When it comes to the relationship between young Jews in America and the State of Israel, “the next 10 years will be crucial,” says journalist Ari Shavit, author of the highly acclaimed new book “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel” (Spiegel & Grau). Shavit, who has been making the rounds of American universities talking about his book, says the issue is the most important one on the Jewish agenda; one that calls for “dramatic change,” requiring more openness in discussing the Jewish state’s remarkable successes as well as its moral flaws. “Israel is not Goliath, but David,” Shavit said.

He made his comments last Thursday night before a sell-out audience of more than 1,000 people at Central Synagogue in Midtown at a forum sponsored by The Jewish Week. Shavit was interviewed by the editor of The New Republic, Franklin Foer.

As Shavit sees it, the college campus will be a key battleground as pro-Israel students take on a BDS (boycott, sanctions and divestment) movement that seeks to delegitimize Israel for its policies in the West Bank. He says that when Jewish college students, many of whom are universalists when it comes to human rights, look at Israel they wince. He senses what he calls an “unfriendly apathy” (unfriendly to Israel, that is) that could take hold over the next decade unless Israel’s case — warts and all — is made more forcefully, rooted in a love of the Zionist cause.

The wide-ranging discussion touched on the paradox of Jewish life today (Jews have never been more secure and at the same time so uneasy), Ariel Sharon’s legacy (he would have engineered additional settlement withdrawals, Shavit believes) and the peace process (Shavit favors a gradual West Bank withdrawal coupled with efforts to build up Palestinian society). But the focus was on young people.

That is why five college and post-college young people were part of the program, invited to question Shavit. In response to a question about making Israel’s case on campus, Shavit said, in effect: Love Israel, defend it, but realize that it has problems; holding to the belief that Israel is the mythic country of old won’t cut it anymore. The love, he suggested, had to be mature, not dewy-eyed.

robert@jewishweek.org