PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu received a warm welcome during AIPAC’s policy conference in Washington, March 2018.
(photo credit: BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS)
People ask, “Will there be an election here soon? When, if at all, will Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted?” Perhaps a more important question is whether the enthusiastic reaction to his speech at the recent AIPAC conference indicates that American Jewry will continue to give its vital support to Israel.
Netanyahu, an outstanding orator, could not have received a warmer welcome from the 18,000 AIPAC attendees.
Delegates were thrilled to hear Netanyahu’s recitation of this country’s outstanding achievements in a mere 70 years and to be reassured of the military edge we have developed over those who would wish to destroy us.
But can we continue to rely on the backing of American Jewry? This is a question that leaders of this country consistently ignore. The issue is not military strength alone; the battle of the word may be equally significant to Israel’s future. We have won wars – albeit at a tragically high human cost – but we have failed miserably in conveying the Israeli narrative to the outside world and we have been deficient in arming our younger generation in the Diaspora with the truths they need to counter the malicious fictions they confront too frequently, especially at universities.
Our leadership does not prioritize hasbara (public diplomacy). Shortly after I made aliya 20 years ago, a conversation with Israeli-born friends turned to how Israel was faring in its 50th year. I shared my thoughts about the lack of hasbara and how it was affecting the youngsters on UK campuses. I could speak with some authority, having just relinquished the chair of Hillel where I worked closely with the Union of Jewish Students. The response from the sabras was, “We don’t need hasbara – it is what we do (rather than what we say) that counts.”
This attitude has long been detrimental to the global perception of Israel.
Antisemitism has diversified as anti- Zionism, taking expression as the BDS movement, as well as the annual Israel Apartheid Week on campuses worldwide and more. We see its influence in the Women’s March Movement’s co-chair’s identification with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan’s vehemently antisemitic remarks, resulting in the resignation of Alyssa Klein as the movement’s social media director and in UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s membership in a Facebook group known for its antisemitic hate speech – which he left only on being elected party leader.
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HOW HAS Israel responded to increasingly vicious attacks on Israel and the Jews? In January, the Foreign Ministry announced its intention to close 22 diplomatic missions abroad. However, after extensive protests by the ministry’s director Yuval Rotem the number was reduced to seven locations. The final decision will be made by Netanyahu.
At a time when our embassies and consulates should be receiving additional funds to confront ever-increasing anti-Israel activity, their budgets have been reduced. A plan to cut some 140 Foreign Ministry employees has been supplanted by encouraging employees to retire. The end result: fewer people and less hasbara.
Back to US Jewry. With whom does the younger generation identify? To some degree with AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr, whose position strongly advocating a twostate solution was attacked by his own constituents as well as by Israeli political figures and the media. Unsurprisingly, an increasing number of young Jews are joining J Street and J Street U, whose mission statement highlights a two-state solution. Yet a closer look at this organization is disturbing. Co-founder Daniel Levy, a member of its Advisory Board, has stated that Israel’s rebirth in 1948 was “an act that was wrong.” He is a frequent interviewee on the BBC, where his embrace of the Palestinian narrative obliterates the Israeli reality.
J Street invites speakers who promote BDS, including PLO member Mustafa Barghouti as well as representatives from Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem – NGOs whose raison d’etre is to project Israel in a negative light.
While a modified two-state solution is one that Netanyahu himself has raised in the past, little attention is paid to the Palestinian leadership who, by virtue of their actions, present their constituents with an uncompromising “solution” detrimental to Israel. The persistent hatred- infused brainwashing of Palestinian children continues unabated. I confronted Hanan Ashrawi with this when participating in the UN’s annual Commission on the Status of Women Conference.
Ashrawi was addressing a side gathering titled “Women and Peace.” When I asked how we can expect peace between our two peoples while her government continues educating their children to hate, her dismissive and evasive response was that they would not allow Israel to dictate how to formulate their education curriculum.
There are two pressing challenges facing our leadership. One is to boost investment in our Foreign Ministry, ensuring a greater number of diplomats promoting Israel’s desire for peace while highlighting unreasonable Palestinian demands, such as to “return” to Haifa and Tel Aviv and the “right” to incentivize violence by financially rewarding terrorists and their families.
The second necessity is to prepare Jewish students for life on campus. The vast majority are woefully ignorant of how and why Israel came into being. They have little concept of history and remain devoid of facts, inevitably contributing toward the acceptance of the Palestinian narrative.
Can we rely on continued support from American Jewry tomorrow? There can be no guarantee unless we recognize the significance of hasbara
for a generation that does not have the same emotional link and knowledge base as its forebears.
Is anyone listening? The writer is public relations chair of ESRA, which promotes integration into Israeli society
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