Gilad Shalit and the Five-Year Drought

07/06/2011 04:00 pm ET | Updated Sep 05, 2011

Despite the (perhaps) sudden uptick of young Jewish personal essayists, summer camp memoirists and opinion writers voicing disillusion with Israel, I registered surprise by how quietly the five-year anniversary of Gilad Shalit's abduction passed. It seems that those apostates who are outraged -- and rightly so -- at the state of affairs in the Jewish State no longer have space for the causes that first seduced them into loving such a complicated country.

I confess, I am part of the blasé generation that deems nearly everything with its roots in confrontation to be boring or unworthy of my time. I know we are killing you Baby Boomers, one eye roll at a time, but the largesse bestowed upon us has done its numbing, entitling number. And then there is Israel. In the midst of all this impassive irony, I still see Israel, somehow, as the vehicle for the aspirations of the Jewish people, both young and old. I also believe if one looks assiduously beyond the trouble Israel seems bent on making for itself, he or she will still find the kernel of Jewish vitality its founders intended.

Before I get carried away, allow me to say that I, too, am extremely displeased with the Israeli government headed up by Mr. Netanyahu. Its arrogant expansion of settlements undermines and dispirits Israel's allies and supporters and its obstinate voice is not the force I want prevailing in the battle for the Jewish imagination. I am displeased, but I understand it.

Prior to Shalit's abduction in 2006, Israel had garnered the most goodwill in years; the dust following the Second Intifada had seemingly settled and Israel had boldly uprooted its presence in Gaza, rightly removing settlements and even reburying the dead in Israel proper. The result of disengagement from Gaza was the kidnap of Shalit as well as a seemingly endless fusillade of rockets by Hamas upon a civilian population in Israel.

A few weeks later, Hezbollah, operating out of southern Lebanon -- an area abandoned by Israel in 2000 -- sparked a war by killing Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid and then firing thousands of rockets without aim upon the north of Israel. In Haifa, I saw a Hezbollah missile crash into a mixed neighborhood of Arabs and Jews; by the Israeli account, nearly half of the war's casualties in Israel were Arabs.

Israel's response in Lebanon and Gaza that year, as well as in Gaza again in 2009, caused unspeakable damage and loss of life. From our Western perch, it is difficult to grasp not only the complexity of asymmetrical warfare, but to stomach the maddening realities of its destruction. What is simple to get is that the territorial withdrawals by Israel from Gaza and southern Lebanon, given for the sake of peace, only led to more war. As the Iranian nuclear program continues to add to the mix the specter of Armageddon, it is no surprise to me that Israelis hardened their hearts and voted in such an obdurate leadership.

For decades now, poor and short-sighted leadership has been a hallmark of every country and party ever involved in this conflict. This is why it never ends. But as we're seeing across the Middle East, many regimes that have forever claimed to speak for its people are now being fought with each constituent fiber of its people.

This brings me back to Shalit. A year ago, I was in Israel when Shalit's parents began marching from their home in the north of the country all the way to the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem. It took them twelve days, picking up supporters as they went, and when they arrived, they were 20,000 strong, flooding Jerusalem like the Romans. For a year now, family and supporters have camped out in a tent on Mr. Netanyahu's sidewalk to pressure him into making the concessions needed to secure Shalit's release. If nothing is done, he will turn 25 years old this August having spent half of his third decade in captivity.

It's true, there is no universal American equivalent to the Israeli rite of passage of compulsory army service. It is also true that the gulf between American and Israeli Jews seems only destined to grow the more isolated Israel becomes. But while the new guard may be tired of dealing with the controversial baggage of Israel and its elusive peace, refusing the causes of ordinary people (coreligionists or not) is what will stain our generation's legacy. Those who abandon their obligation to make the world better because knowledge they have acquired is unsettling to them make a caricature of our era's sense of privilege. It's time that the dint of Jewish 'chosenness' wear itself off as a birthright and reconfigure itself as an ambition.