‘I live in a bubble’ — David Harris dismisses concern about young Jews turning against Israel

I love to quote David Harris of the American Jewish Committee because he is so tone deaf when it comes to young Jews’ criticisms of Israel– and he just can’t help saying so. Like a few years ago when he said, “Where did we go wrong in our homes and our schools?” that young Jews weren’t celebrating Israel’s 70th anniversary.

This pillar of the Jewish establishment always wags his finger at the young. He can’t ever look at Israel’s persecution of Palestinians as the issue.

Here is another cringeworthy moment from the CEO who makes $737,000 a year and who will step down in 2022.

Harris was feted at the City Club of Cleveland last week, and a former Jewish professional rose to ask Harris about the “incredibly difficult” and emotionally draining job that professionals now have when dealing with young Jews who are turning against Israel.

Harris told her to grin and bear it. Jews have never been completely united, he said, and — “I live in a bubble” of pro-Israel life.

Former Jewish professional who asked David Harris about emotionally draining job of advocating for Israel. City Club of Cleveland, Dec. 10, 2021. From the AJC youtube, screenshot.

Here’s the exchange. First the questioner:

As a former Jewish community relations professional, this work being on the front lines of Jewish advocacy is incredibly difficult, and it takes an emotional personal toll on those that are doing the work. What do you see for the future of talent in the Jewish communal world for community relations, Jewish advocacy, given this and the fact that there are changing opinions among Jewish youth on Israel and a continued unwillingness to consider opinions outside of what may be considered politically correct?

Harris began by celebrating his own insulation from such views.

I too live in a bubble. I live in a wonderfully-uplifting Jewish bubble. Come to AJC headquarters. Speak to Jillian Laskowitz, my chief of staff. Meet all the young people working on the staff of the AJC across the country and around the world. Look at people who are coming to our Leaders of Tomorrow high school program, look at our college programs…

The fact that some hand-plucked young Jews say they are for Israel of course has nothing to do with the question.

Harris acknowledged that before going right back to his bubble.

Believe me, I get there’s an issue out there. I also have three children and children-in-law. I have grandchildren. I’ve seen this play out in many ways. We may want to mythologize– the Jewish world has never been united. Not in the way we sometimes think. But there is a strong core of proud Jews including my grandchildren who are affiliated with the Jewish world, who speak Hebrew and are proud of the state of Israel. And maybe even some of them will want Poppy’s job [his own] one day…

Harris then said the questioner was looking at it wrong.

So yeah, lots of challenges, but if we the Jewish people collapse– and I’m not suggesting you said that– but if we collapse in the face of every challenge, we would not be meeting in the City Club in December 2021. It’s the resilience of the Jewish people that I think is the real story here. And it’s not by accident that the national anthem of Israel was chosen and named… Hatikvah… The hope. Compare that for example with the national anthem of both Poland and Ukraine. Which I happen to know… The first five words of the Polish and Ukrainian national anthems are, ‘They haven’t yet destroyed us.’

I completely understand that as a Jew. But our approach is– notwithstanding that reality, our approach is.. about the hope, it’s about tomorrow.

So, a serious person asked a serious question, and David Harris talked about his navel and the Polish national anthem for five minutes.

Another questioner rose as a Jew to ask Harris about Israeli policies of ethnic cleansing and apartheid toward Palestinians. Harris also dismissed him out of hand.

I’m not here at the City Club to engage in your interpretation of international law. Nor am I here to accept what I believe is a libelous description of the state of Israel. Israel is a good country… I’m not here to argue that it’s a perfect country, but it has a right to exist. It has a right to defend itself… You ask the question whether Palestinians do or do not have human rights… Of course they do. Except for one, the right to deny me my human rights.

Asked by another questioner about Democratic Party erosion of support for Israel, Harris said, of the Congress:

I am not here to defend every action by every Israeli under every circumstance. But I am here proudly to stand shoulder to shoulder for the U.S. Israel relationship and for Israel’s well being. We have daily, weekly defamation of the state of Israel.

I am going to rend my garments when Harris leaves his job. Because he is so honest about the prejudice that animates the Israel lobby: its blindness to the Palestinian story. (But give the AJC another 5 years and it will return to its anti-Zionist traditions!)

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