Recently my family and I had one of the most moving experiences of our lives. We had gone to Tel Hashomer hospital near Tel Aviv to visit the soldiers wounded during Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip. We gave each soldier two small gifts, one for them and one for their mothers (who invariably sleep in their rooms to nurse them back to health). The soldiers are all incredibly young. Most were about 19, with the oldest we met being 22. There were soldiers who had lost their legs. There were soldiers who had lost fingers and hands. And there was a soldier who had been shot in the head and had lost both an ear and an eye.
To a man, they were upbeat, positive and bereft of self-pity. They each told us that their wounds were the price one pays to live in Israel. It’s the eternal story of the Jewish people. Survival itself exacts a price. They couldn’t stop thanking us for visiting. Which just embarrassed us. They were thanking us? They had lost limbs and nearly died. There is a global eruption of anti-Semitism and the Jewish state is under siege. And through it all we were in the safety and comfort of the United States.
Yet they were thanking us for giving them trinkets.
But there is one battle that I have participated in – that every Jew has a responsibility to join – and it’s the PR battle for Israel’s good name.
This war has taught us all a great deal about fighting Israel’s battles, with the greatest lesson of all being “Sniper PR.”
Before this war we who rose to defend Israel would go after all the organizations that would seek to falsely and malign it, making it near impossible for Israel to defend itself. So if the UN passed one of its bazillion condemnations of the Jewish state we would point out the hypocrisy, corruption and anti-Semitism of an international body that has yet to pass one act of censure against Bashar Assad, but continues to put Israel in its crosshairs. If a group of Hollywood actors falsely slandered Israel we’d point out their hypocrisy. And if an academic organization boycotted Israel we’d speak about the moral confusion of academia.
And we were mostly ineffective.
But then this war started. We learned fast that it’s not organizations that should be targets, but the individuals who comprise them and hide behind them like cowards, using the organizations as human shields.
As I write this column, our organization, This World: The Values Network, is engaged in a global ad campaign – the third of this war – publicly exposing the record of William Schabas, the Canadian academic chosen to head a new UN probe into Israel over the Gaza war. The full-page ads in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The New York Observer expose Schabas’ utter ignorance of the Middle East (he wanted Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to be prosecuted for war crimes allegedly committed during Operation Cast Lead – when Ehud Olmert and not Netanyahu was prime minister); his defense of global symbol of evil, Iran’s former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; his serving as a shill for the murderous government of Iran; and repeated instances of bias against Israel, going so far as to demand the prosecution of Nobel Peace Laureate Shimon Peres over the genocidal president of Sudan. Schabas is a disgrace.
We could easily have said the same of the UN which had chosen him. But it was the individual, rather than the institution, who had to be highlighted.
Several weeks prior a group of Nobel laureates condemned Israel in a public letter and demanded a global military boycott. We could easily have attacked the group. But an amorphous, faceless group means little to the public. So we instead mentioned some of those who won the Nobel Peace Prize and signed the letter, holding them accountable for what would, in effect, be a second Holocaust. If there is no IDF, the Jews of Israel would be slaughtered in a day.
Next was Allison Benedikt’s rancid and hideous column in Slate about fallen Israeli soldier Max Steinberg, who made aliya to Israel after being inspired by Birthright.
In what was easily the lowest column of the entire war, Benedikt dismissed Steinberg not as a hero but as a Birthright tool, a stooge who had been brainwashed and died for next to nothing. Again, we could easily have gone after “the media.” But by personalizing the column against Benedikt, we helped it go viral.
Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem shortly thereafter participated in the blood libel of accusing Israel of genocide against the Palestinians. A motley crew of Hollywood stars signed the letter. But Cruz and Bardem were the most noteworthy and by lending their name they helped to elevate the letter to prominence. They were rightly singled out and attacked, causing both of them to retreat from the outrageous libel.
For some reason, Naomi Wolf felt she had to join the fray. A Jewish woman who cares about her Judaism and whom I consider a friend, she jumped into the ring with the accusation that Israel was perpetrating a genocide against the Palestinians. By responding to her and showing that she had utterly trivialized genocide, many participated in attacking her right back. The charge of genocide in Gaza is a monstrous libel and she was rightly put on the defensive.
And then, of course, there is Russell Brand, he of the fried cerebral circuits, who turned his mind into an omelet with years and years of self-admitted hard drug abuse. His demand that Barclays divest from Israeli security companies that keep Jews alive was equally outrageous. The Jewish community should highlight his immorality and perverse anti-Israel bias.
The days of Israel being a sitting PR duck, attacked and maligned by everyone without fear of reprisal, is over.
We in the Jewish community must respond vigorously to their attacks. All who falsely malign Israel, seeking its delegitimization and character assassination, must be put on notice that they will face similar scrutiny.
If in a war between a democracy and a terror group you side with the terror group, you have no morality, and no conscience. And the world ought to know.
The author, “America’s rabbi” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the founder of This World: The Values Network, the world’s leading organization promoting universal Jewish values in politics, culture and the media. The international best-selling author of 30 books, he has recently published The Fed- Up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.