Marco Werman: The U.S. is Israel's staunchest ally but it's clear that Israel's military operations in Gaza are testing the relationship. Today, a White House spokesman described the shelling of a United Nations school in Gaza as totally unacceptable and totally indefensible. Several Palestinians civilians, including children, were killed. Despite such civilian casualties public support for Gaza remains high among Israelis. But what about the American Jewish community. Peter Beinart follows this closely. He's the author of 'Crisis of Zionism,' and he says this latest Gaza war is not very popular with the younger generation of U.S. Jews
Peter Beinart: It's polarizing American Jews along ideological lines, but also along generation lines. You can see that very much playing out in social media where younger people are more likely to be on line. It's not to say that Israel doesn't have strong defenders among their American Jews. It does. Especially form within, more likely from within the orthodox community. But, overall, this general sense that we've had among America Jews over the past few years that the interracial conversation within families are very difficult on this issue. Because, of different generations of experiences, I think this war has made that even more the case than it was before.
Werman: So, what kinds of things are you hearing from American Jews across this generational lines? If we take the millennials who are obviously very active on, on social media and some say their parents who are, perhaps, less active. What is that debate all about? What does it sound like?
Beinart: I think older American Jews are more likely to start with the assumption that Palestinian's have never accepted Israel and basically hate Israel and that helped to mock a very virulent expression of that and then added to that is to see that a really disturbing rise in anti-Semitism in Europe and to say that Israel is under assault and we need, we need to stand behind, even if we don't support every Israel policy at this moment. With Israel under assault we have to stand behind it and that particularly resonates for people who in their own lives may have remembered things like 1948 or 1967. Or, may have personal experiences from antisemitism and so this really resonates for them. I think for younger Americans, they may not reject all of that but, they may be more likely to start with a more realistic assumption that the Palestinian's are not all that different from us and that the Palestinian's have been living without some of the basic rights that we would want ourselves, and while they certainly would probably, would not defend Hamas and not defend the Hamas rocket fire might even say that Israel has a right to defend itself. They would say, 'Yeah, but wait a second. Is Israel really treating the Palestinians fairly. Is Israel's blockade of Gaza really entirely justified. Can Israel justify all these civilian casualties even if it's going after Hamas. So, I think those, I'm, I'm, trying to describe it that isn't prejudiced against it one way or another. But, I think these are different perspectives that come from different life experiences. Younger people have had less experience with anti-Semitism in their own lives and they've grown up seeing Israel as a powerful country, not a weak country.
Werman: I'm 53 and grew up and went to school and knew very few Arabs or Arab Americans. I think that's changed a lot. I'm wondering if there's for, you know, a younger generation of, of greater sense of empathy?
Beinart: I think you're making a very important point. Right. Since 1965 we've had this big influx of immigrants from around the developing world and from the Muslim world and I think people going to college today, for instance, that are in their 20's, are much more likely to have casual friendships with people either who are Palestinians, Arabs or Muslims more generally and although sometimes, you know, those kinds, those types of relationships across campuses are described in the American Jewish establishment as very hostile. In my experience, actually, there, you know, they're often quite good and I think it humanizes people. Again, it's not likely to make them sympathize with Hamas. But, I think when you know someone who is Muslim, for instance, you are much less likely to become, to traffic in the kind of very harshly anti-Muslim rhetoric that sometimes you see amongst older American Jews.
Werman: And yet, the American Congress has voted 100-0 to support Israel's right to defend itself. Do you think there not, the lawmakers in Washington are not, you know, taking into account the, the debate that's actually going on among the American Jews?
Beinart: It was actually an extraordinary really resolution, if you look at it. The Senate and the House resolution didn't even make reference to the the fact that any Palestinians had died. I mean, you would not know from reading that resolution that any Palestinians had died. It was truly an appalling document and it is really remarkable when you think about it. Someone like an Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, who is a socialist for goodness sake. Or Al Franken all supported that resolution. Do I really believe in their heart of hearts that is what they believe? No. I don't. But, I mean, I can't prove it. But, I don't actually believe that's what they think in their heart of hearts. But, I think that American politicians have made a calculation that the hassle that you get from taking a position that is at odds with the organized pro Israeli community, American Jews, but also to some degree the Evangelical Christian is just a headache that most people don't want to deal with and the political price, on the other side, is virtually nil. I mean, Palestinian Arab Americans are not an influential constituency in Washington and liberal American Jews while they've become more organized from J Streets essentially have nowhere to go. I mean, they're not going to vote for a Republican.
Werman: J Street of a lobby group in Washington.
Beinart: J Street is a lobby group in Washington. But, those people are not going to vote, for a, for a Republican, right. So, even if the Democratic senator who is a bit more liberal on many things, is a little bit more supportive of Benjamin Netanyahu than they like. But, they don't have an alternative. Remember, the Democrats don't have a culture of primary challenges like the Republicans do. So, a Democratic Senator is basically pretty safe from challenges on the left from this issue, right now. It could change in the future.
Werman: I mean, final question, bottom line, here. Is the current Israeli war with Gaza a before and after moment generally speaking for US Jews and their relation with Gaza?
Beinart: I wouldn't put it that starkly. But, I think there is a longer term transition and this is one moment in that transition. It is a transition to a younger generation of American Jews who first of all don't feel Israel as a refuge from anti-Semitism in the way their parents may have. Secondly, are more likely to see Israel and generally as a powerful and privileged community, rather than a weak and menaced community and thirdly, because they have much less social distance in their own personal relationships from gentiles and indeed from Arabs and Muslims, are less likely to feel like criticism has to be kept in house. That you could only criticize among Jews. Younger American Jews don't do virtually anything among Jews. So they, unlike their parents and grandparents are more are more likely to feel comfortable with public criticism. What, I hope, with some of those instincts which, which leads them to challenge Israeli policy. Can be coupled with a sense of wonder and affection for the project of Israeli statehood.
Announcer: Peter Beinart, the author of the 'Crisis in Zionism.' Thanks very much.
Beinart: Thank you.