, it is with Jewish ethical ideals and how we Jews have sufferred at the hands of nationalists. Arguments that we Jews should support Israel because it is a Jewish state while they should ignore the plight of (non-Jewish) Palestinians make them uncomfortable -- haven't we Jews sufferred enough because others supported their own nation-states and viewed the Jews as undesirable outsiders? And this, ironic view drives young Jews toward narrative #2 and away from support of Zionism.

Additionally, the degree to which Jewish communal life embraces Zionism and the larger "tribalism" of Jewish communal life perhaps drives away young Jews whose residual Judaism has taught them to fear the tribalism that (when practiced by Europeans) historically resulted in deadly anti-Semitism.

As to the implications of this analysis to those who want to increase support for Zionism (as well as participation in Jewish communal life), I don't know ... but if the organized Jewish community wants to understand why young Jews don't support Israel and are not involved in Jewish life (and to combat anti-Zionist propaganda better in general), they need to better understand where disaffection and anti-Zionist narratives come from in the first place. The self-defeating paranoid attitude of too many Jewish leaders and rhetorical defenders of Israel blinds them to how best to combat the very forces they claim to be at the forefront of combatting!

* Narrative #2 is obviously attractive to the far right and is, in that context, surely anti-Semitic considering its affinity to "Blood and Soil" romanticism. On the other hand, in as much as it focuses (or claims to focus) on dispossed, powerless people, it is most attractive to the political left, where it is anti-Semitic only to the extent that the left puts its stock in narrative #2 while refusing to even give a fair hearing to narrative #1 -- such refusal to hear all narratives by a political ideology that prides itself on its hearing of all narratives is problematic but, as I have pointed out before, the Puritanism of the left is not limitted to their double standards regarding Israel.

** meanwhile amongst the "natives" of Europe, narrative #2 naturally resonates more, thus explaining the relative anti-Zionism of Europe without explicitly invoking Europe's anti-Semitic history as an explanation, although anti-Semitism is, in some ways, just an expression of the same nativism of Europe that prejudices Europeans toward narrative #2 -- which correlation is part of why many Jews view narrative #2 as anti-Semitic and also are puzzled by the support of supposedly non-irredentist lefties for narrative #2: many Jews view narrative #2 as irredentist while leftists view narrative #1 is the nationalist one! not only do the narratives compete the meta-narratives compete as well!

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