Anyone who knows young Jews (or has kids) knows that Israel is of very little interest to most of them. Tom Friedman knows that and says so.
I know it from personal experience. Having worked for 20 years on Capitol Hill, and in other "kid" environments since, I can say that of the literally thousands of 20-somethings I have worked with, only a few outliers thought about Israel at all. I also have two kids, who both began going to Israel at age 3 and their zillions of friends. They are not anti-Israel; it's more like they don't give it much thought.
That sure has changed from when I was in my 20's. Back then, virtually all of the Jewish kids I knew cared about Israel. Most of us were pro-Israel but a small percentage already were disturbed by the occupation.
The other day I talked to a 24-year old who is active in J Street, the pro-Israel, anti-occupation organization. I asked if J Street had a lot of appeal among Jewish kids her age. She said it didn't.
"These kids would be with J Street if they cared about Israel. To get them interested in J Street, first you have to make them interested in Israel."
I asked about Project Birthright, which provides free trips to Israel which hundreds of thousands of young Jews have taken. "It's a free trip to a foreign country. It's not about Israel. It's about going abroad for free and hooking up once you get there."
Frankly, I find this pretty sad. For me and my friends, Israel (I have been traveling there since my teen years) was a source of joy. For the generation coming up, it's a source of either anger or nothing.
The Israel lobby can preen about its polls showing support for Israel all it wants. But it's clear which way the wind is blowing. Young Israel supporters are like Trekkies. They exist, they go to conventions, but they are outliers. When the current 20 and 30 somethings are in charge of America, the lobby's base will be reduced to Orthodox Jews and the Christian right. Actually, just Orthodox Jews because the Christian right does not donate campaign money and, when they do, their top causes are bashing gays, fighting choice and repealing evolution.
I don't know if this can be fixed. But Israel should start by ending the occupation. Another Yitzhak Rabin would sure help too. (Israel's popularity was at an all-time high when he was prime minister and pursuing an agreement with the Palestinians).
One thing is clear. The people who support the status quo are no friends of Israel. J Street can try to make the difference but, with young Jews indifferent to Israel, even J Street faces a very steep uphill climb.
Nationalism and religious chauvinism sells among the Christian right. For young Jews, liberalism is their Birthright. That isn't changing.
In the United States as in Israel, demography is not Israel's friend. That means that Palestinians are under less pressure to cut a deal every day. Israel, on the other hand, should grab the two-state solution with both hands now. It won't. It is the Israeli government -- more than the Palestinians -- which never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.