During the month of June, a very important debate unfolded in the Jewish media. A group of marketing professionals called the Brand Israel Group released a study that, in their words, demonstrates a “devastating” drop in support for Israel among young Americans in general and young American Jews in particular.
But an important observer — Brandeis University’s Len Saxe — quickly challenged these findings. Saxe is one of the country’s leading authorities on Jewish public opinion of Israel. He noted that he’s seen no such decline in support for Israel among young Jews. On the contrary, he’s found that millennial Jews are actually more connected to Israel than their parents. Saxe attributes much of this upturn to the success of the Birthright Israel program, which he’s studied in depth.
What is one to make of these conflicting views? I believe that both share critical insights.
The Brand Israel study highlights our key problem. As leading polls have been demonstrating for the better part of a decade, support for Israel is steadily declining among young Americans. Likewise, support for Israel is eroding among self-proclaimed progressives and others on the political left. These dual trends are real and point to a potential future in which one of our two political parties — the Democratic Party — ceases to actively support Israel.
Len Saxe identifies the solution. Saxe’s studies have consistently demonstrated that Birthright is working. Saxe shows that taking a young person to Israel can buck any larger trends that may be influencing the general population. And what Saxe has seen when it comes to young Jews is exactly what we in the Maccabee Task Force have experienced with young leaders in general. The reality of Israel is powerful. The truth about Israel persuades. The spirit of Israel attracts.
Which brings me to a deeper point. The Brand Israel study shows that a lot of the efforts to by our community to sell Israel “beyond the conflict” — to focus on Israeli high tech or food culture and ignore the battle over legitimacy — have not been effective. Young people are ideological, they always have been and they always will be. They will not be blinded by science or bought off with gadgets. They must be persuaded that Israel is an exemplar of their highest values. And that’s exactly what a trip to Israel can accomplish.
As recent articles have noted, we in the Maccabee Task Force have been pursuing this approach with increasing intensity and success. We’re taking campus leaders to Israel so that they can see the truth for themselves. And we’re bringing these truths back to campus in proud, public displays. We talk about all of the exciting things that Israel is doing. But we always connect it back to Israel’s fundamental morality. We know that when it comes to making the case for Israel, the truth is our greatest asset.
– David Brog, Executive Director