Supporter waves flag at pro-Israel rally in Honduras.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As an ex Brit who made aliya some 13 years ago, I visit the United Kingdom from
time to time. What has struck me, especially during these past two years, is the
hesitation on the part of my UK friends to mention Israel. Whenever I return
home, the first question I am confronted with is: “Well, what did they ask about
Israel?” The truth is they did not! This in itself speaks volumes. The clear
hesitation in asking the question indicates they would rather not speak about
Israel, because what they might say is likely to be negative; much safer to keep
This reality, however unpleasant, is not surprising when Jewish
communities – in keeping with everyone else – are subjected to a constant
barrage of anti-Israeli media.
This, coupled with the fact that our
has been virtually non-existent for years, has resulted in a pulling
away from Israel. I well remember the first social evening spent with Israelis
shortly after our aliya, when I spoke of my concern about our lack of hasbara.
The response? “What we say isn’t important; it is what we do that counts.” How
shortsighted this has proven to be! The whole BDS (Boycott, Divestment and
Sanctions) campaign has shown that we are now paying the heavy price for
neglecting advocacy on behalf of the one Jewish state.
For while we have
won military battles, we have lost the battle of the word.
Jewish international organizations , including my own WIZO (Women’s
International Zionist Organization), are feeling the pinch in both a lessening
of contributions from our Diaspora federations – so vital to the sustaining of
our projects – as well as a diminishing of membership worldwide. But this is not
just about money; more importantly it is about identification.
There is a
mistaken belief that there is no longer a need for Diaspora Jewry to support the
now affluent, economically strong Israel. The truth is somewhat different, as
seen in the current “Israeli Spring” – the public outcry against the price of
cottage cheese, the lack of affordable housing and the overworked, poorly paid
doctors. Without doubt, however, the most worrying statistic is that 1.7 million
Israelis live below the poverty line. Nearly a million children form part of
this frightening figure (36.3% of all children).
There are those who
identify with Yossi Beilin who - in his book His brother’s keepe
r - said “Funds
raised by those outside of Israel would be better used for the welfare of the
Jewish world and for Jewish continuity worldwide.”
What Yossi Beilin
forgot is that for many Jews, their only connection with their Jewish identity
is through the donations they give to Israel.
What can be done to lessen
this growing divide? First, there has to be an acknowledgment that Jewish
support for Israel is on the wane.
One of the major ways of conveying the
real Israel is to encourage study tours. We have witnessed the great success of
schemes, such as Birthright offering the 18-to 25- year-old a free 10-day visit
to see the reality for themselves.
Much could still be done with “follow
through” – do many of the birthright ‘graduates’ become actively involved in
their own communities, or do they fall by the wayside? Nevertheless, there is no
questioning the fact that the majority return home with a stronger Jewish and
To what extent are organizations ensuring that their
younger members come to Israel? WIZO organizes an annual International Aviv
Seminar bringing together young women from all over the world. Some WIZO
federations have a special fund to support the subsidizing of participants
recognizing it as an important vehicle in connecting with Israel. The program
has resulted in many of the seminar graduates becoming leaders in their
respective WIZO federations. On average, e some 40 participants from abroad come
each year. WIZO wishes it could find a Michael Steinhart or a Charles Bronfman
(major funders and founders of birthright) to enable many more young women to
Israel itself should be contributing towards lessening
the divide. Seeing is believing. Why is it more expensive to visit here than
many other places? Why are the hotel prices so high? Just as there is currently
a campaign demanding affordable housing for both students and young families,
perhaps we should have a campaign that provides cheaper hotel accommodation
resulting in more tourists and study groups.
Last, but by no means least,
we in Israel must find a way of making our Diaspora brothers and sisters feel
they are a vital partner in the enterprise. To this end I am reminded of Shlomo
Argov, the victim of an attempt on his life by Arab terrorists in 1982 while
serving as Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom. He survived, but his
severe injuries required permanent hospitalization until his death in 2003. His
friends put together a book comprised of his speeches. On one occasion he had
this to say:
“We need to know that this enterprise [Israel] for which we have
assumed the responsibility is a joint enterprise. An all-Jewish
enterprise……Everything that provides Jews in the Diaspora (institutes and
institutions) with opportunities to associate themselves with this enterprise is
significant… Israel belongs to all of us. We are in this boat together. It is a
sturdy boat, a fine boat and a swift boat that will with God’s help – and
everyone’s help – reach a safe haven in our times.The writer is Public
Relations Chair of World WIZO and Co- Chair of Europeans for Israel. Prior to
her aliya she served as the chairperson of WIZO UK; chairperson of the Zionist
Federation of Great Britain and Ireland and chairperson of the Bnai Brith Hillel
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