“You never told me”: Confronting American Jewish myths about Israel

An activist with IfNotNow is carried away by Israeli police during a Jerusalem Day protest, Jerusalem, May 24, 2017. (photo: JC / Activestills.org)

A group of young American Jews are challenging the the institutionalized myths they were taught about the Jewish state in classrooms, youth group trips, and summer camps.

By Emma Goldberg | +972 Magazine | Jun 19, 2018


The American Jewish community must confront the myths we’ve manufactured and institutionalized in day school classrooms, youth group trips, and summer camp celebrations of “Israel Day.” That most Jewish students can trace Israel’s borders but do not know what the Nakba or Green Line are is the sign of a serious failure. Tomorrow’s American Jewish leader deserve a better, more nuanced education.


US anti-occupation movement IfNotNow released its “Liberation Syllabus” last week. Crowd-sourced from teachers, students, journalists, and rabbis, the syllabus offers a collection of resources — from picture books to nonfiction, cookbooks to podcasts — that Jewish institutions can integrate into their curricula to offer more balanced and just lessons about the occupation.

The syllabus is part of IfNotNow’s “You Never Told Me” campaign, in which alumni of Jewish summer camps, day schools, and youth groups are calling on their institutions to change their Israel education to include honest understandings of the occupation and Palestinian narratives. Some of the resources in IfNotNow’s syllabus, for example, include Rashid Khalidi’s Palestinian Identity and Edward Said’s The Question of Palestine.

IfNotNow’s campaign is a critical call to action. For American Jews distressed by the intransigence and violence of the Netanyahu government — enabled and encouraged by the Trump administration — distance does not permit inaction. Meaningful responses to current conditions on the ground in Israel-Palestine can start in the US, with critical examination of the way American Jewish institutions teach and talk about the occupation. Most importantly, this examination must begin early in the pipeline, engaging the narratives that Jewish youth consume about Israel and the history of the conflict.

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