Birmingham was a reprieve, not a final victory. We know that there is a direct correlation between popular Presbyterian support for Israel and the quality of contacts Presbyterians have had with Jews. Churches that have had relationships with Jewish groups are the ones most favorably inclined toward Israel, as are their pastors.

We can neutralize Palestinian propaganda with one tool – the truth. The only effective way to convey that truth is personal contact. Presbyterians (and members of other groups) should hear from Jews why Israel is important, and that there is an understanding of history that is different from the one they have heard. The erosion of Israel’s moral position comes about through the telling of a lie over and over again. Telling the truth over and over again is the only antidote. We can only do this if we sit down with our neighbors.


American Jews have not been particularly zealous about telling our neighbors what is so vital to us. The Simon Wiesenthal Center brought Dr. Judea Pearl, father of the Wall Street Journal reporter brutally slain in Pakistan with the words “I am a Jew” on his lips, to Birmingham. In a city with a total Jewish population of 5,000, Dr. Pearl drew more than 400 Jews and Christians to a gathering to hear about divestment and what they could do about it. Crunch those numbers and apply them to New York, and you would need Yankee Stadium for the crowd! That this does not happen is one of the signs that those who seek to harm Israel do their job better than we do.

Looking at it a different way, the road to Birmingham began in Birmingham, decades before. On September 15, 1963, the Ku Klux Klan dynamited the 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four black girls attending Sunday School. Civil rights leaders used the event to galvanize fence-sitting moderates. It proved to be a turning point for the movement.

Will Jews turn their Birmingham moment into a wider effort to take back the hearts and minds of millions of decent Americans – Americans targeted by a propaganda machine poisoning attitudes toward American supporters of Israel and casting the Jewish state as a pariah among the nations?

Birmingham is proof that we can make the difference.


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Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and global social action. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is director of Interfaith Relations.