Historians don’t predict the future – it’s hard enough predicting the past. But allow me one prediction. Within weeks, the Jewish world is going to be in high dudgeon, outraged at the Anti-Israel Week activities on campuses across North America. And, judging by the past, and the current situation as far as I know, we will shift into temporary crisis mode, reacting and overreacting, flailing about with little discipline, little coordination, little strategy, little tactical gain, but much frustration.
Our enemies – and yes, they are our enemies – have been planning this demonization-fest for a year, if not longer. One Israel-bashing Web site declares: “Mark your calendars – the 6th International Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) will take place across the globe from the 1st to the 14th of March 2010!” True, a “week” usually lasts only seven days; our adversaries count days as sloppily as they recount the past.
These Israel-libelers claim 40 cities will participate – 12 in Canada alone – mostly on campuses. Rather than dithering and then scrambling, we must plan – in fact, planning should have started months ago.
David Olesker, director of the Jerusalem Center for Communication and Advocacy Training, warns that before planning tactical responses, we must clarify our strategy. “Where do we want to be in five years? Where are we going with our arguments and advocacy?” he asks, noting how rarely pro-Israel advocates think about the big picture, although our adversaries do.
Thinking strategically, the pro-Israel community should remember three Ps. First push back, but push back intelligently, remembering our target audiences. We will rarely sway with mere facts someone who has swallowed the apartheid libel and drunk the anti-Israel Kool-Aid. Our target is wavering Jewish students and the vast uninformed and uninterested middle. We should play off the radical demonizers, making them look extreme and foolish as we demonstrate our informed commitment, enlightened passion and the rightness and righteousness of our cause.
Second, position Israel better as a modern democracy fighting terror, sometimes forced to make unhappy decisions. The truth is our friend. Israel has compromised – and seen withdrawals from territory and other concessions “rewarded” with violence. Until critics deal with that, they are simply Israel-bashing with no real commitment to peace. And speaking of peace, let’s call the libelers’ bluff. Those who falsely accuse Israel of practicing racist, South African-style apartheid are essentially saying Israel is so odious that, like that regime, it should not exist. How can such a libelous, historically misinformed attack advance the peace process?
Third, be proud of Israel as an extraordinary old-new land, one of the great successes of the 20th century, now leading the way technologically in the 21st. Just as the US is not only defined by its racial troubles, and Canada not only by its linguistic tensions, Israel is not just about the Palestinians. It was the central conceit of Yasser Arafat and his terrorist henchmen to make every conversation about Israel revolve around them – and it worked. In taking back the narrative, we should jump to a different track, not always talking about Israel in the context of defending it or justifying its existence but celebrating it, delighting in its achievements, pluralism, values, democracy and historically redemptive role.
TACTICALLY, AS we wait for the latest initiatives rumored to be in the works in North America and Israel to help galvanize and centralize pro-Israel sentiment, we should mobilize the Jewish netroots. Let us put out a call to the pro-Israel blogosphere for an approach defined by three Hs.
For starters, we must be horizontal, understanding that today’s informational, ideological and political playing field is vast, chaotic and democratic. Students, bloggers and activists should speak their minds, display their passions, forge their own relationships with Israel and express their pride as effectively, as creatively, as widely as they can.
This more horizontal approach must be hip; singing, rapping or tweeting a new song of Zion that is relevant, resonant, inspirational, conversational, internalized among millions of pro-Israel and pro-democracy activists, rather than dictated from above or simply inherited from our ancestors.
And finally, we should not be afraid to be hysterical – to laugh among ourselves while mocking the heavy-handed propagandists who build their entire ideology on negation, investing time, money and energy in denigrating Israel rather than building anything constructive for Palestinians or anyone else. Israeli culture is improvisational – demonstrated particularly by the ingenuity of IDF commandos and the creativity of hi-tech entrepreneurs. Those same skills should be deployed in the fight for Israel’s legitimacy, but with humor, not with a heavy hand. We should mock our enemies – because their positions are laughable and because ridicule is such an effective tool on the net.
We must go global and virtual in Israel advocacy, not because of Anti-Israel Week, but because we have a great story to tell. And in the virtual world millions can take the lead in celebrating Israel. For too long, Israelis have sat on the sidelines, watching their brothers and sisters flounder in the Diaspora or, even worse, allowing a small minority of Israelis to fuel the fires of anti-Zionism abroad, giving Israel and particularly Israeli universities a bad name. But today, Israelis and non-Israelis can work together – or at least in parallel – broadcasting a pro-Zionist message while ridiculing and undermining our enemies.
In a country that must engage its youth in more nationalistic, values-oriented projects, and at a time when parents lament how much time their kids spend on the computer, here is a great challenge for the country’s high schools and universities. The anti-Israel forces wish to wipe Israel off the map and demonize Zionists as the new Nazis. If we fail to fight back, they will continue poisoning the discourse around Israel, especially on campuses and in Europe. Let young Israelis learn enough history to defend themselves and their country effectively on the Internet. Let this be a great virtual contact point, building relations between Israeli and Diaspora youth.
Wouldn’t it be great if next year, the anti-Israel forces cancelled
their annual festival of nihilism because the push back they triggered
simply wasn’t worth it? Now that’s
a strategic goal worth pursuing.The writer is professor of history at McGill University on leave in Jerusalem. He is the author of
Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today and
The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.