Last Shabbat morning I spoke in the Nitzanim Synagogue in Jerusalem, delivering the morning sermon. Five days after my daughter’s wedding, I was in high spirits but delivered a somewhat ominous message. It was a missive Israelis are not accustomed to hearing and to which they are not immediately receptive: the very legitimacy of their country is under international assault.
You’d think it obvious to Israelis that their country is being demonized around the world. You’d guess that they’re well aware that a hypocritical United Nations is regularly condemning them while turning a blind eye to near-genocide of Arabs over the border in Syria. You’d imagine that seven million Israelis are aware that they’re up against an onslaught of billions who are unsympathetic or hostile.
Amazingly, they’re not.
Yes, the Israeli people are deeply familiar with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). And yes, they know that European anti-Semitism has reared its ugly head yet again, just 70 years after the Holocaust, in the form of grotesque anti-Israel bias. But fighting this global onslaught is simply not a priority for the Israeli people. It’s not very high on their radar screen. After my speech I found myself in spirited debate with my listeners, many of whom felt I was overstating the case. Israelis, in their opinion, have far bigger fish to fry, like stabilizing the security situation, creating affordable housing, reducing unemployment and growing the economy.
As an American Jew who visits Israel frequently I can posit a number of reasons for this glaring omission.
First, for Israelis Israel’s foremost threat is understandably not a public relations debacle but physical annihilation. Every day Israelis face an existential threat from potential Iranian nukes, Hezbollah terrorist raids, Hamas rockets and Palestinian stabbings and bombs. The last thing on their mind is a couple of students out in Berkeley who want to pass a BDS motion at the student council.
Second, Israelis survive through sheer toughness. They know they are a nation alone. They are conditioned to not give a flying damn about what people think of them. A nation which is proud to call itself “sabras,” the famous cactus fruit with its prickly exterior, is hardly going to start worrying what Socialist Worker activists in Trafalgar Square think of them.
Third, Israelis feel, justifiably, that BDS and anti-Israel demonization is not their fight. That surely American Jews, British Jews, Australian Jews, who are not called upon to risk their lives dodging Hamas mortar fire should have some responsibility for the Jewish future, no? And they’re the ones who live in the countries that are assaulting Israel. So let them join the fray.
And finally, and perhaps most importantly, Israelis are convinced that the justice of their cause is so self-evident that it requires no response. They look at their neighborhood, survey their surroundings and surmise that the world could not possibly support honor-killing Hamas against democratic Israel. The global community could not possibly champion women- stoning, gay-hanging Iran over Israel. So Israelis retreat from the battle in the belief that ultimately the PR war will settle itself and the truth will come out.
But little do Israelis realize that they can build up even the strongest army in the world but it is useless if it neutralized by international condemnation that portrays Israel as an aggressor. A single CNN camera can neutralize an entire brigade, and a New York Times editorial can keep a squadron of F-15s on the ground rather than hitting back against Hamas terrorists in Gaza. The PR battle for Israel, which rages around the world, affects Israel in every way, from a growing boycott of its goods to the demonization of its academics to the attempt to arresting its government ministers when they travel abroad to the threat of physical danger and the murder of its citizens when they travel abroad.
Is the fight against the Israel haters primarily the responsibility of Diaspora Jewry? I would say yes. But we cannot fight this battle alone, without the active participation and engagement of the Israeli people, which is why more Diaspora Jewish speakers need to address Israeli audiences about the level of threat. Simply stated, Israeli engagement against BDS domestically is vital to the efforts to defeat it abroad.
In the most straightforward sense, we Diaspora Jews need some of the basic on-the-ground facts and information as weapons in our arsenal for this war. And I’m not talking about facts that can be googled or even those which I present in my new book, The Israel Warrior
, that gives vital information for Israel activists around the globe in their battles on behalf of the Jewish state. Rather, I’m speaking about empirical facts that can only be known to those who experience everyday life in the Jewish state.
For instance, last week I visited the Jewish communities of Samaria in the West Bank, including Kfar Tapuah and Yitzhar. We went to the Barkan Industrial Park and met Palestinian workers of an Israeli-owned plastics factory. If I had not posted the video of some of the workers’ comments, you would not believe what they said. How they felt that their factory was not a business but a family. How the Israeli owners paid them approximately 10 times what they would earn working for Palestinian factories and how the Jewish owners treated them with unending dignity and respect. And, most importantly, how much they detest the BDS movement for attempting to destroy their livelihood and force them to live in squalor, all in the name of Israel-hatred that masquerades as Palestinian rights. The money part of the video was when I asked a Palestinian worker what he thinks of BDS and he said he felt it was “Sh-t!” How’s that for politically incorrect.
Now, why haven’t these Arab men been interviewed before? Why haven’t they been asked to do a speaking tour of American campuses so that, rather than ignorant and biased anti-Israel Western students speaking in their name, Palestinian workers themselves can offer their view of BDS and its harmful effects on Arab rights?
Because we in the US did not even know they existed, or would be courageous enough to speak out.
The video has since gone viral. But that is no substitute for an in-the-flesh, first-person account of these workers exercising their right of free speech to say how they feel without the Palestinian Authority intimidating them into silence, or, worse, threatening them or their families for ever speaking out on behalf of Israel.
Israelis must awaken to the extreme dangers of BDS and work with the American Jewish community to destroy this new iteration of Jew-hatred and anti-Semitism.The author, “America’s rabbi,” whom
The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is executive director of The World Values Network, which promotes universal values in politics and culture, and is the international best-selling author of 30 books, including his forthcoming
The Israel Warriors Handbook. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.