‘Israel is an inspiration to the champions of human hope and human dignity.’.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The new academic year is nearly upon us and students returning to campus can expect to encounter a particularly acerbic anti-Israel climate following a summer marked by social unrest in America and terrorist attacks in Europe.
College campuses are the epicenter of socially conscious young adults seeking to champion justice and equal rights. The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement has exploited these passions by employing “intersectionality”; forging partnerships with oppressed groups seeking social justice. Case in point, earlier this month more than 60 groups associated with the Black Lives Matter movement released a platform that labels Israel an “apartheid state” and alleges it perpetrates a “genocide” against the Palestinians.
While BDS has fashioned itself into the du jour political movement, the great irony is that its activists have fixated on the only country in the Middle East with a justice system that guarantees equality for every citizen regardless of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation.
Many of the movement’s supporters are not familiar with the BDS founders’ goals and financiers. If they were, perhaps they would be less inclined to champion a movement that impedes peace and is celebrated by the likes of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The upcoming school year will be further challenged by the impending 50-year anniversary of the Six Day War. Two divergent movements will undoubtedly emerge – one will celebrate half a century of a reunified Jerusalem and a second, more vocal group will spend the year denouncing half a century of Israeli “occupation.”
There are two competing narratives on campus and day by day, Israel’s champions are losing ground. The progressives accuse Israel of stifling equality, denying human rights and eroding democracy. The tragedy of these accusations is that nothing could be further from the truth. Visit Haifa’s Technion or the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and you will see equality in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim students who study side-by-side.
March alongside the thousands of revelers in Tel Aviv’s annual Pride Parade and you will see firsthand that Israel champions human rights. Visit the Knesset and you will find a cross section of society demonstrating the vibrancy of Israel’s open democracy.
We have every reason to be proud of Israel, but we have allowed our critics to define Israel through the lens of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A strategy built on reaction, defense and refutation will never prove effective. As former Israeli ambassador to Washington and Israeli public diplomacy chief Michael Oren recently wrote, “We tell people to defend Israel without actually telling them what they should be defending.”
We can’t win hearts and minds by contesting every allegation and accusation. We must pick our battles carefully and refute the most damaging assertions, but our focus should be on broadening the conversation and creating meaningful, individual connections to Israel.
Israel’s detractors know how to tell and sell a compelling story. We in turn have relied on facts and figures, hoping that reason alone will prevail. Reading the encyclopedia will never rival a compelling story or a montage of poignant images.
We often forget that we too have a story – a story of hope, courage and freedom. Ours is the story of a people who were exiled from their home and scattered across the globe. For 2,000 years we were subject to persecution, pogroms and, ultimately, the Holocaust.
The Jewish people endured the worst of humanity, but we never lost our humanity. We refused to succumb to hatred and despair, remaining steadfast in our desire to build a nation that embodies our Jewish and democratic values. Fueled by faith and determination, we returned to our homeland and built a state with freedoms, stability and opportunities that are the envy of the Middle East.
Israel is an inspiration to the champions of human hope and human dignity. The state’s spirit of dynamism, innovation, culture and creativity are simply unmatched. Israel is capitalizing on that spirit and forging new partnerships in Asia and Africa and building historic alliances with nations from the Arab and Gulf community.
Sixty years before Israel’s birth, a Jewish poet named Naphtali Herz Imber wrote a poem entitled “Tikvatenu,” which means “Our Hope.” Conceived during a period of profound despair and danger for the Jews of Europe, it inspired a generation to will an impossible dream to life.
When that dream became a reality, Imber’s poem became Israel’s national anthem. Today, we have a strong and vibrant homeland and we must continue to be inspired by the values and hope that sustained us for millennia. The onus is on us to tell our remarkable story in our own voice.Joe Hyams is CEO of HonestReporting.com, a non-profit organization dedicated to fair and accurate media coverage for Israel.
Aviva Klompas is the senior director of Israel advocacy at Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston.
Arsen Ostrovsky is the executive director of The Israeli-Jewish Congress (IJC).