It’s a painful call at a painful time, far less in scale than the suffering it emerges from, but still cutting deeply. Most come from young adults, more fully immersed in the toxic swill of social media. They are part of a growing number of American Jews whose souls struggle with the current state of the State of Israel.
They feel incredibly torn, raised to love Israel as historic homeland and refuge from millennia of persecution. Yet their formative Jewish education has focused on timeless values: tikkun olam, meaning repairing the world; tzedek, meaning justice; b’tzelem Elohim, the divinity of every human life; and pikuah nefesh, the responsibility to safeguard life. These values have inspired them to become active in many movements for social justice. And thus, Israel’s necessary defense against the attacks of Hamas terrorism seem to come at too high a cost in innocent Palestinian lives.
The older among us have worked alongside historic allies for liberal causes for generations, only to have these friends seemingly turn on us with an irrational contempt for the Jewish state and our support of it. But the ever-growing, voracious maw of social media amplifies the disinformation, hyperbole and flattening of discourse in ways that scar young Jews with gouging wounds.
Perhaps the insight most sorely lacking in this moment, and more broadly in these tribal times when all complexity and nuance is reduced to shallow binaries, is that thoughtful adults can hold two views in their minds and hearts at the same time. They can do so without dissonance or hypocrisy, as such multidimensional thinking has been the hallmark of reason since the Enlightenment.
One can love Israel as sacred center of Jewish identity and blessed sanctuary from historic hatred, and still condemn the Netanyahu government’s cynical manipulations and negligence in allowing the tortuous limbo of the Palestinian people to persist. One can lament the excruciating suffering of the Palestinian population — in their day-to-day existence and amid the current crisis — and still call out the corruption of its leadership, and its blind devotion to Israel’s destruction over the lives and opportunities of its people.
As I share these words with those young adults who will lead us into what lies ahead, I know it cannot fully salve the torment of this moment. But I pray that it will inspire greater knowledge through wider reading and more open minds, and greater wisdom through direct experience in Israel, and hopefully, a chance to meet and know Palestinians as people more than as cartoonish foil. And I hope the same will be true for young Palestinians and their global supporters, who will come to see Israel and its advocates as partners for peace beyond the stereotypes and memes that have too closely echoed the anti-Semitic tropes of the ages.
But the most chilling and daunting adversary for our larger culture, particularly in this era of heightened passions unmoored from shared fact and truth, is the indelible damage to consensus and conversation wrought by social media. We are allowing the hearts and minds of our future to be shaped, stunted and skewed by an unregulated marketplace of crazed conspiracies, idiotic ideologies, and slanderously sloppy patterns of thought untethered from the checks and balances that guided previous generations. When the rockets of Hamas and the F-16s of Israel soon abate, the larger war for the soul of our civilization will continue.