This article takes up categories from literature on political and civic engagement to help make sense of data collected from interviews with 40 American Jewish day high school students about what they think and feel about Israel. Viewed through a set of lenses that distinguish between the manifestations and motivations of political and civic engagement, the article helps clarify why young Jews, even when actively and positively engaged with Israel, are uncomfortable labeling themselves as Zionists. The analysis points to an important distinction between the concepts of Israel as “home” and “homeland.” The article also raises important questions about what is presumed to be an increasing distance or alienation from Israel among young American Jews.
From Michael Zeldin's Editor's Note:
"Alex Pomson… and his co-author Daniel Held move the conversation about Israel education forward in their article “‘Why Israel?’ Re-Viewing Israel Education through the Lenses of Civic and Political Engagement.” They begin by noting the “promiscuous” use of the term “Israel engagement,” and then set out to draw on research in other, related fields “concerned with the task of engaging youth.” They note that many studies of engagement focus on behavioral and attitudinal manifestations of engagement, but recent studies tend to focus instead on motivations. Motivations, they note, range from the “political” which focus on self-interest to the “civically minded” which focus on a sense of duty.
Pomson and Held interviewed 40 day high school students to learn about the ways in which their Israel engagement is politically motivated and the ways in which it is civically motivated. They note that the difference between political and civic motivations is reflected in the students' conceptualization of Israel as homeland (political motivation) and home (civic motivation). They go on to claim that there is a “deep bifurcation between how most students personally relate to Israel and how they seem to have been taught.” They leave us with the insightful conclusion that programs of Israel engagement that focus on civic motivations don't necessarily result in students being politically engaged with Israel."