How the Democratic Party Alienates Young Jews: A Reply to Alexis Grenell

Not since the epic 2007 debate between Katha Pollitt and me over the saga of jailed quarterback Michael Vick have I written a public response to a nation colleague. But I feel obligated to register my disagreement with fellow nation journalist Alexis Grenell’s article “How The Left Alienates American Jews.” Rather than go through her column point by point and respond to each individual charge against the pro-Palestinian left, I want to give some context to why I believe her piece has evoked such a strong response.

There is an ongoing effort being waged to separate the Palestinian cause from the ecosystem of the Democratic Party. For some of those involved, the reasons may well be sincere. But the efficacy of their efforts is being stymied by a young generation of American Jews who are standing in solidarity with Palestinians like no time since the dispossession of Palestinian land that preceded the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. Appalled by occupation, oppression, and apartheid, they see solidarity with the Palestinian people as not only a moral imperative but also central to a broader fight against anti-Semitism and all forms of oppression. Just as powerfully, they are saying “not in my name” and delinking our remarkably resilient 4,000-year religion and culture with support for a 74-year-old hyper-militarized ethno-state. They are saying that the trauma intertwined with so many of our family histories—the Holocaust, the pogroms, and the organized violence that sent our grandparents and great grandparents across the ocean—must not be used and exploited by the Israeli state to justify the oppression of the Palestinian people. They are saying that modern traumas such as the Tree of Life massacre or the Nazis in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us” or the January 6 Confederate/Trumpist putsch or the recent synagogue hostage taking in Austin, Tex., will not be weaponized to back a state whose most rabid supporters include a class of right-wing evangelical billionaires who have funded and egged on this anti-Semitic wave of violence at home. These evangelical power brokers are people who love Israel and hate Jews. For young Jewish Americans, the embrace of these forces by the Israeli right is amoral and appalling.

This development has had people like Benjamin Netanyahu and current Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in a panic, believing that the Israeli cause is losing a generation of American Jews. Donald Trump articulated this in his usual blunt fashion when he said“The Jewish people in the United States either don’t like Israel or don’t care about Israel.… the evangelical Christians love Israel more than the Jews in this country.”

This is overblown, but there is a kernel of truth in Trump’s anti-Semitic ravings and Netanyahu’s fears. As Peter Beinart wrote presciently in 2010, “For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.” Now a quarter of all US Jews describe Israel as “an apartheid state,” and the younger the respondent the more likely they are to agree with this characterization. Seeing organizations like and If Not Now other Jewish Voice for Peace launch and grow has been one of the most positive developments for the broader left in the last 20 years. It has returned a young generation of Jews to the places of their grandparents and great grandparents who made up the backbone of the radical and socialist traditions in the United States. That chain of connection was delinked as Jews advanced in US society, became Americanized, were absorbed primarily into the Democratic Party, and in turn saw support for Israel—and defending Israel’s crimes—as central to their identity. Now we are seeing young Jews not only stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people but also be part of the movement connecting the oppression of Palestinians with the oppression faced in Black and brown communities in the United States. This has provoked an incredible growth in political consciousness and solidarity in the face of an American apartheid that occupies communities in a military fashion, using hardware that even the IDF would envy.

Leave a Comment