Similar but different

DEMONSTRATORS PROTEST outside the hall at Oxford University where Deputy FM Danny Ayalon was due to speak earlier this month.

February 21, 2010 22:48
4 minute read.
Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren

Michael Oren Ariel Jerozolimski 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)


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Approximately a year and a half ago, I accompanied President Shimon Peres on his state visit to London. Whereas he was accorded honor and praise in most of his appearances in the British capital, when he appeared before students at the University of Oxford, he was accosted with open animosity (which he successfully dealt with). Already at the entrance to the hall, there was a protest group of Arab students bearing anti-Israel placards, calling us war criminals. The animosity continued in the auditorium when a noisy Arab minority tried to stop Peres's speech, shouting, "Stop the Occupation" and "Free Palestine." Although almost all the audience supported the president, they did not express any real involvement in what was going on.

That event, which remained without any appropriate reaction, was the opening shot. Over the past weeks, we have been witnessing an increasing anti-Israel campaign on various campuses. The Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren was confronted with ceaseless disturbances on the part of Palestinian students and their supporters during his lecture at the University of California, Irvine earlier this month and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon had to face numerous critical hecklings at Oxford. The events reminded me of the forgotten.

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ALREADY AT the beginning of the seventies, an organized anti-Israel campaign was conducted on some campuses in Europe and North America. Various Muslim and Arab bodies, under the auspices of Palestinian organizations, flooded the university paths with anti-Israel publications, held demonstrations and meetings in which Arab speakers attacked Israel's policies (and at the same time Jews) and accused us of racism, fanning violence and inciting war. Later, too, in the eighties, the phenomenon returned to the world's campus halls.

The events in the past were similar to those of today - similar but different. Jewish and Israeli students opposed the Arab students by fighting back strongly. The anti-Israel campaign was confronted by an even more effective counter campaign. Thousands - yes thousands - of young Jewish people enlisted in the battle to defend the State of Israel and in the effort to enable its emissaries and representatives to present their points of view on campuses.

Every Arab demonstration was faced by a counter demonstration. Every flyer was answered by a sticker. Every slander was rebutted. And facing every Palestinian protestor there stood a determined Jewish quorum.

TODAY, REGRETTABLY, the situation is different. It seems to me that the Jewish organizations have changed their priorities. From activism in the field, organizations have gone to passivity in the drawing room, from demonstrations to internal discussions, from undertakings for the issue, they have gone to activities bringing honor and photo opportunities with leaders.

Once the World Zionist Organization had a Youth and Pioneering Department, which organized youth movements in the Diaspora and encouraged young people to come on aliya and to undertake activities for Israel. At present, in the name of efficiency, there is no department and no undertaking. The motivation has remained, but without organization, there is no activity.


The situation among the Jewish students is even more serious. In the past, WUJS - The World Union of Jewish Students activists fought like lions for Israel on campuses. Now - nothing. There was also once a Students Division in the WZO. At present, there may be such a department but one does not see any activities on the campuses.

Organized Jewish activities have undergone a transformation over the last few years. Everyone praises Taglit-Birthright which has enabled 220,000 young Jewish people so far to visit Israel (according to publications).

During Ambassador Oren's lecture I looked for young Birthright alumni who would demonstrate support for Israel. I did not find them. I would have been satisfied with two (to remind you, out of 220, 000). But these, too, were not found. If among the dozens of thousands of young American Jewish people, who are being supported by millions of dollars, we cannot find even a few who will stand up for Israel and who will hush the Arab rioters, I find it difficult to understand what connection to the state was created by the organized tour to Israel.

Yes, I know that it is not pleasant to demonstrate. To face dozens of shouting Palestinians can even be frightening. But this was the traditional task of the Jewish organizations. In the past, the World Jewish Congress was able to bring out to the streets hundreds of thousands on behalf of Russian Jewry. Where has this gone?

It is the moral and Jewish duty of the large Jewish organizations in the world to enlist in this struggle. The defense of Israel's good name and that of IDF soldiers, must receive priority on their agenda. It is a struggle for the existence of the state and the existence of the people and no one may indulge in ignoring it.

The young Jewish generation has the will and the enthusiasm. The logistics and the resources must come from the organizations and the federations and, preferably, without any delay because one basic thing must be remembered: Without the State of Israel, there will be no Jewish nation.

The writer serves as an adviser to President Shimon Peres. He also served as the spokesman of the WZO and for the chairman of JAFI as well as other Jewish organizations.

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