Madeleine Cereghino 0:09
Hi, everyone, I'm Americans for Peace Now's Director of Government Relations, and I'm excited to welcome you
all to this webinar with us are our guests and my colleagues who I will introduce in a moment. So today our guests
are APN'S new communications and Development Associate Maxxe. Maxxe, I'm so sorry if I butcher your name, so please
correct me-- Albert-Deitch? That right? Okay. Wonderful.
Maxxe Albert-Deitch 0:41
Nobody ever gets it right, so thank you!
Madeleine Cereghino 0:42
Thank you. Wonderful. her predecessor Claire Davidson Miller, and our intern Eliana or Ellie Blumberg. There
has been a lot of discussion about the shift in the way the younger generation of Jewish adults engage with Israel.
And the conflict for a while now. I know a number of articles were written about the evolution, my generation
millennials, and kind of what we went through on the subject, but things kind of seem different to me First Gen Z.
For one, they came into adulthood during the Trump era, where I would argue that there was kind of a new energy
around activism in general. And I'm excited to explore how this among other things impacted your engagement on this
issue. So to get us started, I'd love to have each of you take a few minutes to introduce yourselves. Share a
little bit about your background, what brought you to Israel policy, advocacy? And what shaped your thinking around
this issue? If Claire, you wouldn't mind going first?
Claire Davidson Miller 1:45
Yeah, hi, my name is Claire. My pronouns are she her hers. And I'm actually on my way out of APN. Right now, over the past year or so, I've been the strategic communications and Development Associate. But I am going to be wrapping up my role at APN next month, and going back to school, specifically to rabbinical school. So when I say that it probably won't shock you that I grew up pretty engaged in the Jewish community. I'm from a family that kind of has straddled Conservative and Orthodox Judaism throughout my childhood and my life. And when I was young Israel was really was, I can't remember a time that Israel was not present in my life. My grandmother and her parents emigrated from a small town in Poland, to pre-state Palestine in the 1930s. And after the German invasion of Poland, pretty much just never heard from any of their extended family again, and would eventually learn that all of their family had been killed in the city. So Israel, for me growing up was always presented in this the Savior narrative without Israel, my grandmother wouldn't have remained alive and I wouldn't have been born. And I think the first thing to really introduce some nuance to my own understanding of Israel was when I was I believe I was 14 or 15. And Palestinian exchange student from Ramallah, joined my ballet class. And I had never really met a Palestinian before. And I remember being shocked when I found out that she didn't speak Hebrew, I didn't understand how someone could live in a country and not speak the language. And it was only then that I just that I started to conceptualize that living in the West Bank living in Palestine and living in Israel were two separate things. And from there, my interest took on a life of its own and I started to read on Israel, Palestine, I joined an Israeli Palestinian Discussion Club at my high school. And, you know, fast forward to college where I studied Middle East Studies and Judaic studies, so that I could focus on the conflict. And here I am now.
Madeleine Cereghino 4:24
Thank you so much, Claire. Maxxe, I'll ask you to go next,
Maxxe Albert-Deitch 4:33
of course. So, hello, my name is Maxxe. I'm the new strategic communications and Development Associate. I think my path towards Israel Palestine advocacy... In some ways, it's very, very typical. Given my upbringing and my experience with Jewish youth groups, and most people I know from that space became advocates in some way or another. I grew up reform, I was heavily involved in organizations like NFTY, I did a lot of work with groups like Stand With Us. And it was all very like, this is what your youth group organization run through your temple is telling you to do. Because advocacy is good and social action is important. And I didn't register until like, maybe late high school, that there was a sort of distinct contradiction between how they were talking about social action and advocacy, and how they were also structuring conversations about Israel and Palestine. It's like that planted a seed of doubt. That was just like, Hmm, I should ask more questions about this at some point. Um, fast forward a couple of years to college, I was majoring in history and anthropology and those are courses of study that make you ask a lot of questions. And in a lot of ways, anthropology in particular, like as a discipline, drags people into asking hard questions that I would say, professors don't necessarily like answering. And in my case, I had to look beyond my university for more answers. Which is when I started asking questions about things like borders, and why our borders where they are, and how did displacement happen in these areas, and something to know about me in general, as a person? There's no turn of phrase that I hate more than, Oh, it's because that's just the way it is. I like to ask, "why " a lot. And I kept asking why. And I kept getting told, Oh, it's just the way it is. So I ended up doing my master's in history, continuing to ask questions about border placements, Israel and Palestine. And then academia was very concerned with how did it happen, and I was a little bit more concerned about what's happening now. And so when I graduated with my master's, I came and joined APN. And here I am.
Madeleine Cereghino 6:59
Well, we're very glad to have you, Maxxe. Ellie, do you mind sharing a little bit about your experience?
Eliana Blumberg 7:05
Yeah, absolutely. So I'm Ellie Blumberg, I am going to be a junior at Brown in the fall. I'm studying public health and Middle East Studies there. And unlike Claire, and Maxxe, I probably didn't have like, the traditional Jewish upbringing, if that's even a thing. I went to like a very lefty reform Hebrew school as a child, and like, Israel was never really a part of my Jewish education. I knew that my dad's politics were to the left of like most other Jewish adults who I knew, but I didn't really know what that meant. And it wasn't until high school that I really started to thinking about things because you know, as an American Jew, you're in an environment where there aren't very many other Jews, usually you're asked to speak on Israel Palestine, even if you're 13, and have literally no information. And I always was really scared to talk about this stuff, because I felt like I didn't have enough information to really defend my opinion. Um, but fast forward to 2020. I'm supposed to start school in September, but Brown announces that they're not going to bring freshmen back until January in order to make the campus less populated COVID stuff. And I am sitting at home, really just like bored and lonely because all my friends are at college. And I am just like, at home. And I see a Facebook post in like the Hillel student group, talking about a J Street Meeting. And I had vaguely heard of J Street U mostly in relation to their birthright campaign but had very little information and just decided to show up because I had really nothing better to do and got pretty involved saw a talk by Breaking the Silence, which, if you're not familiar, is an organization of former IDF soldiers who speak out about their experience, and was really, really moved by this. Not particularly because it was information that I didn't necessarily know. But I found it really inspiring and that I felt like, what am I talking about? I do have enough information, right? Like, I know that occupation is bad. And it's against international law, and it's being funded with US dollars. And that should be enough information to motivate me to talk about this. Like I shouldn't keep hiding behind the idea that I don't have enough information. So got very involved said yes to things and yeah, so now I'm I'm the New England president of JStreetU. And a National Vice President, and I'm very excited to be interning for APN this summer. So that's a little bit about me.
Madeleine Cereghino 9:51
Thank you so much. And that is actually the perfect segue into my next question. So well done, Ellie. I do want to talk and we'll get through, you know, the gamut of young adult experiences here. But, you know, something that really strikes me as different between our generations. And certainly the generations preceding mine is the opportunity for progressive pro Israel engagement on college campuses and kind of how much that weaves into people's stories about, you know, how they came to this, you know, for me, I'll date myself, it just wasn't prevalent when I was in college, I graduated a little bit after J Street was born. But certainly, you know, not when J Street U was like, a large presence on campus or any of the other groups for that matter. So, it seems like it's a common entry point into this world now. And my question for you guys is, you know, one, how did that I guess, this is more for Claire and Maxxe but Ellie, please weigh in. I've noticed there's been like a drop off, in formerly engagement in larger organizations upon graduation, where people are very, very involved while they're on campus. And then, after they graduate, it just doesn't seem to be as much of a space for them. So I'm one I'll ask you guys can one dig into a little more of your on campus experience? But to like, what was it like, you know, after Ellie, you can talk about your peers as well, like, how does how does that work? How do people stay involved? And why do you think there may be a drop off?
Claire Davidson Miller 11:36
I personally found my campus experience around J Street to be a very complex one. Because at the same time, I was the president of our J Street chapter on campus. I was primarily focused on Israel Palestine in my academic studies, and I was in a leadership position at our Hillel. And our Hillel leaned pro Israel, my Middle East Studies classes lean, very pro Palestine. And then J Street found me kind of caught in the middle. And so I think the good thing about college campuses is that they're so unlike when you were in school, I think there's so much infrastructure provided now for different types of engagement, which is something I felt really lucky to have. But when I think back to why I stopped being involved in J Street U partway through my college career, I think I felt a lot of frustration of all the different expectations that were were being put on me by these different groups. So Ellie mentioned that when she started at Brown, she heard Breaking the Silence speak through J Street U is that right? So by contrast, when I was running the Brown's, J Street U chapter, and our Hillel, which J Street was kind of under the hill umbrella, would not approve an event with breaking the silence as part of J Street. And so navigating that as a student, when these were the organizations I was so dependent on was really complicated. I ended up hosting breaking the silence as kind of a private citizen event just out of the common room in my dorm. Which actually kind of ironically made it more popular because a lot of students who were to the left of J Street U and would not have been willing to come to a J Street U branded meeting, really did want to see Breaking the Silence. So we had students come from like Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voices for Peace. So I think that's the really complex aspect of the college atmosphere around Israel Palestine, is that you're at the same time being provided so much infrastructure, but also have to navigate the rules, both written and unwritten, of those institutions. But either way, there's structure there for you. And by contrast, when you graduate, that all kind of goes away. And I think that's something we see in the larger Jewish community of people who, you know, were involved in their Hillels on campus suddenly graduate and are lost. And I think in the Israel Palestine space, even more so. And I, I think, a significant next frontier for us. In the progressive pro Israel space is going to be finding meaningful forms of engagement for young professionals.
Madeleine Cereghino 15:00
Thank you so much, Claire. Sorry, my dogs started barking. Maxxe. Ellie, do you guys want to weigh in?
Maxxe Albert-Deitch 15:05
I think, though I agree with most of what Claire was just saying, I think that is the experience for a lot of people our age, I would add on to it that I went to a very, very tiny liberal arts school. I know shocking, I work in a progressive advocacy space, and I went to a tiny liberal arts school. So we didn't necessarily have all of the structure that a larger campus would have something like J Street U, I don't think would have been able to exist at a school as small as mine. But that meant that most of the interest was funneled into groups like Hillel and groups, like Students for Justice in Palestine. And the thing that I think is really key to understanding what goes on in college campuses, I think, is partially how progressive the word progressive ends up being defined to people who are 18, to 22. And the idea of what it means to be progressive and what it means to be involved, I think those are terms that have shifted meaning a little bit in the last five to 10 years. And I think that those are terms that have a very specific meaning on college campuses. So I was a Hillel, Vice President at my university. And I was also really heavily involved in a lot of sort of volunteer organizations on campus. And this is a thing that used to come up as people would say, oh, but I'm progressive. So I don't want to go to any event that's supporting Israel. And like, I have some issues with that statement, for obvious reasons. But I think that there is this idea that in order to fit a certain model of progressivism, or a certain model of liberalism, in a way, like there are certain topics that people either have to pick a side on when they're 18, uninformed and don't know anything, or there's a stance that they have to support no matter what, and navigating that and running multiple groups that were engaged with those topics on different angles of it. That I would say there is not as much institutional support for, and I think that that plays into it as well when people graduate. And all of a sudden, there isn't an institution telling them which side to take on any given issue. And there's so much more information. And there are so many fewer ways to sort of funnel that interest. I think it gets very muddled for a lot of people when they hit their mid 20s. And they're out of college. And there's just nowhere to take that interest and redirect that.
Eliana Blumberg 17:50
Yeah, I mean, obviously, I don't know, because I am only halfway through and don't know how I'll feel in two years. But I think what Claire mentioned about structure is exactly right. I think that you know, there's this idea that I definitely think about frequently, and a way that I approach sort of this kind of work, which is that college is a really exciting time in people's lives for various various reasons. But one of them in regarding Judaism and regarding Israel Palestine, is that for the first time, you're really, by yourself, you're able to sort of define religiously what Judaism means to you. But you're also separate from the Jewish institutions that you were brought up in, you're separate from your parents for the first time. And that allows you to really have the opportunity to sort of question the narratives that you've been fed your whole life. And I think that a lot of people who are in J Street U that's a way that we justify our involvement in an organization that a lot of us don't necessarily align with, ideologically or politically. I know the joke that like everyone involved in J Street is to the left of J Street, as is a joke, but it's definitely rooted in truth, especially on college campuses. But I think this idea that like in these four years if we can get six or seven people to learn about occupation and learn about sort of the the destruction that AIPAC causes on the American political system, and also how, you know, like the American Jewish community funds occupation, if we can get like six people to graduate and say, You know what, I'm not going to donate to AIPAC. I'm gonna break this, this tradition, quote, unquote, tradition of supporting these Jewish institutions. That's enough, right. Like that's what motivates me to do this because I feel like we really have an opportunity to make people question what they've been taught. I think that you I know that lifelong learning is a thing. And that obviously you continue to learn even once you graduated from college, but I think that when you're in it, it's sort of this. You have this mindset of like, okay, I have four years to change these people's minds. And senior year, you know, if they're still, you know, in the Israel club and like, decide that they're never going to talk to us about their experience or about, you know, Palestine in general, they refuse to say the word occupation that like, it's a lost cause. And, like, there's no point in trying to do this after graduation, which is not true, I think. But I think that definitely is a mindset that contributes to this. And also, like Claire mentioned, doing this work is hard. It's exhausting. Because while yes, J Street U at Brown has like 35 members, which is really exciting and very big. And the Israel club has, like 10 to 15 members, institutionally, Hillel is on their side. Not, you know, and Hillel says they don't take a side, but it feels like we don't, we're not being supported by the Jewish institutions, which makes the work really, really exhausting. And I think after college, a lot of people decide that like, I can't keep doing this, because I just don't have the energy to. So
Claire Davidson Miller 21:20
yeah, I just have to jump in really quickly and give Ellie like, a huge shout out because when I was running J Street, we also had around 10 to 15 people, and Ellie has not, perhaps not quite single handedly, but like, single handedly more than doubled the size of J Street, which is huge.
Eliana Blumberg 21:44
Thanks, Claire. If people are presented with the information, they tend to, they tend to be interested in learning more, so just gotta get it to them.
Maxxe Albert-Deitch 21:53
I kind of want to hop in on that, though, because I think some of it is very campus to campus different, like, I think people on different college campuses and on campuses that align politically in different ways have drastically different experiences on this. Like most of my friends from my university did not stay involved for a lot of the reasons that you just listed. It's exhausting. The communications aspect of it is not something that 18 to 22 year olds are necessarily equipped to deal with I mean, props to both of y'all. But I think my experience at a tiny liberal arts school was different from what the two of you experienced, is, in turn really different from what my friends who ended up at UGA did. I just think in a lot of ways it does come down to that idea of what structures are there and what structures are present. Because I think that it has a lot to do with what options for how that information is presented our in turn presented to you at your University, if that makes sense.
Claire Davidson Miller 23:04
Yeah, I would actually while we're talking about campus specific stuff, I would love to jump in and also talk about maybe the coolest thing that I got to experience in the Israel Palestine space at Brown, which was a fellowship that our senior rabbi at our hill started, which was called the narrow bridge project, which was a basically a discussion group for Jews of all different political persuasions on campus, specifically regarding Israel, to talk about issues of Zionism of peoplehood, of nationalism, of belonging and of anti semitism. And it the relationships that built between campus groups were was something that was really unprecedented at our school, and I think it many other schools. So not only did it build, like friendly relations between, for example, like leaders of different groups on Israel and Palestine, but it actually made a tangible difference to the way the groups operated. I'm thinking of one time I want to say it was my junior year, when Students for Justice in Palestine, put out a statement that had a sentence in it just one sentence that felt like it was verging on anti semitic. I am not someone who believes that anti Zionism is always anti semitism. But this statement, I don't remember what the sentence was. But it was something that was starting to cross the line. And it was brought to my attention by one of the students in Brown Students for Israel who was in this discussion cohort with me. And they were like, what should We do should we put out a statement should, should we, you know, write an op ed. And I was like, You know what, let me see if we can handle this in another way. And I was able to talk to a friend of mine from this cohort, who was involved in like Jewish, anti Zionist work on campus, who had, you know, built up trust with me through this cohort, discussion cohort, and who had also built up really strong relations with non Jewish anti Zionist students on campus. And through this kind of word of mouth chain, that the narrow bridge project created. We were able to kind of get this message to students for Justice in Palestine without making a scene. They edited their statement, they took out the sentence, and they apologized for, for what they had said. And communicated that they really understood why what they had said, was crossing a line from anti Zionism into anti semitism. And I was just so I felt very, very lucky and very impressed with the way everyone in that situation from brands students, for Israel to Students for Justice in Palestine, was able to handle that, because of those relationships. I'm also in the chat, just gonna drop a little bit of information about that fellowship, because I think it's really special. And they created a wonderful handbook that some of you might enjoy.
Madeleine Cereghino 26:37
Thank you, Claire, um, before we move on, from kind of the on campus, focus of our conversation so far, it did want to, you know, talk a little bit about, and Claire, you, you touched on this kind of both the left and a right, because I think it's very obvious to everyone who's watching that we're not the most diverse group of panelists, as we are all I'll be kind to myself and say, young woman, or female identifying in, you know, a progressive pro Israel space, all drawn to APN, for a reason. And there's obviously, you know, folks to our left and to our right, on campus and off. And something, you know, that struck me in particular is this recent article written by AIPACs on former president of their on campus arm at UC Berkeley, in Teen Vogue, where she cut ties with AIPAC, mostly, you know, discussing their political work, when we could have whole other webinar related to the AIPAC Pac and all that. So I don't want to go down that rabbit hole. But I do think it's striking, even though the contents of the op ed aren't necessarily a new evolution of thought or new opinions on AIPAC and the detrimental work that they do. But I still think it's really striking that someone's involved in their advocacy, as recently as 2019, would go through this political shift. And I'd love to hear your thoughts on both that shift and how you've kind of seen, you know, the interplay between folks to the right of us and folks to the left on campus.
Eliana Blumberg 28:26
Yeah, I can speak about that for a little bit. I think that there's definitely a difference when you're obviously when you're talking about groups to the right and groups to the left. And I also will say that Brown is a very politically progressive campus. And I think that like we don't have an AIPAC chapter we have Brown Students for Israel, which calls themselves a nonpartisan Cultural Club. And yeah, so so we had this event last semester, with this organization called Shorashim, or roots, which brings together settlers and Palestinians and brings them together to give talks and do dialogue work. And obviously, just like going down an AIPAC rabbit hole, talking about dialogue, dialogue, or work is also a rabbit hole that that we can get caught in. But I will say that this event drew, it wasn't J Street Sponsored but Hillel had it which was cool that Hillel, it was the first time that Hillel have brought a Palestinian to speak inside of the building. And he was sitting right next to a settler but it was still a big deal. And for the first time, people who sort of had never really felt comfortable listening to Palestinian voices felt comfortable enough because a it was in a Hillel building where they felt safe, and be that this Palestinian was also setting sitting next to this settler. And that made them feel like it was okay that they were engaging in this work and a lot of what the Palestinian guy said, open some, some some of their eyes and I talked to a few friends afterward who were like, wow, like I, you know, I, I heard you guys talking about checkpoints and like never really realized that it really affects people. And so that was a big deal, I think on campus that got some people who had been in very pro Israel bubbles, to sort of question that a little bit. But I will say that in general, when we're talking about movement, it usually happens to the left that we get people to come into a J Street space. And for the first time, they're talking about these things, and realizing, like all the information that's been hidden for them from them for so long, and that slowly they end up moving further to the left of J Street just by being exposed to more information. I think on the right, we see it a lot less frequently, just because on Brown campus specifically. And I think on other smaller, liberal, artsy campuses that lean to the left, there's this mindset among students who identify as Zionist, that they're sort of under attack in this way, and that they really need to sort of stick together. Because it's scary to be a Zionist on campus. And I think that, while not everyone who identifies as a Zionist on campus feels that way, there is a small number of students who do and that sort of mindset that survivalist mindset makes it really, really difficult for people to sort of step out of that bubble and move to the left, or move to the right, I guess. Yeah, but those are my thoughts.
Maxxe Albert-Deitch 31:55
I think my experience with this, again, maybe a little bit different from yours in the sense that, like, I did not go to Brown, I went to super tiny school didn't have access to things like J Street U as a result. I think there are a couple of things that happen. And you did touch on a couple of them. The big one is that, yeah, people are suddenly exposed to information that they did not previously have. I think we've talked a little bit as a group about the whole "summer camp lied to me and now I must question everything" thing that a lot of particularly Jewish students in our age range have gone through. I think there's a pretty big kernel of truth to that, in that I think a lot of people hit college. And they've been raised in a politically progressive ish left leaning arena, but heavily involved in super pro Israel, Jewish organizations. And then all of a sudden, they have a ton of new information, and they have no idea what to do with it. And so they start questioning everything. And yeah, I think that that's absolutely the case with people who are involved in organizations like AIPAC as college kids. It's the idea of suddenly not having to listen to everything that your parents are telling you, and suddenly not having to listen to everything that your summer camp counselor from two years ago said to you. And I think that's, again, not necessarily a new thing. But there's so much more information in there so much more of people talking about it in the last few years. But I don't think it surprises me at all that particularly Trump era to now we're seeing so much more than that, because and Madeleine, you touched a little bit on this in your intro. I'm not gonna say that everybody in our age range is more politically active than that age range would have been 10 years ago, because I don't think that's true. But I would say that there have been a lot of really easy entry points to political activism and to advocacy work between 2016 and now. For people our age, there were advocacy opportunities in high school that were created specifically because of what was going on in 2016. That I think, between that and the way that people our age tend to use the internet, the flow of information looks really, really different 2016 to now than I think it did 10 years ago, or 15 years ago. And that combined with the okay, maybe I do need to take a step back and reflect on why I feel this way about this country that I don't live in. Like I think that that's something that people were forced to grapple with a little bit earlier and a little bit more strongly than might have otherwise been the case.
Madeleine Cereghino 34:46
Thank you so much, Maxxe. And Ellie and Claire, of course, I want to move on. I think we've spent a good chunk of this conversation talking about on campus, and I just want to move the conversation a little bit to what it looks like. Some more after and, and not just from your experience, but what you've heard. And also, you know, kind of some barriers that you've seen in particular. And Claire, I'm going to ask this of you first, since you were leaving the professional advocacy space, and looking to build your career in the Jewish communal space. And Ellie, I'm not sure what your career aspirations are. But on the off chance, you don't want to do this really, you know, uplifting work professionally. Despite the job security as we like to joke, dark humor is how we get through it. Anyway. I am curious, you know, particularly if you're looking to go into the Jewish communal space, like Claire is would you say, you know, how would you say fear mongering plays a role in your willingness to speak out and engage your peers willingness to speak out, engage in kind of what you see, taking a real stance on this, or how you see it impacting your career prospects?
Claire Davidson Miller 35:55
Yeah, I can speak for myself, when I honestly say that, I am terrified. Like, I am really scared of what my Israel politics mean, for my career. I am going to school to become a rabbi. And I want to be a pulpit rabbi. And that means that I am going to have to, and I want to be able to be a rabbi for many different types of people, and be able to build trust and build relationships with as many people as I can. But in the Jewish community, there's so often, like a purity test around Israel, that I can see people really refusing to build relationships with me, solely predicated on my Israel politics. And I have a number of friends in rabbinical school who have had similar experiences, and similar fears. I do think the landscape is changing recently, there have been a few open letters from rabbinical students from different seminaries across the country, denouncing the occupation. But it's hard to know sometimes, where people see that line. And I think that I think that there are so many things that can make a job in the Jewish community harder. And I think this really, perhaps tops the list. Because so many people see it as a very black and white issue.
Maxxe Albert-Deitch 37:44
I think, I mean, most of my professional experience dealing with this is in academia, but like grad school, publishing, academic conference, academia, where those are things that my paycheck and my stipend were absolutely dependent on. And yes, the reason I left like I can say that fundamentally, it is the reason why I said I wasn't going to do a PhD, was because there were conferences that I was informed that the reason I wasn't going to be invited was because of what I was publishing on. And the fact that I have very, I think, well, I backed thoughts on this particular issue. And I was backing it up with research, I was backing it up with interviews, I was backing it up with conversations. But because of the stance that I was taking, I was told several times over, like, Okay, your research is solid, but we won't publish you, or your research is solid, but you can't present at this conference, you can submit your paper, but it will not be selected. And like that, I think is a really, I'm not gonna say it's a really common thing, because it's not like there are that many people doing that research in that space to begin with. But it is absolutely a struggle as far as people doing this work run into.
Madeleine Cereghino 38:59
Ellie, if you want to weigh on this, go ahead. If you don't, I know I didn't know what I was going to do with my future when I was at that point in college. So I don't think anyone would fault you if you don't want to. Okay, awesome. Awesome. Okay. All right, I'm gonna move on to something that is, had a really big presence among my generation. And certainly, I don't know how much of a presence it has for you guys, to be honest. But from my perspective, when it comes to talking about young adult engagement on Israel, Palestine, I'd be remiss to not bring up birthright cards on the table. I went on a birthright trip. Almost exactly 10 years ago, I'd had zero involvement similar to Ellie in the Jewish community growing up. Like Maxxe, I was in a small school, there was no on campus ad like activism. I really just had nothing to do it. I was working In DC, and doing government affairs on totally unrelated things, and just did not engage on this, but I also had no money and wanted a free trip. So there I went onto this birthright trip. And, you know, actually credit it for getting me involved. I've now been working in this space for over eight years. And that's really due to the inequities that I saw that they, you know, failed to hide from us despite their best efforts. And some of the incredibly biased and racist talking points that really drove me to want to get involved and want to take into this further. But I remember feeling really alone politically on my trip. It seems like that's changed. And there's been a growing number of other younger millennials or Gen Zers, who are declining to go on birthright trips, or organizing their fellow trip participants to push back against the narrative and arrange to see parts of the occupation for themselves. So first off, have either any of you three been on our birthright trip? Why are we not? And have you seen this kind of shift in perspective on birthright among your peers?
Maxxe Albert-Deitch 41:14
I can jump in on this one. So I will say first of all, yeah, I went on a birthright trip. My trip was, I would say pretty atypical in that it had a built in extension that was academically inclined, I went specifically for the purpose of getting an archaeology certificate degree. And it was built into my program that it was involved with Hebrew University. And so like it had most of the typical, like birthright checklist items. But it was because of the qualifications that the people leading it had to have, in archaeology and academics, they were really limited on who they could pick from. And they ended up giving us people who politically I don't think we're exactly in line with other birthright trip organizers. In other words, they were even worse at hiding most of the inequities that were going on around us, because they were actively pointing that out instead. And that, I think, is because they had like a couple of PhD students tagging along, who didn't have nearly as many restrictions on what they were and were not allowed to say, it was great. That said, my birthright trip was absolutely the key event that got me involved in this kind of advocacy. And in the kinds of questions that I was asking. I wrote my grad school personal statement on this, my statement of purpose had to do with this, it was literally, we went to Masada, it was a whole thing, made the whole big day out of it. And we got to the top and we started talking about the archaeology of the site. And I started asking questions, and they kept telling me, oh, we don't know or, well, the archaeological report says this. And if you asked about what about people who lived here, between, you know, this period of time and that period of time, oh, we don't know, oh, there was no one there. And like, that's not true. Like we do know, and it wasn't empty. And I was really dissatisfied with that. So I started doing my own research on it. I am now three published papers on that subjects later working in advocacy space, because I didn't like being told it's just the way it is, or we don't know, because like, that wasn't true. And I did not like that. And I think that the people on my trip were similarly inclined, partially because it was a bunch of people who were involved in anthropology and archaeology, and asking those kinds of questions. But again, my trip super atypical in that regard.
Claire Davidson Miller 43:50
I love, Maxxe, that you really framed it around your trip leaders. Because my perhaps unpopular opinion about birthright, is that birthright's number one problem is not actually its political leanings, but is its lack of like, any sort of real screening process qualifications, or like control of the trip leaders, because everyone I speak to has had a completely different experience with their trip leaders. I personally found my grocery trip to be completely meaningless. I went on a birthright trip much younger than most people. I was 18 right out of high school, but like I said, I had been really involved, had gotten myself involved in Israel Palestine, stuff from the age of like 14 or 15. And I kind of went on my birthright trip. expecting to have disagreements with people about Israel Palestine, but to have a meaningful Jewish experience. And I had neither of those things, not only, like, not only was known, like not only two people had like, bad politics, but nobody wanted to engage politically at all, no one wanted to engage politically Jewishly, religiously, spiritually, with anything we were seeing. Everyone, including our trip leaders just wanted to go get drunk in Tel Aviv. And so I think like, what, what birth rate actually did kind of open my eyes two is the number of people who would consider themselves to be like pro Israel and love Israel, but really are just like treating Israel as like their private party land. You know, college students between 18 and 21, who can drink in Israel legally, but not in the United States, and who just want to drink and go to clubs and go to the beaches in Tel Aviv. And I think one thing it did for me because of that was making me realize how important it is to have a real and a deep connection to Israel, whatever form that connection takes to be willing to study and learn and engage with the complexity. Because I did not want someone to look at me and think I was like, a vapid airhead. The way I felt about most of my trip, and especially my trip leaders, who were in no way qualified to be there and should not have been there. So I think birthright has has quite a few changes to make.
Madeleine Cereghino 46:51
And not just politically. So Ellie, I saw you excited to jump in before you do. Um, I just want to throw this out there. And then Ellie, you can answer this as well. And Claire and Maxxe, please do. But to Claire's point about AIPAC- birthright. I said AIPAC Freudian slip birthright's problem, really stemming from a lack of consistency in, you know, trip leaders, I would posit that, I think if they were consistent and be consistently bad from the way I've seen this itinerary structured, and kind of the obviously clear objectives that are beyond just a Jewish connection to Israel, but you know, have serious political roots. So, Ellie, if you wouldn't mind starting out addressing that. And then of course, going to everything else you want to say, and then Claire, Maxxe, you could add on to that.
Eliana Blumberg 47:49
Yeah, so I have not gone on a birthright trip. And I am not going to go on a birthright trip. I've made the decision that I am not going to go. I think that there's this sort of mindset among other progressive Jews that like, yeah, like, it's not going to work on me, like, I'll go, and I'll take advantage of this free trip and the political alignment of the trip, or the like political goal of the trip is not going to work on me. And I'll just have a good time. And I think that I had some friends who went on a birthright trip through Brown, like last month, and came back and talked about their leaders and how, I guess, the Brown contingent has become notorious for asking challenging questions. And so no one wants to be the tour guide for that group. And my friend who was talking about this was very, very proud of this fact. That, you know, like, no one wants to give us tours, because like, we're so rebellious. And like, we want to ask the questions and like, we want to get to the bottom of this. And it became, it became clear that like, part of the excitement of going was in that like, we want to like, challenge the institution, and we want to go but like, we don't want to have a good time, or like we want to go but we want to, we want to like make it clear that we're not going to fall for it. We're not going to drink the Kool Aid. And I don't know how I feel about that. This is actually something that I've been thinking about a lot since I had this conversation with my friend. But I think that I've decided that that also is not a good enough reason to go. I think that there are enough things that I am upset about, regarding Israel and birthright's goal, that I don't think that it will enrich my religious life in any way. And I think that that's not the goal of the trip, even if, you know they claim that the goal of the trip is to get more in touch with your Judaism and to meet other Jewish youth like, I can do that here in a lot of different ways that don't involve me, sort of normalizing the current political situation and occupation and the fact that while I, even though my ancestors came to America before world war two and you know, have have never really had any specific connection with the State of Israel, that I have more right to go than a Palestinian whose grandparents were born there, that really upsets me. And so I think that for that reason, I decided that it's not, it's not gonna happen.
Madeleine Cereghino 50:43
Claire, Maxxe, to either of you want to add anything more on this?
Maxxe Albert-Deitch 50:50
I just want to echo something that both Claire and Ellie have mentioned, which is that, I mean, okay, first off, we all know birthrights a propaganda trip, right, like in every possible way. But I think beyond that, I don't think I know anybody who's actually had a birthright trip truly enhance their Judaism in any way. Like anybody who feels that really strong, deeper into connection to Israel was already going to go and probably did So earlier on a trip that would disqualify them from going on birthright in the first place. Anybody who's in a position, like, I was like, I didn't go for the Judaism, I went, because I wanted an archaeology certificate degree, like I was going because I cared about the history. And that was true for every single person on my trip, with one exception, who wanted to party and have a good time, it was very upset that there was schoolwork involved. Like, very upset was the whole thing. But I don't think I know anybody who's had a birthright trip really enhanced their religious experience and their religious connection to Israel. And I don't know exactly where I'm going with this. But I think that that's something that deserves a little bit more thought than I tend to give it on a regular basis.
Claire Davidson Miller 52:08
But one thing that I do want to say sorry, Madeline, very quickly, before we wrap up the birthright conversation is I just want to like, really quickly, like, flag. US I'll say my for an out my own financial privilege and and many people's financial privilege that like, not everyone will have an opportunity to go to Israel, not on birthright and might actually be able to really take advantage of that free trip and that free flight. And to me thinking now, when I go on birthright? For me, that wouldn't be a good enough reason. And if I had to make the decision again, I would not go on birthright. But I also recognize that financially speaking, that decision looks different for everyone. And that's why while I might counsel people about, you know, the dangers and the problems with birthright, or encourage them, perhaps not to go if they have another option. I don't think that I would like flat out tell someone do not participate in birthright.
Madeleine Cereghino 53:27
Fair point. Um, okay. So I know we're running short on time. So and I understand that some folks join this
hoping to kind of get a vision for the future and hear how you guys think as well. So we'll end this on what I hope
will be an optimistic note, but I have a feeling will not end up being so I'll just throw this out here. But what
and this is a question from the q&a, but given, you know, everything that's going on Israel Palestine, I mean,
even the United States is engaged in it. So how do you envision a solution to the conflict? Short
Maxxe Albert-Deitch 54:13
So I've said this before, I think to most of you guys individually, I'll say it again. I think my answer to that looked a whole lot different before Russia did certain things that Russia recently did. And I think that my answer to this looks different a few years ago before, I mean, looks different a few days ago before the Israeli government did what the Israeli government did. But I think a functional solution and a solution that we're actually going to see aren't necessarily the same thing. I think a solution that I envision is not necessarily the same as a functional solution or a solution that we're going to see. I personally would very much like to see a two state solution with a shared Jerusalem and people getting along and acknowledging similarities over thier differences? Because, you know, those are ideals that I believe in really strongly. And I mean, even just leaning into my own Jewish values, I think the path to tikkun olam, at least where Israel and Palestine are concerned, involves people having actual honest to goodness conversations with each other. I also don't know how likely that is I, I want to believe that that is a possibility, and that it's something that can happen in the next, you know, short term period of time. That said, I'm also not unaware of global politics. I'm not unaware of Israel's history. And so I don't know, I think those distinctions between what I want and what might happen are something that I sort of have to constantly keep myself aware of.
Eliana Blumberg 55:53
Yeah, this is a tough question. And I think one that I part of being involved in, in JStreet U, is that I have a lot of one on one conversations with people to like, get to know them and get to know their backgrounds and like, try to get them involved. And this is the question that I get very frequently. And I think my answer is that, like, we're not even in a place where we can start to think about that. And maybe that's me being like, I can't even really visualize a solution right now. Maybe that's me, like avoiding the conversation, the question. But I think that that's kind of true, that we're in a position right now, where something has to change, or this is going to continue and something's gonna something's gonna break. Like, I really hope to God that, you know, that the the history will, you know, play out and that it will, you know, and in justice and that that will happen soon. But I don't know what that soon means. I know, people talk about like a confederation instead of a two state solution. That's like the thing that people are talking about. You know, Peter Beinart is a fan of that. But yeah, I think so I think that's like sort of what I guess I envision when I think about this, but I think that my answer is that we still have a lot of work to do before we can even think about that. And that's not just like Israeli government work, you know, that's like American public work. Like we have to educate people. And we have to get people to realize that we are funding occupation, and that we need to stop. And we need to tell Israel that like, you can't keep doing this, we need to stand up to them, and let them know that like, you know, they should take us seriously because we actually care about human rights. And we care about justice. And, you know, how I feel about, you know, Zionism aside, right, like, this is a human rights issue. And I think that that's what brings a lot of young people in my generation to this work is that this is a human rights issue. And it's hard to think of a solution right now, when there are so many violations every single day, and so many lives are being affected by this, and that we can really, really do something to change that. And that right now, nothing's happening. So sorry, got a little fired up. But yeah.
Claire Davidson Miller 58:20
Do not apologize. That was, I think, fantastic. And I think is very in line also, with what I'm thinking, um, you know, intellectually, I love to play around in my head with the idea of a confederation. But politically, sociologically, like that is not the reality on the ground right now. And I think that asking for a solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict at this point is like, asking for a solution to like the dispossession of like Native American land, create the United States of America, you know, it happened, it's done. We're not going to like solve the problems or solve the inequalities or solve the racism that has already been perpetrated. In my mind, it's more of a where do we go from here? And I can tell you what I envision my role in it to be like, I see myself as someone who is going to be working on this issue in the Jewish community and trying to move the needle within the Jewish community and, and help educate Jewish Americans in about what's actually happening, as Ellie said, on the ground regarding the human rights of Palestinians. But what that hopefully eventually one day leads to I don't know. And I will say to you now as a 23 year old that I fear it will not happen in my lifetime. I do not expect it to happen in my lifetime. But that doesn't mean we can't make some sort of change.
Madeleine Cereghino 59:53
So I promised that was the last question, but I broke my promises. But we've gotten used to broken promises on this issue. So, um, final question. Speaking of working on this issue, speaking of working on, you know, kind of making progress without an end in sight, I want to ask each of you concisely, because we are out of time, in what way has your involvement with APN served your passion on this issue.
Maxxe Albert-Deitch 1:00:28
So, I've only been here for like, three weeks, I am brand new. But I can at least talk a good bit about why I gravitated to APN in the first place, and like why I sent in an application? I think there's a lot of misinformation about Israel and Palestine. And I think that there's a big fat question about what can Americans do when it comes down to a conflict that let's face it is a lot of miles away. And APN had answers to a lot of that for me in that, what can we do? We can talk to members of Congress about what the US government is doing in this situation for which we do have some partial responsibility. Yeah. You know, we can raise awareness, we can talk to people about the nuance of the issues. And I think that a lot of particularly progressive, or Jewish organizations feel the need to be one or the other of those things, progressive or Jewish. And APN is one of the few that, like, didn't find those two things in total binary opposition to one another. And I found that really important.
Eliana Blumberg 1:01:43
Yeah. I think that, in talking about this issue, people get so caught up with the language we use. That was something that struck me immediately from like my first J Street Meeting at Brown when they were planning this breaking the silence event. And we had five meetings about the language we were allowed to use on the Facebook post, if Hillel were to put their name behind it. Which I thought was ridiculous. Like, we couldn't use the word occupation, we had to use the word, continued military presence. And we had to frame it in a very specific way. And it was, I thought it was hilarious, honestly, because I was like, What is going on? But then I thought about it more than it's kind of inferiorating, inferiorrarting infuriating, you know, the word. Yeah. And I think that that happens all the time in this work, is that we care so much about the language that we forget sort of what we're actually doing, and love, love J Street U J Street U got me involved in this. But I think that that's something that I get really frustrated with J Street is that it feels a lot like we are making compromises to on things that we don't need to be making compromises on like, I get that, you know, politically, politicians are not in a place where we can use certain language to talk about this stuff. Because just people won't listen, or things won't get done. But I think that what APN does really well, is they acknowledge that sometimes we do have to come out and say, you know, like, yeah, the Amnesty report was very controversial, but like, we need to focus on what's going on in that report, and not the language that was used. And we shouldn't get distracted by that. So I think that's one example of why I like APN so much is that it feels like a place where we're getting stuff done. And we're being practical, without compromising our our views. So, yeah.
Claire Davidson Miller 1:03:51
Yeah, I think that APN has given me a really good lesson on how to operate strategically, with and both the
Jewish community and the political, the various political fields, while also staying true and honest, to my beliefs
and to what's right.
Madeleine Cereghino 1:04:22
All right. Well, thank you all so much. I appreciate speaking of staying true and honest and speaking the truth. I appreciate you all, you know, being open and vulnerable with us. Especially really with you know, those kinds of concerns Claire you elucidated earlier, we are well over time, so I apologize to everyone who's stuck it out, but I'm going to wrap it here. Thank you so much for joining us. As a reminder, this will be on our YouTube page and as well on our peace cast podcast. So thank you so much for joining Claire, Maxxe, Ellie, and to all of our listeners. Take care.
Claire Davidson Miller 1:04:59