‘Keep fighting for Israel, even when it’s difficult’

Alex Ryvchin’s ‘The Anti-Israel Agenda’ explores the movements trying to undermine the Jewish state.

BDS activists in Berlin (photo credit: REUTERS)
BDS activists in Berlin
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Alex Ryvchin, an Australian lawyer, writer and advocate, has long seen the power of a variety of movements seeking to delegitimize the Jewish state. As the director of public affairs at the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Ryvchin has worked to counter many of the narratives pervading media and politics today. To that end, he compiled The Anti-Israel Agenda, a collection of essays from prominent thinkers and activists who expose the various movements working against Israel. The contributors include Alan Dershowitz, Col.
Richard Kemp and Hillel Neuer.
The following are excerpts of an interview The Jerusalem Post conducted with Ryvchin at Limmud Oz in Sydney in June. The interview has been lightly edited and abridged for space.
Tell us what your book is about.
The book looks at the latest phase in the war on Israel, which is a full-blown political assault on the legitimacy of the state. The premise is that in the early years of the state, its enemies sought to eradicate it, but only through conventional military warfare. That was the logical way of removing Israel from the community of nations.
You have this nascent infant state, but then Israel showed immense fortitude in the face of conventional warfare and that saw the conflict shift, firstly to one of terrorism and particularly highprofile international terrorist attacks – Entebbe and the Munich Olympics immediately come to mind.
The last phase is a full-blown political warfare, in the institutions of greatest moral and political influence. We see this in the UN, the trade union movement, church, new media, traditional media, every area of our lives. The aim of this is to marginalize the state, make it difficult for Israelis to interact with their counterparts abroad, essentially turn the state into a pariah state until it can no longer defend its interests and its people.
Betty Friedan, the prominent American feminist, said she came out with a much stronger identification with Israel and her Jewish identity, because there was an international conference on women’s rights, and in the end they just bashed Israel, which was a very strange outcome. This phenomenon has been going on for a very long time. What inspired you to write this book specifically now?
That conference in 1975 was a precursor to the “Zionism is racism” resolution in the UN. It basically defined the Jewish movement of national liberation, Zionism, as being a form of racism, and it’s interesting to see the interplay between different segments of civil society. This shows the way the political war is being fought. It seeks to penetrate every segment, every sphere of political, social life, and demonize Israel wherein.
The fact that it’s the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War was on my mind. It definitively proved that Israel would not be dislodged by force, and it led to Israel’s enemies searching for new ways to attack and destroy the state. That’s why we have the political war gaining momentum.
What compelled me to write this book is the prevalence of this political war, how it’s taking on every segment of civil society. Seeing what it’s doing to the American campus, seeing what’s happening in the trade union movement, seeing the way political movements are being turned against Israel, I felt this book was urgently needed.
Is the anti-Israel movement inherently antisemitic?
It depends how you define the anti- Israel movement. It’s not people who criticize Israeli policy or think Israel is on a poor path politically or even those who think Israel’s control of the West Bank and Gaza is problematic. Those people come to the question of Israel with good motives and good faith.
Therefore, I would never call them antisemitic.
What this book is about is the true anti-Israel agenda, which has always been – and currently is – about destroying the state. That has never changed. All that has changed is the means by which they seek to destroy it. Those who seek to deny us our right to national self-determination in our homeland are antisemites. I have no problem with saying that. Those people who deny that the Jewish people are the people who are indigenous to the land are antisemites.
The anti-Israel movement is very dishonest, duplicitous, but it’s appealing as well. It speaks the language of peace and human rights and attracts to it people on that basis. A lot of well-meaning people think that by boycotting Israel they can actually kick-start negotiations. And while they would be ill-informed, I wouldn’t hold them to be antisemitic.
When you talk about these issues, the comment people often make is that “Israel is horrible at PR.” Do you agree with that statement?
There is an element of truth to that, and the reason for that is all politics is local. So when you have Israeli politicians going on world media, fighting the fight for Israel, I’m sure their heart is in the right place, but their eyes and their minds are firmly on their domestic constituencies. So it becomes a competition of who can be most bellicose and firm, which isn’t always the best way to counter these problems.
But I think we can’t solely rely on the State of Israel. Israel is obviously at the heart of this, but Israel has its hands full with military objectives, with economic goals. We, I believe, as the Jewish Diaspora, we need to be ambassadors for Israel in our home countries. We know the culture, the language, the political climate, and in many ways, we become more effective advocates for Israel than Israel.
Social media is an area where everyone can get into the fray. Do you have tips that you can give people?
Where social media is important, firstly, it’s a tool of incitement, and that’s what this chapter [on social media] looks at. But also, it’s a wonderful resource for journalists, and it has become highly influential on journalists and on public opinion generally. There’s an anecdote in the chapter written by Arsen Ostrovsky, where I also put in my two bobs’ worth, where I went to a talk by Hayden Cooper, who was the Middle East correspondent for the ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation] and he was asked the question, “We rely on you for news from the Middle East. Where do you get your news?” and he said, “Twitter.” He has a list of people he follows who he thinks are balanced, different perspectives, and then he goes a bit deeper.
So I went to look at his Twitter and see who he was following, and it was like Electronic Intifada. Hayden Cooper is a professional journalist and he can see past the nonsense, but that story illustrated to me how influential social media has become, not just for influencing the masses, but as a resource for journalists themselves.
Beyond social media, how do you think people who care about Israel can get involved?
What is vitally important is to be involved in every battle, every forum, in which Israel and the Jewish people are maligned and slandered. From time to time, we face such great challenges that some people talk about withdrawing from a certain forums. You hear occasionally Israeli politicians talk about withdrawing from the UN, because it has become such a hostile forum, such an unjust forum.
People talk about removing themselves from multi-faith dialogues, the United Church of Australia, the trade union movement. The worst thing we can do is vacate these spaces.
As difficult as it can be sometimes to stand up and advocate for Israel, if we withdraw, we concede the ground, it gets worse. You have to keep fighting, as difficult as it is. Things can turn over time.