A Lesson in Unity Across Generations
by Rachel Sandalow-Ash

"Israel-Palestine: What We Did in New Jewish Agenda and Why"
Former NJA leaders Kate Harris and David Loud facilitate a dialogue on Israel-Palestine at the May 2016 reunion.

Since I attended the New Jewish Agenda (NJA) reunion in May 2016, I have thought a great deal about how so many commentators frame the divide in American Jewish opinion on Israel-Palestine as primarily generational in nature. These writers claim that older Jews, scarred by the Holocaust, prioritize Israel's military and territorial strength as the best way to ensure Jewish safety and security. In contrast, younger Jews - who have grown up in a post-Oslo world, see the Holocaust as a distant memory, and are steeped in liberal American culture - are far more critical of Israel's human rights abuses and sympathetic to Palestinians living under Occupation. From these pundits' perspective, Jewish establishment organizations are responsive to and representative of the views of the older generations. But one day, when young American Jews grow up and take over the leadership of American Jewish institutions, they will better represent liberal or progressive values.

After spending a weekend with older Jewish activists who have called for an end to the Occupation and open discourse in Jewish communities for decades, I have begun to think that the generational divide may be overstated.  Although there is a fair amount of statistical evidence showing that older American Jews generally hold more right-wing views on Israel-Palestine than their younger counterparts do, focusing on this divide may serve to distract from a much more important divide: the divide in influence between the wealthiest American Jews who are the primary funders of our institutions and the vast majority of American Jews. In other words, the Jewish Federations, Hillel International, and other major Jewish organizations are not responsive to or representative of the views of American Jews -- of any generation -- writ large. Rather, they are responsive to and representative of the views of their mega-donors, a group whose opinions on a range of issues, such as Israel-Palestine and economic policy, are often out of step with the views of the majority of the American Jewish community.

I am increasingly convinced that the "generational divide" narrative serves to inhibit progressive Jews of all generations from working together and building strong movements -- movements that can challenge the power of the elite mega-donors who holds disproportionate power in American Jewish institutions. I am grateful to the NJA and to American Jewish Peace Archive for bringing together activists of all ages, and I am so excited to see what our intergenerational coalitions will accomplish.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the American Jewish Peace Archive. 

Rachel Sandalow-Ash  is a co-founder of and national organizer for  Open Hillel , a movement working to promote pluralism and open discourse on Israel-Palestine in Jewish communities on campus and beyond. She serves on the National Advisory Council of the American Jewish Peace Archive. Originally from Brookline, MA, Rachel now lives in Brooklyn, NY.


The mission of the American Jewish Peace Archive is to document through oral history the accounts of Jews in the United States who have worked in support of Israeli-Palestinian peace and reconciliation since 1967, and in so doing, to facilitate dialogue and inquiry between the generations, to provide primary source material for scholars, and to provide guidance and inspire hope for the future.