Millenials and Israel
A quarter of the millennials in the United States sympathize more with the Palestinians than with the Israelis. This signifies a big shift. How did it happen, and what can be done about it?
Two Israeli and two American flags stood side by side on the platform in the Pacific Ballroom at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), where 500 people waited for then Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren to speak. Following a glowing introduction by one of the students, Oren stepped to the microphone and began his lecture on U.S.-Israeli relations.
Suddenly, a young man jumped out of his seat in the back of the room and yelled, “Propagating murder is not an expression of free speech!” This was the opening salvo from pro-Palestinian protestors who disrupted Oren’s talk multiple times on February 8, 2010. At one point, Oren had to pause for 20 minutes until order was restored. Eleven Muslim students were arrested.
This was not an isolated event. Over the next seven years, AMCHA (Hebrew for “your people”) Initiative, a nonprofit organization battling anti-Semitism at institutions of higher education in America, documented 89 instances on college campuses of Jewish or pro-Israel assemblies being disrupted or speakers being shouted down.1
Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), founded in 2001, has more than 115 chapters at American universities. SJP and American Muslims for Palestine are on the frontlines of influencing the millennial generation to work toward Israel’s destruction.
Whereas older Americans tend to sympathize more with Israel, millennials are more likely to sympathize with the Palestinians, reports the Pew Research Center: “Millennials are the only generational cohort in which fewer than half (43%) sympathize more with Israel. And about a quarter of Millennials (27%) sympathize more with the Palestinians, the highest share of any generation.”2
Additionally, fully one-third of American college students surveyed believe the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel is justified and a legitimate form of pressuring Israel to relinquish “Palestinian land.”3
How Did This Happen?
Millennials prioritize image-based media.
Pete Cashmore, founder and CEO of Mashable.com, a global, multiplatform media and entertainment company, made this observation:
The connected generation loves images and videos. Articles with large imagery are shared more among this demographic than those without, and posts with videos also perform better on average than text. This is likely because we’re so bombarded by information these days: Visual mediums are faster to consume.4
Much of the reporting concerning the Middle East is fed to the Western media by Palestinian sources. These sources often exaggerate or fabricate facts to create a perception that evokes the most negative (and usually the most emotional) response possible.
For example, on June 9, 2011, the Facebook page “Freedom Will Come to Palestine” published a photo that purported to be an anguished Palestinian mother sitting on the ground, holding her infant while watching her other child, a little girl, being brutally stepped on by an Israeli soldier. The photo caption at the time was “Share this photo let the world see what is really happening in Palestine.”5
However, that was not what was really happening. In the photo, the rifle the so-called Israeli soldier was holding, as well as his uniform, was not standard Israeli issue. In fact, the rifle was the type often used by Palestinian militants. Upon closer inspection, the infant was nothing but a doll. And for someone being crushed by a military boot, the little girl seemed strangely calm.
The photo was faked. Later, when the real photo was revealed, it became clear the entire scenario had been manipulated and staged, most likely as part of a Palestinian street parade portraying so-called Israeli oppression.6 Yet many people saw the staged photo and believed it, posting such comments as, “Go to the endless hell, Israel,” and “I’m gonna do the same thing to the Zionist.”
When millennials see these types of videos and images, it is no wonder many of them would sympathize with the Palestinians. Unfortunately, they fail to probe the context and legitimacy of propaganda designed to portray Israel as a ruthless oppressor.
They prioritize community.
Being “connected” is extremely important to the young people of this generation. They seek the safety and comfort of a community of friends who are committed to one another, trust one another, and share things together. Social media can provide a sense of community, whether it is based in fact or not.
A danger when prioritizing community, however, is the tendency toward groupthink. According to Psychology Today, “Groupthink occurs when a group values harmony and coherence over accurate analysis and critical evaluation. It causes individual members of the group to unquestioningly follow the word of the leader and it strongly discourages any disagreement with the consensus.”7
Fear of losing the community’s acceptance can be a powerful motivator to fall in step with everyone else. Groupthink is rampant on college campuses and in social media in a form that is strongly anti-Israel. God’s Word warns against such a thing and the dangers of it: “You shall not follow a crowd to do evil” (Ex. 23:2).
They prioritize tolerance.
To millennials, a safe community is inclusive and nonjudgmental. No room must be given for judging the rightness or wrongness of another’s behavior.
Being tolerant can be a positive trait. However, if tolerance trumps biblical truth, the result can be moral relativism, as seen in postmodernism. Consequently, millennials, who are children of postmodernism, might tend to be less critical and more tolerant of violent Palestinian “resistance,” such as homicide bombings. After all, they may think, who are we to judge who is right or wrong?
They prioritize social justice.
This generation evidences a passion for social justice. According to one definition, “Social justice is the equal distribution of resources and opportunities, in which outside factors that categorize people are irrelevant.”8 So, for social justice to work, there must be complete uniformity in society, with no distinctions between people.
Many young adults erroneously see Israel as being unfair to the Palestinians. They perceive the Jewish state as an occupying power that denies the Palestinians vital resources and imposes Apartheid on them. In their eyes, the Israelis are the haves, while the Palestinians are the have-nots.
However, the facts tell a different story. Israel treats tens of thousands of Palestinian medical patients each year, supplies the Hamas-governed Gaza Strip with 125 megawatts of electricity and 2.6 billion gallons of water annually, allows all consumer goods and foodstuffs to enter the Gaza Strip from Israel, and continues to facilitate a massive reconstruction project in the Gaza Strip.9 It even treated the extremely ill granddaughter of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in 2013 and one of his daughters in 2014.
Furthermore, Israel is anything but Apartheid. Arab-Israeli citizens have the same rights and benefits as Jewish-Israeli citizens and have representation in government. In fact, Salim Joubran, an Arab Israeli, has served as a justice on the Supreme Court of Israel since 2003.
Theologically, Israel’s biblical status as a nation chosen by God rankles this generation’s view of social justice. Having little Bible training, millennials see it as discriminatory, which may be one reason Christian millennials are increasingly adopting Replacement Theology: It strips Israel of God’s promises of future blessing and of its position in God’s economy as the “apple of His eye” (Zech. 2:8).
By unseating Israel from its place in God’s plan and denying Israel’s future, there supposedly is no discrimination. No distinctions. However, even though millennials may not make distinctions, God does (Ex. 33:16; Lev. 20:26). Though He is no respecter of persons when it comes to salvation (Acts 10:34–35), when it comes to His eternal, covenant promises to Israel, He most definitely is. For Him to reject Israel, of whom He has said, “I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; your walls are continually before Me” (Isa. 49:16) and “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3), would make God a liar.
They prioritize secularism.
A 2014 Pew Research Center poll discovered a decrease in American religious beliefs and behavior. This was “largely attributable to the ‘nones’—the growing minority of Americans, particularly in the millennial generation, who say they do not belong to any organized faith.”10
The millennials’ increasingly negative view toward Israel may well be linked to the fact that fewer Americans believe God’s Word is to be interpreted literally (only 22 percent in 2014, down from 40 percent in the late 1970s).11
The further away people move from God’s Word and understanding it literally, the further they will move from understanding God’s literal purpose and program for Israel. Consequently, the closer people will migrate toward cursing Israel instead of blessing it (Gen. 12:3).
Why We Need ORIGINS
There is hope. Not all millennials fit the mold, and many want to break out of it. To do so, they need to learn what Israel is really like, and they need a higher level of sound Bible teaching (2 Tim. 4:2), particularly about God’s love and program for Israel.
We should never compromise our commitment to exegetical, expository Bible messages. Although some people may not be naturally attracted to this type of preaching, keeping the standard high helps Christians mature. In fact, some millennials have expressed concern that the older generation doesn’t give them enough credit and that they are able to rise to the occasion.
Also, because millennials like new group experiences, we can help them understand Israel and see for themselves what is really going on there by sending them to Israel, not merely for a tour, but for service. Since 2007, The Friends of Israel has taken more than 140 young-adult volunteers to Israel through our ORIGINS program. The vast majority have become friends of Israel for life.
It’s good to remember that God always keeps a contingent of watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem to testify of His promises to Israel (Isa. 62:6–7). We can be encouraged to know that the millennial generation will be no different.
- “Sampling of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) & Others Attempts to Disrupt Freedom of Assembly and Freedom of Association of Jewish and Pro-Israel Students,” AMCHA Initiative <tinyurl.com/m287pal>.
- “5 facts about how Americans view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Pew Research Center, May 23, 2016 <tinyurl.com/hb32r96>.
- “Third of American students say BDS justified – survey,” Globes, June 2, 2016.
- Pete Cashmore, “Pete Cashmore: Top 10 Things My Generation Likes,” Time.com, May 9, 2013 <tinyurl.com/cbjywos>.
- “Freedom Will Come to Palestine” Facebook page, June 9, 2011 <tinyurl.com/kuastph>.
- “Israel Zion” Facebook page, May 1, 2013 <tinyurl.com/mju7m2p>.
- “Groupthink,” Psychology Today <tinyurl.com/lwykbaw>.
- “What is Social Justice?” Pachamama Alliance <tinyurl.com/mbxkmrp>.
- “Reconstruction in Gaza,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, March 23, 2017 <goo.gl/8ABi5I>.
- “U.S. Public Becoming Less Religious,” Pew Research Center, November 3, 2015.
- Lydia Saad, “Three in Four in U.S. Still See the Bible as Word of God,” Gallup, June 4, 2014 <tinyurl.com/qymrmzu>.