OPINION: I fear a worrying trend of Israel apathy among future community leaders

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OPINION: I fear a worrying trend of Israel apathy among future community leaders

'Jewish students must be able to reclaim Zionism from extremists who attempt to define Zionism on our behalf,' writes Edward Isaacs, president of the Union of Jewish Students

UJS Students
UJS Students

After the Knesset passed the ‘Reasonableness Law’ on Monday which ended the Supreme Court’s capacity to strike down cabinet decisions deemed to be unreasonable, I reflected as to what this means for me, and for the future of our community.

As president of UJS, I have the honour of holding a front row seat to witness the development of our community’s future leaders. Yet with the extraordinary political situation in Israel, I fear a worrying trend of apathy towards Israel is becoming increasingly entrenched amongst the future leaders of our community.

Jewish students currently see an Israel facing existential external threats. Iran’s nuclear stockpile is ever growing, Hezbollah are threatening from Israel’s northern border, and the Palestinian Authority’s decreasing legitimacy is generating a power vacuum, resulting in increasing instability and violence in the West Bank and Gaza.

Edward Isaacs, UJS President, 2023

Yet unlike previously, Israel’s capacity to withstand these existential external threats is becoming limited from within.

Notwithstanding these external threats, Jewish students are overwhelmingly seeing an Israel marred by protest and toxic politics, with these resulting divisions increasingly seeming irreconcilable.

And with the passage of the ‘Reasonableness Law’ and no compromise in sight, this nightmare is set to enjoy a sequel. So how can Jewish students, the future leaders of our community, be expected to relate to, engage with, and ultimately maintain the future Israel-diaspora relationship?

As it stands, that seems like a very distant reality.

Throughout Israel’s existence, the diaspora and Israel have had a complicated yet necessary relationship. We all know the importance of a healthy Israel-diaspora relationship for the future of the Jewish people, yet the increasingly irreconcilable political division within Israel ultimately threatens any form of diaspora relationship with Israel- and this is a reality I don’t want to see.

Apathy for a future diaspora relationship with Israel will only be allowed to grow in strength if we fail to demonstrate our hope of an alternative reality.

Prominent moderate global voices once quiet on this issue are now crying out for unity and compromise in unprecedented statements. Yet I believe to safeguard our community’s future relationship with Israel, we need to go one step further. If Jewish students are left unable to envision an Israel beyond the current reality, the resulting apathy will endanger the existence of our community’s relationship with Israel.

We must enable our community’s future leaders to look beyond the Israel we currently see. Jewish students must be able to reclaim Zionism from extremists who attempt to define Zionism on our behalf. And ultimately, Jewish students must be provided with the spaces to engage in dialogue regarding the Israel they want to see in the world.

Over the coming year, UJS will answer this call alongside so much more. Our Israel engagement for 2023/24 will be themed around “Hatikvah”, hope. Because it is the hope that Jewish students continually place in the Jewish people to ensure our own future, that in turn fills me with hope that the Israel we want to see in the world may become a reality.

Apathy for a future diaspora relationship with Israel will only be allowed to grow in strength if we fail to demonstrate our hope of an alternative reality. This may be a long journey. For many this will seem like a distant reality that it is potentially unachievable.

But if we don’t try, if we don’t have Tikvah, if we don’t instil that sense of hope in our student leaders, then what do we have left? As Rabbi Hillel once said, “if not now, when?”. It is vital that we embark on this mission, as ultimately, it is the hope that drives us.

  • Edward Isaacs is the new president of the Union of Jewish Students, which represents 9,000 Jewish students across the UK and Ireland
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