Most young people don’t think Israel should exist. This is sad but not surprising

As president of the Union of Jewish Students, I am increasingly alarmed by the radicalisation of my peers


Some campus protesters for Palestine have been accused of being antisemitic by Jewish students (Photo: Getty)

June 07, 2024 12:08

Discovering that 54 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds agreed with the statement that “the state of Israel should not exist” — and that just 21 per cent disagreed — I was saddened, yet not surprised.

I was not surprised because since October 7 we have seen the worst crisis on campus for Jewish students in a generation. Jewish students have told the UJS that they feel “isolated, alone and terrified for… [their] community”; that they feel “displaced, isolated, delegitimised, collectively put on trial”.

What saddens me the most is that we have seen a resurgence of an intellectually flawed duplicity. When students were angry about the US invasion of Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11, they rightly exercised their right to protest to criticise the war. Yet they did not condemn the very existence of the US as a result of the war. However, rationality goes out the window when we discuss Israel. As demonstrated by this polling, condemnation of the actions of the Israeli government in response to Hamas’s brutal attack on October 7 supposedly necessitates calling for the cessation of the existence of the state of Israel itself.

We cannot afford to be silent in the face of these figures, because I fear silence means the next generation of Jewish students won’t have a connection with Israel. If Jewish students only engage with Israel when they are charged by their peers with being murderous genocidal individuals, it stands to reason they might buckle to the pressure and live their lives without engaging with Israel.

For Jewish people to no longer see value in exercising our right to national self-determination in our historical homeland is a wholesale rejection of the centrality of Israel in our Jewish lives. The Jewish people were singing the Hatikvah long before 1948, yearning “to be a a free people in our land. The land of Zion and Jerusalem”.

It is incumbent on us to reclaim what it means to be a Zionist in the 21st Century. Since October 7 we have rightly focussed externally on reclaiming Zionism from those who accuse us of being genocidal murderers, but we must also continue our internal journey, reclaiming Zionism from extremists — and yes, that includes the far-right ministers in the Israeli government, who seek to define Zionism on our behalf.

Reclaiming does not mean asserting a conception of Zionism that should be accepted homogenously. Rather, it should be manifested in recognising the diversity of Zionist thought, with Jewish students learning to engage in dialogue about the Israel they want to see in the world.

They must be equipped with the abilty to engage with a nuanced message, that you can be a proud Zionist while deeply caring about Palestinian human rights. It is this nuance that is so often missing in our engagement with Israel that means Jewish young people feel unable to be proud Zionists while rejecting the status quo. I, and the vast majority of Jewish students, continue to campaign for a two-state solution, with a secure Israel alongside a vibrant Palestinian state not in spite of my Zionism, but because of it.

This polling is unsurprising, but I firmly believe our destiny is still very much in our own hands.

Edward Isaacs is president of the Union of Jewish Students

June 07, 2024 12:08

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