Young people often see things differently from the rest of us. To idealistic youth, everything is black and white, right or wrong, just or unjust. Life, however, is not so simple, being shaped more by grays than by clearly defined and contrasting colors.
The students who heckled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly (see cover story) exemplify this dichotomy and represent a very real dilemma for the Jewish world.
We talk a good deal about reaching out and involving our youth in the communal agenda. One part of that agenda is support for the State of Israel. Does the heckling mean that the students in question do not share that goal? Probably not. It’s unlikely that self-avowed anti-Zionists would become so active in organized Jewish life.
What does it mean, then? Most likely, it means that some do not equate support for Israel with support for all of its policies. For example, they may be passionately committed to Israel’s national security but differ, say, over the concept of a loyalty oath or the Gaza blockade.
There is no question that the heckling students were rude and behaved in an inappropriate matter. And it is right that they were escorted out immediately. But the question remains: If you want young people to be involved, does that mean listening to their views, or does it mean expecting them to toe the already existing line?
If the latter, then it might be wiser to vet them before they come, ensuring that their views are in line with those of the sponsoring organization. If the former, then it might be helpful to schedule sessions specifically for them to air their views, perhaps even giving them time with the prime minister to express their differences. After all, it is important for him to at least hear the thoughts of the next generation of donors and Jewish leaders.
That having been said, heckling is obnoxious and intolerable, a tactic we have come to identify with those who sought to drown out the words of Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren during a speech at the University of California, Irvine, last year. That the Jewish hecklers in New Orleans claim to be acting in Israel’s best interests doesn’t really matter. They don’t do themselves, or Israel, any good by this kind of behavior.