January 16, 2009
Pro-Palestinian Jewish Teens Create Stir
Like many Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community High School seniors, Josh Levey and Michael K. hope to take a year between high school graduation and the start of college. (Michael’s father requested that his son’s full last name not be identified.)
Many of their classmates will spend that year in an Israeli educational or community service program. But they want to do it in a place they call Palestine.
The two also are active with a local group called Baltimore Palestine Solidarity, which recently leafleted the inaugural Friends of Israel Defense Forces Maryland Chapter event.
Both 17, the students attend a school that breathes the oxygen of Zionism and Israel advocacy. Yet in classrooms, at Shabbat tables and in public, they talk of Israel as an occupier.
It’s all caused no small amount of talk at a school whose mission statement in part reads, “Beth Tfiloh Dahan recognizes and affirms that the creation of the State of Israel is one of the seminal events in Jewish history. Recognizing the significance of the State and its national institutions, we seek to instill in our students an attachment to the State of Israel and its people, as well as a sense of responsibility for their welfare.”
Further, a number of graduates are Israel Defense Forces veterans.
So perhaps it’s no surprise that Josh said he was asked to stop wearing to school a bracelet with Palestinian flags. Beth Tfiloh even held an assembly to address why the item might be not appropriate at the school.
As Director of Education Zipora Schorr said, “This is an open environment.
And as long as that discussion takes place in a setting of derech eretz [proper conduct] and knowledge, it is encouraged. As long as there is some level of understanding and knowledge, I’ll allow diverse opinions. In the context of the school, if their views are shot down, they are shot down by other kids.”
Friends, both say, call them “brainwashed.” But they are well read and passionate. Both visit a variety of online news sites such as the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, the BBC, the settlers’ news service Arutz Sheva, the pro-Palestinian International Middle East Media Center (MEMC) and the Arab world’s Al-Jezeera.
Both also called for an immediate, long-term, sustainable ceasefire to the Gaza War and an end to what Michael called Israel’s “siege.” of Gaza. “No more wall,” he said, “no more checkpoints and raids.”
Josh added, “Resistance movements sometimes use extreme tactics to achieve their goals. These tactics are understandable, though not right … Israel prides itself as a Jewish state, but it is oppressing other people. Can’t we see that this only becomes a breeding ground of anti-Semitism and radicalism?”
Josh said that among his peers, “Thinking and speaking critically is acceptable” — except for when it comes to Israel. That’s when he can be labeled a “self-hating Jew.”