It’s no longer the hardship it once was to make Aliyah. This being the case, it takes a lot for Jews in America to convince me of their sincerity and love for Israel. Mike Behar is one of the few who managed to win me over.
He did so during quick Facebook chats about his latest work on behalf of Israel during breaks from my own work at Kars4Kids and later on during longer conversations by phone. His quiet work on behalf of Israel shines in a region of the U.S. shrouded in darkness by its overt hate for the Jewish State. It takes fortitude to hold an unpopular view in the face of the overwhelming anti-Israel sentiment of the Pacific Northwest. Mike has fortitude in spades.
He works behind the scenes, going to meetings where Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) activists hold forth. He talks to activists that might be amenable to hearing a different, more truthful pro-Israel view. He writes letters to the editor of the local Jewish newspaper to protest the slanted coverage against Israel. As such, I see Mike as every bit a warrior for the state of Israel as those of us who live inside the Jewish State.
Michael Behar, age 51, has lived in Seattle all his life. His grandfather was the cantor and spiritual leader of Congregation Ezra Bessaroth, a synagogue founded by observant Jewish immigrants from Rhodes, Greece. “EB” is still at the center of Michael’s family life.
A product of the Orthodox day school and Yeshiva system, Michael studied in Israel at Yeshivat Beit El post high school in 1981-1982, during the evacuation of Yamit in the Sinai and the beginning of the first Lebanon War. These seminal experiences strengthened his love for Israel and the Jewish people. Michael married Carole in 1990 and the couple has four children.
Varda: Mike, in Israel we are hearing a lot about anti-Israel sentiment in the Pacific Northwest region of North America. There are the reports from Hen Mazzig, and your blog, The Mike Report. We have heard about the Jewish Voice for Peace JVP (an anti-Israel protest group), Linda Frank, BDS 101, and more. Why is it like this in Seattle?
Mike: There are two factors that make the Pacific Northwest a hotbed of Israel hatred: the universities, and the progressive culture of this area.
Seattle is a college town. College environments tend to be incubators of radicalism. Still, the University of Washington campus has historically been a “serious” college with a relatively subdued extremist contingent compared to other West coast campuses.
60 miles South of Seattle in Olympia, on the other hand, is Evergreen State College. Evergreen has been a center of radicalism for years. During the Iraq war, local activists shut down the port of Olympia to prevent supplies from reaching the US military. In March of 2003, Evergreen State College student Rachel Corrie was killed after standing in front of a moving army bulldozer during a military action in Gaza. Her death provided anti-Israel activists with the local connection they needed to connect a faraway conflict to the “Israel is evil narrative” they had attempted to peddle for years.
In the Puget Sound area, Corrie is considered a martyr, a glowing angel sacrificed in the cause of peace. Once Corrie’s name is pulled into the debate, open discussion is quashed. Corrie’s parents, Craig and Cindy Corrie stoke the coals of hate with ceaseless efforts to demonize the Jewish state. Corrie did not create the anti-Israel movement in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) but her death supercharged the anti-Israel movement here, especially on college campuses. Radical groups active on college campuses include International Solidarity Movement (ISM), Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights (SUPER-UW), Students for Justice in Palestine, and Jewish Voice for Peace.