When I was a Jewish kid growing up in suburban Los Angeles, we thought being Jewish meant supporting Israel.
There really wasn’t a choice. If you identified as Jewish, as I and most of my friends did, the religious education we got, the youth groups we joined, and the summer camps where we played were all grounded in one thing. It wasn’t God — it was Zionism, the political project of settling Jewish people in Israel.
We never asked — and no one ever taught us in Sunday school — who had already been living on that land, long known as Palestine, when European Jews arrived around the end of the 19th century and started building settlements there.
My own break with Zionism came in my mid-20s, after reading the letters of Zionism’s founder, Theodor Herzl, imploring Cecil Rhodes, the leader of British land theft in Africa, to support his work in Palestine. Their projects were both “something colonial,” Herzl assured Rhodes.
Today, younger Jews are asking hard questions at earlier ages, and more of them have been actively critical of Israel in its assaults on Palestinians and Palestinian rights.
When the Trump White House says that criticizing or boycotting the state of Israel is anti-Semitic and issues an executive order that aims to shut down criticism of Israel on college campuses, many Jewish students aren’t buying it. One 20-year-old Jewish student and Hillel member at the University of North Carolina told the New York Times that she worried the executive order “falsely equates anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism” and is targeted at eliminating criticism of Israel.