It’s a problem. With so many anti-Israel events, professors and organizations on campuses, even American students who want to stand up for Israel far too often find themselves unable to do it.
Part of the problem is that the anti-Israel forces are buttressed by the mainstream media. Plus, the few professors who are not on the anti-Israel side are often unwilling or unable to devote the kind of energy spent by the other side.
And sadly, it is perceived as more hip to attack Israel and instead support the Palestinian Arabs who are always portrayed, willingly, as victims. All of this has led to misinformation replacing the truth as the primary narrative about the Middle East conflict. It seems overwhelming.
But the truth is that every single concerned student, parent and grandparent can make a huge difference in the current anti-Israel campus climate. And that difference can and should start by utilizing a special tool when the students are in high school and middle school, or even earlier.
Plus, that tool is absolutely free and completely accessible.
It’s called the Jewish Virtual Library. It’s vast, it’s constantly updating and expanding, and it has just about everything you could possibly want to know about – and know well – waiting right there for your fingertips to guide you.
Before getting into the details and background, here’s a real-life example of the way in which the JVL makes all the difference.
CASE EXAMPLE: GAZA FLOTILLA
Over the past many months, emails sent and received by former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton were made public. There was a searchable log of those thousands of emails in which there were many between Clinton and an adviser, Sidney Blumenthal, who discussed the topic of Israel, and a smaller but substantial subset dealt with the flotilla which tried to break the legal embargo of Gaza.
One of the boats in the flotilla refused to heed Israel’s legal demand that the ship dock at the port of Ashdod, just north of Gaza, rather than violate the embargo. Israeli soldiers then boarded that ship — the Mavi Marmara– they were attacked, the soldiers responded, and several terrorists aboard the ship were killed. Blumenthal was apoplectic: blaming Israel and demanding U.S. punishment.
When writing about the incident on the Mediterranean, this reporter wanted to recheck the facts. A Google search immediately brought up an entry in Wikipedia. A few entries further down was the URL for the Jewish Virtual Library. The entries in the two sources of information were dramatically different. So much so that had one only read the Wikipedia entry, Israel was guilty of murdering freedom-lovers bringing aid to a besieged Gaza. A full account – which would lead to a very different understanding – is on the JVL.
The Jewish Virtual Library had a main entry on the incident – titled, “Gaza Flotilla Incident,” and within that entry are numerous links within the same site that take you to descriptions of the Gaza Blockade, more information about the Israeli Defense Forces, the port of Ashdod and the “elite naval commandos” who boarded the ship by rope from hovering helicopters.
The entry is only five paragraphs long, but beneath it is a cornucopia of linked-to riches: a fact sheet on the Gaza Flotilla (with many more links), interviews with Mavi Marmara crew members, relevant videos, Israeli statements issued about the incident, and international reactions and reports.
HOW TO MINE THE GOLD
It is indeed an information gold mine. And it is available to everyone who wants to educate themselves about just about anything having to do with Judaism, the Jewish State and the Jewish people.
The site is set up, visually, like a large library, with “rooms” to click on such as US-Israel Relations, History, Women (the icon is Golda Meir, who else?), the Holocaust, Israel, Politics, Biography, Vital Statistics and more. Each room contains endless entries with sub-links and fact sheets and videos and anything you could want.
But maybe you, loyal Israel supporter but but objective reader, worry that the JVL is just the other side of the anti-Israel coin? That is, that it is an advocacy tool which reveals only the information that exonerates Israel? That’s a reasonable concern, but it is put to rest by reading the account entries, and by the founder of the JVL.
THE BUILDER OF THE LIBRARY
Mitchell Bard is the founder and director of the JVL. The JewishPress.com spoke with him recently about how it all came about and how it keeps going.
Bard, a foreign policy analyst and author with a Ph.D. from the University of California at Los Angeles, said he began his work on this project back in 1997, when organizations were first discovering the world wide web. “People were rushing to put their organizational information online, and folks were just beginning to go to the web with research questions.”
“But,” Bard said, “There was almost nothing there, at least not about Jewish history.” What Bard could find wasn’t very good, so he decided to create a “one-stop shop, something particularly for students who were looking for answers to questions, especially about Israel.”
At the time Bard was already, as he still is today, the executive director of the American-Iraeli Cooperative Enterprise. Bard was not technically savvy at the time, but he knew he wanted to create a resource for students, one in which all the links were internal – with credited sources – so that students could most easily find the answers they seek all in one place.
Nearly ten years later Bard still is driven by the desire to put students’ needs first. If a student is looking for an answer and can’t find it on the JVL – which is hard to believe – Bard says he and his staff will find the answer and then include that in the library. Now Bard has two other full-time staff helping him with the enormous task.
There are nearly 30,000 entries, and 6,000 graphics, including excellent maps, with links to 15-16,000 websites in the JVL.
From where does the information come that appears in the JVL? “Carefully chosen articles, universities, governments, reputable news sources, we’re very careful about choosing only from reliable sources,” says Bard.
“We have a strong, credible track record,” he adds, sensitive to the concern some may have that the information is tilted towards Israel, “our reputation is good because of what we include and how the information is provided.”
Although Bard says the JVL has more than 950,000 monthly visitors, it is shocking that the numbers aren’t twice that. They should be. And people are still inclined to think of something called the “Jewish Virtual Library” as a place to look for questions about Jewish holidays, or for information about the Holocaust, two areas of the JVL which receive the most traffic.
What is the most common search? The answer Bard gives is absolutely appalling: “Was Adolph Hilter Jewish?” Adolph Hitler, in fact, is one of the most popular search terms.
There are still day school teachers who suggest Wikipedia as a source for research, and too few who even know about the JVL. That’s also appalling.
So here’s your task.
You need to educate yourself first about what is in the Jewish Virtual Library. Next, you need to make sure the history teachers who educate your children or grandchildren know about – and use and recommend – this resource. Third, you need to make sure your children and grandchildren, your spouse and your friends know about the JVL and regularly refer to it. This is a small sample of items about which Israel-supporters should and can know, because of the JVL: What are “the three Nos” at Khartoum? Why was the San Remo Conference so important? Are Israeli Arabs second class citizens? The history of the negotiations with the Palestinian Arabs? And there is so much more.
JVL should be the go-to source whenever you need the real facts about the past or present in Israel or any place in the Middle East related to Israel. So when an issue about Israel comes up when you’re talking to your granddaughter, or explaining things at the next Faculty or Sisterhood or Men’s Club Meeting, don’t Google it. JVL it.
Lori Lowenthal Marcus