I never told you?

If you want to ruin your day, check out younevertoldme.org. It’s the stepchild of “If Not Now,” the organization of earnest young Jews who oppose “the occupation” with equal measures of naïveté and self-righteousness. “While the out-of-touch establishment claims to speak for our community, we know that American Jewry is eager for change….” They know this because they are eager for change, and so therefore everyone is.

Isn’t it obvious?

“You never told me” takes testimonials from kids that went to day schools, camps, or youth groups, who feel that they were never told about the Palestinian perspective.

You never told me “that the JNF’s bread and butter is dispossessing Palestinians of their homes and land.”

You never told me “that my ancestors had helped to create a literal catastrophe.”

You never told me about “the existence of Palestinians.”

You never told me about “the occupation.”

You never told me “the truth.”


The complaints center on two themes. The first is “You never told me” that there was an occupation, a “nakba,” a Palestinian people, etc.

Second, what you did tell me was only the Israeli perspective, and a distorted, cartoonish perspective at that.

Frankly, I find all this pretty hard to believe, for three reasons:

As a congregational rabbi who considers himself a hard centrist on Israel, I talk about the occupation, and the Palestinian perspective, often. I don’t find it hard to do so. It’s not the least bit controversial. I don’t feel like I have to cover anything up. To the contrary, the more clear facts I can put on the table, the better. That’s my job, and I know that many of my colleagues feel the same way.

Second, considering how often I have to respond to mass media bias, it is inconceivable to me that our kids could be so completely clueless.

And third, my sons go to a great Jewish high school (Kushner), and they certainly aren’t babes in the woods about the “matzav,” the “situation” in which Israelis and Palestinians find themselves.

So out of curiosity, I did a quick check of the internet—figuring that if kids were getting the news anywhere, it would be on line. So based on what I found, this is my message to all those people “I never told:”

In the last month, the New York Times mentioned “the occupation” 11 times. Over the course of a year, on average, that’s 132 times (or once every three days, sort of like the way we read Torah—lehavdil).

Searching another way, I googled Hanan Ashrawi, the ever-dour and bitterly anti-Israel Palestinian spokesperson. Over one year, there were 99 results (again, almost once every three days).

To sum up—over a four year high school career, you had the opportunity to hear about the occupation 528 times in America’s “Newspaper of Record.” Or you could have heard what Ashrawi had to say 396 times.

And this is not to mention The Forward, where Peter Beinart attacks the occupation on a weekly basis, NPR (jokingly referred to as National Palestine Radio), and an entire rogue’s gallery of anti-Israel and/or anti-Netanyahu commentators, from Raja Abdulrahim to Mairav Zonszein, documented by CAMERA and Honest Reporting.

And you needed somebody to tell you?

I don’t mean to be unduly harsh, but in light of all this, if you got through four years of school without knowing about “the occupation,” they shouldn’t have let you graduate. You obviously don’t know how to read.

Shifting now from what you didn’t hear to what you did, we have to ask ourselves what the role of a proudly Jewish, proudly Zionist school, or camp, or youth movement should be. It’s a given that they should hide nothing. It’s a given they should distort nothing. But it’s also a given that they should follow the halakhah that says you should love your neighbor as yourself—but not more than yourself.

Of around 26 op eds, letters, and editorial pieces in the New York Times in the last year, (more than 2 a month, for those whose math is as bad as their reading), at least 20 of them were either anti-Israel or anti- Netanyahu, including one piece by Omar Barghouti, founder of the BDS movement, and another by (distant relative) Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian “activist” convicted of 5 counts of murder, including a child in a baby carriage.

So when, and where, and how are you Jewish kids going to learn about what the democratically elected government of the Jewish state does, and why? Where will you learn about the stresses that Israeli citizens live with? About the courage and dedication of Israeli soldiers, who see themselves as the last line of defense against people who would intentionally murder innocent men, women, and children? About the ongoing attempts to create pathways to peace, however distant that may seem? About the historic background, including the Jewish rights to the land enshrined both in our religious tradition and in international law? About how the story of Israel, with all the faults it may have, is nevertheless a source of inspiration? Where will you learn this, if we (i.e., “the Establishment”) don’t tell you?

Does that mean that Palestinians don’t have their own story to tell? That they don’t suffer? That they are somehow less than human? That they don’t deserve to be treated with dignity? That we should not protest when we see injustice happening to Palestinians? Of course not. G-d forbid.

But as young Jewish students, you have both a legitimate right and a moral obligation to see your own side before you see theirs.

Don’t say I never told you.

About the Author
Rabbi Wolkoff serves Congregation Bnai Tikvah in North Brunswick. He has published hundred of articles and lectured internationally on Jewish topics, and has been active both in interfaith work and in the struggle against anti-Semitism, both in the United States and in Sweden, where he served for a decade. He is a JNF Rabbi for Israel.
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