The chair of UJIA has warned of “losing a generation” of young British Jews who are disengaging from Israel, arguing that this now represented the biggest internal threat to the UK’s Jewish community.
In a speech at the UK-Israel charity’s annual dinner, addressed by Prime Minister Theresa May, Louise Jacobs said: “At this particular moment, the threat to our future relationship with Israel, from within our own community, has never been greater.”
Echoing the concerns that other communal leaders have made in recent months, she told the audience: “Perception of Israel and engagement with Israel among many of our young people is low.”
The stark statement came after a keynote speech from May and followed a video address from Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.
“We must acknowledge this problem and think about solutions, or in the UK we’ll lose a generation of young people who will have no relationship with Israel,” said Jacobs. “Alarmingly, Israel may not be part of their Jewish identity.”
In his message, Rivlin had pressed the need for unity and cohesion in Israel, describing four distinct “tribes,” those being Jewish secularists, religious-nationalists, Charedim (strictly Orthodox) and Arab Israelis.
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Jacobs said the Diaspora comprised the “fifth tribe” but that she now worried about its own internal cohesion, when young Jews appeared to be increasingly disengaging from Israel. “We have to accept that there are some young people who are struggling with this relationship,” she said.
Jacobs said there was “no doubt” this trend had been “exacerbated by the anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist sentiment that we have seen recently from the Labour Party,” but said the organisation needed to do more to help young Jews discover and define their own relationship with Israel – or risk losing them.
“With this as background noise, it is much easier for young people to simply want to disengage from Israel,” she said. “We have heard this said, ‘I am Jewish and I have Jewish values but I am just not a Zionist’.”
She added: “Our job at UJIA is to help them define how they want to connect and engage and to inspire them to do so. Education is critical [to] show them what is really happening on the ground.”
Urging young Jews to “look beyond social media” when it came to Israel, she said she wanted them “never to forget that Israel still represents the greatest inspiration in Jewish life for our young people”.
Jacobs’ warning comes after a summer of walk-outs from young Jews on the Birthright Israel tour angered by the perceived lack of balance in the organisation’s portrayal of the “realities of the occupation”.
Earlier this year, Senior Reform Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner issued similar warnings about youth disengagement after an angry backlash against mainly young Jews who led a ‘Kaddish for Gaza’ following the killing of dozens of Palestinian protesters by the IDF, some of whom later transpired to be Hamas operatives.
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