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Bradley Burston

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My Generation Ruined Israel. Yours Could Save It.

Posted: 05/24/10 03:30 PM ET

Perhaps you have to live in the psychic dungeon of 2010 Israel to emerge from Peter Beinart's watershed New York Review of Books essay "The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment," with hope for the future.

Especially because it was my generation which put us here. My generation ruined Israel. And, in doing so, my generation is in the process of ruining Judaism.

Mine is, after all, the generation that gave Israel the settlements. Mine is the generation of occupation, from the grunts on the ground to the bureaucracy in the wings. Mine, from prevaricating Labor to real estate-crazed Likud, stole from the poor to give to the settlers, enshrined occupation and walled it off from view, all in order to serve what became the one true lord of Zionism and Orthodox Judaism combined: settlement.

Mine is the generation which gave us wars which were designed, and failed, to end all wars, separated by botched withdrawals aimed at ending all withdrawals. We were the ones who made sure that peace was given no chance, and later, came to give peace itself a bad name. Mine is the generation which is today desperate to sell peace as the fount of terrorism. Peace as the enemy.

Mine is, after all, the generation which killed Yitzhak Rabin. Mine is the generation unable to accept responsibility, the right unwilling to acknowledge that it created a climate of murderous hatred, the left unwilling to realize that when the chips were down, it abandoned Rabin and failed to do what was necessary to protect him.

My generation, skin verging on baggy and mind let off its leash, is now the generation unable to look at itself. For all our bluster and ideology and self-satisfaction and volume, we are cowards. Mine is the generation frightened by what we might find in a frank, naked, unfettered investigation of the war we made in Gaza. Instead, we blame Richard Goldstone for our use of phosphorus. We trash the New Israel Fund ("the New Ishmael Fund," West Bank Professor Ron Breiman called it on Army Radio on Monday, in an exemplar of the smugly sophisticated neo-racism in which we're all sinking), for the artillery and aerial barrages which accounted for the civilian death toll.

Mine is the generation which decreed that not talking honestly about settlement and its many-faceted shield, occupation, was apolitical and therefore correct.

In America, as well, the fear of admitting any wrongdoing on Israel's part, has made it impossible to see Israel at all. No wonder young American Jews are disengaged from Israel as it is presented to them. That country simply does not exist.

It's often a revelation, therefore, when young people come to Israel to find it a place both hugely more impressive and hugely more cocked up than their wildest dreams could ever have suggested.

Maybe that explains where hope has been hiding out, all these years. Perhaps you have to meet some of the young people who even now stumble onto this place from abroad, even from that North America Beinart so deftly renders, young people who even today are finding this place getting firmly and permanently under their skins, and who have set to work trying to salvage an Israel of social justice and human decency.

Or the young people born here who, despite everything, despite the prevailing ill winds and the centrifugal pressures for extremism, segregation, and applied hatred, live against the grain, practicing coexistence, concern for the shunned, optimism without just cause.

So, to the young people I have come across recently, who care about Israel, who care about human rights, and who are pained but also challenged to bear witness to the direction this country is bound:

God knows why you people love this place. God knows you do.

You are not like us. You are not dewy-eyed jingoists stuck in some 19th century need for rapacious nationalism. Neither are you sauté-for-brains flotsam for whom the Holy Land as a whole - and let's for once be honest, some parts of Hebron in particular - function as an immensely welcoming outpatient care facility.

You don't have the baggage that we had. And that is why you may do right where we went so profoundly wrong. You are not the freighted heirs to Holocaust, not the generation of the grand illusion, desperate to build a kibbutz or a settlement in a well-meaning but doomed effort to give some meaning to your parents' wretched, bottomless childhoods or their grandparents' unimaginable deaths.

The Americans among you have even less baggage. Your lack of automatic, programmed identification with a trumpeted and ultimately unreal Israel may be a distinct advantage. Nothing to live up to, is an opening position a whole lot better, than much too much.

We had our chance. We knew, deep down, that the right generation, coming of age at the right time with the right common purpose, could save a country. But it wasn't us.

It might well be you. I, for one, hope it is. Whatever you choose, be brave. If you choose to try to save this place, God be with you. Go ahead. Show us up.
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This post was written for haaretz.com

 

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