Dear Ari Shavit:
I was one of the under-30 audience members in your audience at Temple De Hirsch Sinai on May 28 — one of the “lost” youth who avoided the issue of Israel when I was in college because it was, as you said, “radioactive.” I am going to be straight with you Mr. Shavit — because on Wednesday night, you were anything but.
I read your book and was thoroughly impressed. I lived in Israel when I was a child. Then I returned for two years after college. Never had I encountered writing that so eloquently encapsulated Israel’s complexities. The fact that on Wednesday night you had Stand by Us members sitting side by side with members from The New Israel Fund is a testament your book’s nuance.
But Mr. Shavit, I was not impressed Wednesday night. I was disappointed.
In your speech, you told us that BDS is one of the biggest threats to Israel — in fact, maybe even more dangerous than Iran. You ominously warned us that in this epic battle, we are losing the fight for our future — we are losing our youth.
Last night didn’t help. I’ll tell you why:
You talked about how young people value universalism. But then, you fell right back into the Manichean binaries we find so repelling. Immediately, it was back to “us” vs. “them,” “light” vs. “darkness.” The “vile” BDS movement rages on campuses, you declared, and Jewish youth are falling victim to the dark side and “joining our enemies.” For someone who wrote a book that that so delicately straddled both/and, how could you descend so easily into either/or?
Mr. Shavit: Jewish youth have not forgotten history. We know that that our present must engage with our past. But we also know that we cannot use the events of the past to negate the truths of the present.
If you want to resonate with disengaged Millennials, you must be straightforward about Israel’s inequalities. When Birthright takes youth to Bedouin tents, the youth also need to know that Bedouins live in unrecognized villages without electricity or running water — while Jewish lone farmers run boutique restaurants and sell goat cheese. When they visit the friendly Druze who serve in the Israeli army, they also need to know that the government refuses to grant the Druze permits to expand their cities. When they say Jews were once refugees and point to all the refugees in South Tel Aviv, they also need to know that refugees sleep in sleeping bags in public parks because the government won’t give them work visas.
Pointing to Arabs in the Knesset does not erase the fact that in Israel, public services are separate, and not equal. Giving speeches about how Jews are victims, not colonizers, doesn’t erase the fact that we continue to take land and resources in the West Bank that are not ours to take. Most important, showing Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs walking side by side does not erase places like Hebron. Walking through that city, I saw “Death to Arabs” graffitied all over the walls. In that city, yes, the streets are divided, just like an apartheid state: One sidewalk is for the Jews, the other is for the Arabs. Until we start addressing the both/ands explicitly, Jewish youth won’t just feel confused — they’ll feel betrayed. And BDS will rage on.
Let’s talk about the new narrative you referenced on Wednesday, Mr. Shavit. Remember, the one you said that we need but conveniently dodged articulating. That new narrative must recognize that the Palestinian narrative of Nakba is not mutually exclusive with Israel’s legitimacy as a state.
Yes, for 2,000 years we were persecuted and displaced. From the ashes of the Holocaust, we finally got a strip of land that we could call our own. In so doing — as you describe in your chapters about Lydda or Ein Harod — we displaced another people.
Therein lies the commonality. Therein lies the universalism. We were a people who desperately needed a home. So too do the Palestinians. We cannot equivocate — we must embrace both narratives, both truths. We must remember Jewish suffering, but we cannot turn our backs on Palestinian suffering. We must admit that Israel’s democracy is pockmarked with holes, and we must fight relentlessly to close them, instead of convincing the world they don’t exist. Finding new rhetoric to persuade students on college campuses that we are “Davids, not Goliaths” is not going to defeat BDS, and it’s not going to persuade Jewish youth. Does this sound familiar, Mr. Shavit? It should. It’s in your book.
Want to know what Millennials want? Transparency. You wrote a nuanced book and then you turned your back on it. You pandered. And that’s exactly what turns us off.
A disappointed Millennial