‘Israel is at the core of Jewish identity worldwide and its existence provides security for Jews everywhere.’ This often repeated narrative, which aside from ignoring the diversity of belief, opinion and politics of world Jewry, is one we hear wheeled out to suppress and oppress Palestinians. Israel has constructed it’s legitimacy on its Jewish identity and things like its war on Gaza are justified as being necessary for protecting the identity of the state and therefore Judaism. While the Zionist movement and Israel have a long history of being rejected by large swaths of the Jewish community, Westerners, particularly Americans, strongly associate the two together and thus hold the belief that to oppose Israel is to oppose Judaism and therefore it is anti-Semitic.
During the Cold War, Jews in America were encouraged to see Israel as part of their identity and this was reinforced through institutions, charities, education, media and other avenues. While dissent existed, by the 2000s Israel enjoyed wide support among American Jewry. However, over the last decade a new generation of American Jews openly questioned the idea of Israel and opposed its treatment of Palestinians. The ongoing war on Gaza has seen opposition to Israel’s actions rise up among Jews under the age of 40, leading many to wonder whether a generational chasm has opened up between older and younger American Jews and Israel? Helping us to understand this generational shift is Simone Zimmerman.
Simone is the co-founder of IfNotNow, a grassroots organisation mobilising the American-Jewish community against the Israeli occupation of Gaza and calling for a ceasefire in the enclave. Simone was also featured in a film ‘Israelism’ in 2023, which is currently touring, and follows her and an American veteran of the Israeli military Eitan, as they turn against Israel’s occupation of Palestinians and question the support for Israel among US Jews.