Student Union opens ‘hasbara’ room in effort to fill public diplomacy vacuum.
If there is one thing the overwhelming majority of Jews agree on, it’s that we are friends of Israel. We know Israel is in peril and we want to do something to help.
When we get to the question of how to help, different people have different opinions. How can we be the best friends of Israel we can possibly be? It’s an important question, and I believe we need a serious, honest and respectful dialogue about it in the Jewish community.
Israel’s enemies are waging a large scale, concerted effort to turn it into a pariah state. It’s a powerful, effective campaign. But we can fight back, and we can begin immediately, because the fight against the delegitimization of Israel begins in our own hearts and minds.
Take a second and let that sink in. The fight against the delegitimization of Israel begins in our own hearts and minds.
Why do I say that?
I’ve had some exchanges since the Gaza flotilla incident with other Jews. One, a staff member at a Jewish school in Los Angeles, said, “I want to wash my hands of this. I’m so disgusted I don’t even want to follow the news.” Another, a friend, said he wished he could just push a reset button for the entire Middle East – implying some sort of moral equivalency between Israel and her enemies.
It’s disturbing, because it points to a feeling of shame at being Jewish and being associated with Israel.
I understand it, though. We learn through the media that Israel is opposed to peace and is essentially a colonial power committed to the occupation of an oppressed Third World nation.
There is enormous social pressure to refrain from expressing support for Israel. It’s considered good manners to show understanding for the oppressed people of Gaza suffering under an Israeli blockade, and bad manners to show understanding for the right of Jews to build homes in Jerusalem.
The relentless war of words and images and beliefs waged by our enemies has had an effect – not only on the rest of the world, but on us. We wouldn’t feel any shame unless to some degree we’ve come to believe the lies. If we didn’t believe them, we’d pay no attention. We’d ignore them – or dismiss them as crazy.
If I said, “Everybody who has two eyes is evil, a threat to humanity, and opposed to world peace,” you’d think I was idiotic or insane. If you gave my ranting any conscious thought at all, you’d say, “We have two eyes because we’re people, just like everybody else. It’s the self-evident truth.”
Well, here are some other self-evident truths:
● We have a moral, legal, and historical right to a Jewish homeland in Israel with Jerusalem as its capital
● Israel has the legal right and moral obligation to defend itself, just like any other nation.
● The biggest obstacle to peace, by far, is the Arab refusal to recognize and accept Israel as a permanent, Jewish state.
● Arab aggression against Israel has been going on since long before there were any settlements in the West Bank. Israeli presence over the Green Line is a result of Arab aggression, not the cause of it.
● If the Arabs laid down their arms there would be peace in the Middle East. If Israel laid down its arms, there would be genocide.
As friends of Israel, we must ground ourselves in the certainty of these truths. Knowing them is the strongest defense against Israel’s delegitimization, for once we accept these basic truths our vision becomes clear and certain facts become obvious.
Israelis are not racists simply because those who attack them are from a Third World country. Israelis are not colonialists because they defend their homeland. Israel is not anti-human because it refuses to commit national suicide. Israel is not anti-Palestinian because it needs fences and checkpoints to prevent terrorists from smuggling rockets to shoot at kindergartens and to prevent suicide bombers from killing people eating dinner in a restaurant.
Israel doesn’t choose to kill terrorists on a ship. Israel doesn’t choose to fight wars. Israel doesn’t choose to spend endless resources on self defense. Israel chooses to live. It’s as simple as that. There’s no shame in it.
In our quiet moments, we all know that if the Palestinians publicly recognized Israel’s right to live in peace as a Jewish state, renounced their demand to flood Israel with the descendants of Arab refugees from 60 years ago, and agreed that a peace agreement would bring about a permanent end to the conflict, the details of that agreement would be worked out in a heartbeat.
To be a friend of Israel means first and foremost to remind ourselves of these facts every day, until we know them in our bones. Then we must turn to the people next to us – families, friends, neighbors – and remind them of these same truths. We need to support each other, continually remind each other, and give each other permission to believe these truths, because every time we turn on the news or pick up a newspaper we’re getting the other message.
That’s how we begin to fight the global campaign against Israel – in our own hearts and minds – and we can then spread these truths to others. It’s one powerful way we can be the best friends of Israel we can possibly be.
And in the political arena, when we’re deciding whom to support with our money and our votes, remember who our friends are. They’re the ones spreading these same truths.
Jeffrey Bergman is editor of the Politics and Personal Development blog (www.jeffreybergman.com).
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