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May We Talk About This Yet? Jewish Millennials and the Future of Israel-Palestine

07/15/2014 12:40 pm ET | Updated Sep 14, 2014

My opinions on Israel-Palestine changed during college, like those of many Jewish Americans. I have heard Jewish Baby Boomers decry the exodus to the left the next generation undertakes during university. But high schools rarely teach the history of Israel's violent beginnings or the deprivation and abuse Palestinians continuously endure; liberal arts programs, therefore, usually offer the first opportunity for that education, as well as the first opportunity to befriend and converse with people from other parts of the world.

Jewish American millennials often learn another lesson during college: views seen as pro-Palestinian are not welcome in many Jewish communities. I have listened to peers grapple with that experience, and with the fear-mongering, trivializing, and name-calling that dominate the Israel-related discourse. Additionally, for young Jews from families with deep connections to Israel, challenging the status quo elicits both fear of repercussions and guilt over a perceived betrayal. Yet based on indicators like the American Studies Association academic boycott of Israel and reports of AIPAC's weakening hold on American politics, it seems there may be increasing space for millennials to say this aloud: it is time to reconsider U.S. policy on Israel.

To our parents, the Jewish Baby Boomers: please forgive your children for disagreeing with you, and please listen when we explain why we do so. Thank you for introducing your children to your love of Israel if you did that, and for sending us to the Kotel if you were able to do that too. But for many of us, when we return to the Western Wall in Old Jerusalem now, all we can imagine are the Arab homes that once resided there, demolished to make room for the pristine new plaza.

The recent atrocities -- starting with murders and escalating with lynch mobs, rocket fire on Israel, and an air and ground attack on Gaza -- mark rock bottom for relations between Israelis and Palestinians. But hitting rock bottom can initiate change. The two-state solution, the goal of U.S. diplomatic efforts for three decades, may still be the best option. Nevertheless, recent events highlight the need to review U.S. policy on the Israel-Palestine relationship. It is time to ask whether two autonomous states are still possible given Israel's continued settlement construction. It is time to consider other models the U.S. might promote, to listen to the currently marginalized voices that advocate for ideas like one secular, multicultural state. We routinely call for dialogue between the Israelis and Palestinians, yet we fail to enable dialogue between different generations of Jewish Americans about what position the U.S. should take.

Millennials could wait for the power to determine policy. I tell my Palestinian friends that my generation is different, that Jewish American millennials place multiculturalist, humanist ideals over our pro-Israel ones (and that according to a recent Pew Poll, only 32 percent of Jews under 30 say caring about Israel is essential for their Jewish identity). We discuss how my generation's focus on human rights in the Israeli-Palestinian context means that the U.S.'s stance will shift -- in twenty years or so. But I also see my Palestinian friends' disappointment at my cowardice and inaction. Those are years their relatives will spend facing economic suffocation, as well as arrest, detention, and violence at the hands of the Israeli government. Those are years during which their cousins in Gaza may join the 20 percent of children who suffer from waterborne diseases, while their Israeli counterparts retain access to three gallons of clean water for every one of theirs.

Shifts in public opinion can rapidly alter the political landscape. We should be inspired by the success of the same-sex marriage movement: what were considered to be naive dreams a few years ago have started to come to fruition. If the majority of Jewish Americans decided to listen to new ideas, and to stand in solidarity with progressive, peaceful, solution-seeking Palestinians and Israelis, we could change the course of history. Instead of berating U.S. politicians who fail to kowtow to Likud interests, we should be encouraging our leaders to pressure the Israeli government to evolve.

Baby Boomers, please remember that your progressive opinions once seemed fringe to your parents, but eventually those ideas became mainstream. Let us come together and prevent today's events in Israel-Palestine from becoming another turn in the cycle of violence. Let us instead chart a new path, one towards a more equitable future. I hope that we will not need to wait for the millennials to become the decision-makers. After all, we Americans are not the ones suffering in the meantime.