An experienced Israeli general told an audience of several hundred young Jewish activists from around the world that Israel, despite the odds, has won wars and defeated terrorists. But when it comes to the current threat against the Jewish state, identified by the virtually unpronounceable word delegitimization, the combined capacities of Israel and the Diaspora are stuck.
There is no question that Israel’s legitimacy is under increasing assault globally. With Palestinian leaders pressing for an internationally sanctioned unilateral declaration of independence at the UN in September, followed by the Durban III conference that is certain to single out Israel for unwarranted condemnation, it seems that the political tsunami Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned of is approaching fast.
Unlike military battles, Israelis cannot confront the delegitizimation campaigns alone. If there ever were a need for a strong partnership between Israel and the Diaspora – Jewish communities worldwide – this is the issue. It is also a motivation to engage communities across generations.
AJC Access, the young leadership division of the American Jewish
Committee, and the Reut Institute of Israel, which has done pioneering
strategic thinking on confronting the assault on Israel’s legitimacy,
co-hosted the gathering in Washington, DC over the weekend. The 450
young Jews, in their 20s and 30s, from the US, Europe, Australia, South
Africa, Latin America and Israel engaged in intensive dialogues with
each other, with prominent experts and with Israeli officials.
Some of the activists were reconnecting, but many were meeting for the
first time. They departed enthused and eager to use the resources at
their disposal, or develop new ones, to deepen understanding of Israel
and strengthen the interconnectedness of Jews worldwide.
Indeed, while the media have harped on the apparent successes of Arab
youth using social media to encourage uprisings in their countries, why
shouldn’t Jews use such 21st-century communications tools to make the
case for the Israeli people’s quest to live in peace and security?
Mobilizing the wider cohort of younger Jews, or, for that matter, even
some who are a bit older, will require assertive outreach both to those
already involved as well as to the vast numbers who are not yet engaged
with what’s happening regarding Israel.
Galvanizing effectively will also require stepped-up efforts at
education – providing Jewish communities with the vital information that
can make them better advocates for Israel. One eminent American
professor who has taught about the Middle East for decades proclaimed
that it is essential for Jewish youth to be as intimately familiar with
Israeli history and current affairs as they are with the Seder’s four
In addition to the challenges facing younger Jews to both defend and
promote Israel, as a French cabinet minister pointed out, is the burden
that comes with the passing of the last living Holocaust witnesses, and
imparting the knowledge of what happened. Francois Zimeray, France’s
minister of human rights, stressed at the conclusion of the conference
that denial of Israel’s legitimacy and denial of the Shoah are
Follow-up to such a global gathering is a challenge, but not
insurmountable. With technology offering so many opportunities to stay
connected, there is real hope that a worldwide network of advocates for
Israel can be created to deal with the immediate issue of legitimacy,
and then be sustained to address other pressing matters in a coherent
manner. Ideally, what took place in Washington – this rare gathering of
young Jewish adults from all corners of the globe – should be repeated.
Of course, that takes a lot of resources, financial and human.
If there are any doubts that this is realistic, recall the challenges
confronting the pioneers, the halutzim, in the years immediately after
the Shoah, and the early years of the State of Israel, given birth by
the United Nations more than 63 years ago.
That UN endorsement is one of the foundations of Israel’s legitimacy – a
critical historical fact that a multigenerational worldwide campaign
countering Israel’s detractors must reinforce. In this effort, disparate
Jewish communities will have opportunities to take action as part of a
collective will, confirming that the Diaspora is imperative to Israel’s
success and, working together, to strengthening the Jewish people.
The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.