"The structure of Israel has been built; it no longer needs a scaffolding."
That's what Avraham Burg, a former speaker of the Israeli Knesset and outspoken critic of the occupation, once told me. He believes that the root of the Arab-Israeli conflict centered not around what the headlines focus on -- issues of security, borders, refugees -- but instead around a warped view within the Jewish community that we are still facing the same challenges we did at the start of Israel's history.
The conflict is quickly approaching an inflection point. A new generation of Jews are growing up in a world where they feel comfortable and equal, and they see no justification behind a fundamentally unjust occupation. Israel, to them, deserves to be treated just like any other nation.
The drama at Swarthmore College is a prime example. Last week, Swarthmore Hillel declared itself an Open Hillel -- one that rejects the Israel Guidelines set by Hillel International. These guidelines -- which prohibit Hillel's from partnering with certain groups on campus -- have long served to undermine or exclude critical views, and thus reasoned debate, regarding Israel.
In response, Hillel's president, Eric Fingerhut, censured Swarthmore Hillel while also offering a telling justification: "while welcoming debate on the many important and difficult questions that Israel faces...Hillel International does draw a line."
Hillel International advertises itself as "The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life," and takes pride in its self-proclaimed role as the global voice for Jewish students. But in simultaneously "drawing a line," Hillel implies that Jews are inherently in need of protection -- that there ought to be some boundary within which the Jewish community must engage.
It's easy to see where such a view comes from. For the older generation -- those who lived through the fear of the 1967 War -- there continues to be a sense that the Jews and the Jewish state are in constant threat of destruction. Israel served as the one safe-haven for Jews across the globe, and unconditional support of that sanctuary was built-in to the Jewish psyche as a means of survival. For Jews, to not be in constant defense was to reject your survival.
But times have changed. Israel now has a greater defense budget than all its neighbors combined; With the U.S. as its chief ally, Israel has the world's largest economy and military right at its back; Some of the highest ranking public officials in the world, including the majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, are Jews.
That is not to say there is no room for improvement. But to those of us who have grown up in an age of relative physical security for the Jewish people and for Israel, the biggest threat to Israel's existence is no longer terrorism nor anti-semitism, but rather a consistent refusal to tackle the issues of the occupation. When Israel's existence was constantly in question, it was easy to hide behind the veil of security. But it is time to consider both the existential threat that exists from not resolving the conflict -- certainly with respects to Israel's security, but also to its moral character. There are new challenges now: What will happen when thousands of Palestinians march peacefully into Jerusalem demanding basic political rights?
As we're seeing at Swarthmore, the disconnect between the older generation -- whose dollars and guidelines dictate the conversation -- and my generation -- who are supposed to be having the conversation -- is stark. As Jewish students stand under this scaffolding, they see nothing but shade. Mr. Fingerhut, its up to you to convince us that we should not take it down.