As high school seniors graduate this month, their attention turns to starting college in the fall. Unfortunately, many American universities have turned into bastions of anti-Zionism and anti-Israel lectures and activism. As the Anti-Defamation League stated, “The campus anti-Israel movement frequently denigrates Zionism as inherently racist and disparages pro-Israel students, at times invoking antisemitic tropes.” These 18 facts about Israel are designed not to give American Jewish students the tools to defeat the campus anti-Israel movement, but to know the truth about Israel to identify the lies of those who slander Israel.
1. Israel isn’t dangerous
If your knowledge of Israel came from the media, you’d assume Israel has been a war zone for all its 75 years. The media covers the most sensationalist stories, including the violent ones. While there is little violence in Israel, and statistically much more in any major American city, the perception is that Israel is a violent place. Israel is a calm and peaceful country – and a pleasure to visit!
2. Understanding Israel requires an open mind, intellectual honesty and nuance
Today’s partisan world prefers to box all subjects into black and white, and no grays – or any other colors! The world isn’t that simple, it’s very complex, and like the world, Israel is complex. To understand Israel in all its complexity, a person must have an open mind to accept facts and narratives they might never have heard before. They also need to be intellectually honest so they can be open to arguments they haven’t heard before and recognize there are two sides to every story – which requires nuance.
3. You should visit Israel on Birthright, but Israel can’t be fully understood on a 10-day tour
Soon you’ll be eligible to visit Israel on Birthright, an almost completely free trip to Israel. The trip will give you a front-row seat to Israel (and it’s a ton of fun). Israel cannot be understood without seeing it – studying Israel from 6,000 miles away isn’t enough. At the same time, it’s important to recognize that 10 days on a fun trip isn’t enough to fully understand Israel. The more time spent in Israel, the more understandable it is.
4. The media presents an inaccurate picture of Israel
There are many theories suggested as to why the media generally present a negative image of Israel in its coverage – but one thing is almost universally agreed upon – Israel is portrayed with a bias against it by most of the world’s media. Their biased coverage is generally delivered without proper context. Israeli policies and actions are presented in a negative shade without Israel’s side of the story. To understand events in Israel, always ask, “What’s the Israeli side of this story?”
5. The Jewish people are a nation, not just a religion
An attack many opponents of Israel like to use to delegitimize the State of Israel is stating that Jews are a religion, and religions don’t deserve certain rights that nations deserve – like land and self-determination. For over 3,000 years, the Jews were known as a nation and they have a right to their historic homeland, the Land of Israel.
6. The Jewish people have the strongest claim to the Land of Israel
Recently, Jews have been accused of being colonial impostors with no right or connection to the Land of Israel. Historical records, archaeology and international consensus all demonstrate that the Jews have a longer connection to the Land of Israel – more than 3,000 years – than any other people around today. Arabs only immigrated to the land 1,300 years ago.
7. The Jewish people have a right to self-determination
For close to 2,000 years, the Jewish people were in exile and were controlled by the governments of the lands they lived in. While they had the right to exercise self-determination, no one would allow the Jews to determine their own destiny. Zionism was a movement that advocated the Jews determining their own future, and the State of Israel is where they exercise that right today.
8. Jews have been in Israel continuously for 3,000 years
Jews are not foreign to the Land of Israel. While a modern political movement, Zionism, to reestablish a Jewish state, is only 175 years old, Jews have lived in Israel continuously for 3,000 years. When millions of Jews returned to Israel over the past 100 years, they weren’t moving to a new location, they were rejoining a three-millennium-old Jewish community.
9. Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for thousands of years
Almost 3,000 years ago, King David, the king of the Jewish people, inaugurated the city of Jerusalem as the capital city of the Jewish people. After the Jewish nation was defeated and exiled, they spent thousands of years praying to return to Jerusalem and reestablish their capital. No other people had ever established Jerusalem as their capital. In 1948, the Jewish people did just that, and in 1967, they united the entire city under Jewish rule.
10. Anti-Zionism is usually a cover for antisemitism
Zionism stands for the rights of the Jewish people to self-determination in their historic homeland, the Land of Israel. Denying the peoplehood of the Jewish people, claiming they, unlike all other nations, don’t deserve self-determination, and that they have no connection or rights to their own homeland, is nothing short of antisemitism. Anti-Zionism isn’t a political position, it’s hate.
11. Treating Israel with a double standard is antisemitic
We’ve all seen the accusations made against Israeli policies. Most aren’t reflective of the truth, many are made out of context, and even more hold Israel to a standard no other country is held up to when it comes to international standards. Judging Israel with a double standard is antisemitic and reflects a dishonest approach to analyzing events in Israel.
12. Not all criticism of Israel is false, but not all criticism of Israel is true
Criticizing Israel isn’t absolutely antisemitic or slanderous. There are legitimate reasons to criticize Israeli policies. Yet many of the most frequent criticisms of Israel are made by Israel’s enemies and aren’t reflective of true Israeli policy.
13. Israeli politicians and leaders aren’t all angels, but they also aren’t all devils
Israel’s critics love characterizing Israeli elected leaders as evil people who deserve to be arrested and jailed for crimes. Israeli politicians are like all other politicians – not the world’s best actors, but they’re nowhere near to how Israel’s enemies portray them to the world.
14. Israelis aren’t responsible for Palestinian mistakes and miscalculations
There are great inequalities between Israelis and Palestinians. These inequalities are not unjust inequalities that are Israel’s obligation to correct. They are inequalities caused by the Palestinians’ poor personal and political choices, including terrorism, rejecting peace deals and intransigence.
15. Jews treat Palestinians well
The narrative of Israeli oppression is nothing but a fable. When the layers of lies are peeled away even a cursory survey of Palestinian Arab life under Israeli rule reveals a life with human rights, opportunity and fair treatment. Claims of a life of hardship are contradicted by the plethora of Arab-owned late model luxury cars and mansions spread throughout Judea and Samaria. Jobs in Israel and joint industrial zones are available to Arabs, and the health care and education available to Palestinian Arabs is among the highest rated in the Middle East.
16. It’s only under Israeli rule that religious sites are open to all world religions
When the Land of Israel was under the rule of Crusaders, Muslims, Ottomans, the British and the Jordanians, the religious sites were closed to one or two of the world’s religions. It was only in 1948 and then again in 1967 when all religious sites in Israel came under Israeli rule that all people and religions were given the freedom to visit all religious sites in Israel.
17. The US-Israel relationship is a partnership
The United States provides Israel with no less than $4 billion a year in military aid. Many misunderstand this aid as charity that America gives its needy ally, Israel. American military aid to Israel isn’t charity, it’s an investment in the partnership that provides America with the highest intelligence, research and technology available.
18. While many consider Israeli rule of the West Bank illegal, America and Israel do not
The international community, as reflected in repeated United Nations resolutions, considers Israeli rule of Judea and Samaria, the region the world calls the West Bank, inconsistent with international law; Israel and the United States do not agree. As former secretary of state Mike Pompeo said, “The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law.”
The writer is a senior educator at numerous educational institutions. He is the author of three books and teaches Torah, Zionism and Israeli studies around the world.