By Robin Moss, UJIA Israel engagement educator
Much has been written about the impact of social media on perceptions of the current Israel-Gaza conflict.
Young Jews today are experiencing more exposure to the debate than before simply because their Facebook and Twitter feeds are cluttered with comment and commentary in a relentless stream of posts, shares, tags and retweets.
Combined with more traditional Israel debate arenas – school, university, the workplace, the dinner table – the result is tremendous pressure around public identification with the Jewish homeland.
The twenty-something young professionals of today may have fond memories of their time on Tour at the age of 16, but that probably feels a long time ago as they enter the working world around the country.
Articulating their connection to Israel has become much more difficult. It was not always thus.
At its heart, Zionism is the recognition of the right of Jewish national self-determination in the land of Israel. For the first 25 years of its existence, as wars were waged against Israel by its Arab neighbours, there was a sense internationally that ‘plucky little Israel’ was taking care of itself, and good luck to it.
The very notion that Jews had a state that they could connect to in a meaningful way was unprecedented, sensational and inspiring. That it had been created amid conflict simply made it appear all the more precious.
The result was an idealistic generation brought up on a diet of utopian Israel. They would spend summers and gap years earning their keep on a kibbutz and many idolised the giants of the Zionist cause – David Ben- Gurion, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin and the rest.
Their images adorned the walls of Jewish homes across the world and passionate Zionism was simple second nature. It was easy to talk about and easy to share with one’s children – a golden ideological age.
Those days are long over. Zionism is considered a dirty word in some circles. Politicians try to avoid it. Anti-Israel campaigners hurl it around as an insult.
Of course, the politics of the Middle East has changed drastically; this has all combined to create an intimidating atmosphere for those who want to talk publicly about their cultural connection to Israel.
What can be done? How can we give our young professionals the confidence to articulate their views even in challenging settings? There are no silver bullets in a situation this complex, but education must be at the centre of our community’s response.
UJIA already supports 12 youth movements and dozens of schools in delivering year-round informal Jewish and Israel education to thousands of young people.
We have also supported more than 1,200 16-year-olds to go on Israel Tour this summer, as well as 200 in their twenties who went on life-changing UJIA Birthright educational trips. In response to the current conflict, UJIA has been developing compelling content to give the new generation the tools to come to an informed view about Israel.
They need to be asking the big questions: what is Zionism and is it still relevant today? Who are the Palestinians and why do they want a state? What are Israel’s security concerns and does the current conflict change them?
The more informed the community is, the better prepared we can be to join the debate on Israel.
Last week, 45 young professionals attended the first of Young UJIA’s Israel Educational Series events. Roy Graham, UJIA’s director of programme and planning, and I delivered an overview of key events from the British Mandate to the current conflict with Gaza. People asked many questions and it was clear that there is a hunger for this kind of forum.
This week, there was a panel discussion that took the debate to the next level and gave young professionals the chance to hear from a range of speakers and, once more, vocalise their views. We must continue to devise accessible and proactive Israel education for this sector of our community.
It’s not about offering up standard lines to parrot in a Facebook comments war. It’s about providing rich historical context, honest and expansive answers to their questions and the space to form their own opinions. Only this approach to education will guarantee another Israel-engaged generation.
• Robin Moss has just returned to the UK after spending 10 weeks in Israel