Why Do Jewish Students Join Anti-Israel Orgs?

In controversial video, young activists accuse pro-Israel establishment of failing them, focusing on 'bikinis and hi-tech' - but is it fair?

Ari Soffer ,

Are Jewish students getting the wrong message from pro-Israel orgs?
Are Jewish students getting the wrong message from pro-Israel orgs?

Why do a small but vocal minority of young Jewish students consistently join the ranks of some of the most rabid anti-Israel organizations, both on and off campus?  

It's a question many mainstream Jewish organizations and community leaders have been struggling with for decades, with little in the way of answers or solutions to show for their efforts.

But one group of young student activists say the answer is simpler, and closer to home, than many think.

According to the Alliance for New Zionist Vision (ANZV) - a coalition of grassroots Zionist movements running in the World Zionist Congress Elections, and made up exclusively of students and young professionals - the key to winning back Jews mislead by the anti-Israel narrative lies in returning to and effectively communicating the basics of Zionism to Jewish youth in search of a cause.

And that, they say, requires some serious introspection on the part of mainstream pro-Israel advocacy (or hasbara) organizations, which they accuse of failing to communicate the right message vis-a-vis Israel.

To make its point, ANZV has released a controversial new video critiquing pro-Israel advocacy on North American college campuses. Entitled "Jews Talk Justice", the video takes campus advocacy organizations to task for what it insists is a misplaced focus on "Israeli high tech and beaches" to project a positive image of the State of Israel to students, "while downplaying the national rights and history of the Jewish people."


While acknowledging that "self-hatred and a need for social acceptance" may play a part in the counter-intuitive decision by some Jewish students to turn their backs on their own people's fight for self-determination - particularly in university environments, where taking up the "Palestinian cause" is seen as the fashionable thing to do - ANZV asserts that most Jewish students who join anti-Israel groups are "idealistic" and do not do so purely for superficial reasons such as peer-pressure.

Instead, the video accuses establishment pro-Israel groups of losing young hearts and minds by advocating for Israel using "superficial slogans", substituting a focus on the ideological principles of Zionism as a "revolutionary movement" for "hi-tech and bikinis."

ANZV wants "Zionists to promote a deeper, stronger and more historically relevant message that actually addresses the conflict within the context of authentic Jewish aspirations," ANZV spokeswoman Leah Karchmer told Arutz Sheva.

"Zionism as a revolutionary ideology has become irrelevant to our generation because the official Zionist movement has been run by older establishment figures who allowed the World Zionist Organization to be reduced to an arena for second rate political operatives to fight over jobs and divide budgets," she added. 

Going further, she claimed that "while Zionism is without a doubt one of the most successful revolutionary movements in human history, it has essentially been frozen since the liberation of Jerusalem in 1967."

"Our primary objective at the World Zionist Congress will be to force the official Zionist movement to define the next major goals of Jewish history and to work towards becoming a tool for their implementation.

"We want Jews in the United States to know they have the opportunity to empower our generation’s most dedicated young Zionists with the ability to shape the policies of the official Zionist movement and inspire their peers to become active participants in Jewish history."

Although not directly named by the video, StandWithUS - one of the largest and most active global Israel advocacy groups, with chapters in dozens of major university campuses internationally - responded to the accusations, asserting that ANZV's campaign was essentially a straw man argument.

While StandWithUS and similar organizations do regularly promote Israel's image as a hi-tech innovator and tourism haven, CEO Roz Rothstein insisted that didn't mean it neglected other, more fundamental issues.

"StandWithUs appreciates that there are differing opinions on 'Hasbara' for Israel," she said. "However, the Alliance for New Zionist Vision's video is hypocritical because it suggests that most Israel education organizations are superficial, only focusing on sound bites that don't cover engaging deeper issues or Jewish pride Issues."

"But the video itself is superficial," she challenged. "It's not a matter of teaching 'high tech' or deeper history and/or justice issues. It's a matter of doing both. Any good Israel education organization is doing both."