A group of young American Reform Jews recently sent a letter to Reform leader Eric Yoffie, requesting that the movement "condemn the IDF’s killing of unarmed Lebanese and Palestinian civilians, as well as its premeditated targeting of civilian infrastructure, which has put additional lives at risk and hampered relief efforts."
The high-school and college students who wrote this letter are among the most identified of American Jewish youth. Over 50% of American Jews are unaffiliated with any of the so-called streams. These authors at least know Yoffie’s name – indeed they are designated by the Reform movement as "youth leaders."
The thought that these letter writers represent the future of non-Orthodox American Jewry should send shivers down the spine of anyone concerned about the future of Israel-Diaspora relations. On its face, the letter condemns all killing of civilians by the IDF. That is not a morally serious position. The authors do not explain how Israel can defend itself against Kassams from Gaza or Katyushas from Lebanon, without ever running the risk of killing civilians, given the fact that that those missiles are inevitably located and fired from civilian areas.
Do they think that supporting "the principle of peace negotiations" is an answer to that dilemma?
The Reform movement views itself as heir to the "prophetic tradition." In practice, however, that is usually expressed as a form of moral posturing, whose only purpose is to confirm the speaker’s sense of his or her own exquisite moral sensitivity, with little relationship to the reality within which moral choices are made. The letter is a good example.
Let us assume, charitably, that the authors only meant to condemn Israel’s wanton or disproportionate taking of civilian life. If so, their letter is hardly less disturbing. For it suggests, that their principal sources of information are Human Rights Watch or CNN, and that they have not bothered read the dissections of HRW’s accusations by Professors Alan Dershowitz of Harvard, and Gerald Steinberg and Avi Bell of Bar Ilan University – all readily available in English.
Worse, it suggests a certain basic lack of identification with their fellow Jews in Israel – an unwillingness to give them the benefit of the doubt. Lebanon poses the same test for American Jewry that Operation Defensive Shield did more than four years ago. Then too the world media was filled with charges of Israeli massacres and genocide in Jenin.
Those charges were eventually revealed to be pure fabrications. But any clear-thinking person could have deduced that they were false from the numbers of Israeli reservists who were killed in booby-trapped homes because Israel refused to do what every other nation would have done in a similar situation – destroy the homes without risking troops. The same is true in Lebanon where dozens of Israeli soldiers died precisely because Israel refused to level all suspected Hizbullah targets in civilian areas.
At the very least, a sense of identification with their fellow Jews in Israel should have engendered skepticism among the Reform youth leaders that Israel showed wanton indifference to civilian life.
One suspects, however, that the deepest identification the authors of the letter feel is a negative one – fear that they will be identified with Israel on their university campuses. And that is an ominous sign indeed.