The Human Spirit: Preach to the choir

Even friends of Israel need occasional "ammunition."

While we are being attacked in the North and from Gaza, there's a third front where the attack on Israel is relentless. With many community leaders from abroad taking part in various excellent study programs in Jerusalem this summer, I had the opportunity recently to hear about what's happening on the campuses of universities and private high schools in the Diaspora. An educator at one of America's most esteemed colleges told me that "that some of the best Jews on campus despise the State of Israel," and an articulate high-school senior with a superb Jewish education expressed her frustration at not being able to hold back a tidal wave of ugly accusations at her academically outstanding school. This in 2006, post-disengagement and after five years of terror attacks. The most disturbing part of the evening was that I found myself at odds with the educator, who is a strong supporter of Israel and someone who has visited even in the most dangerous times. While we both see Israel as a land of amazing accomplishments, he loves Israel despite our country acting as "oppressor" and "occupier" with limited compassion for the suffering of the Palestinians. I love Israel because it's a country where humanity flourishes and where human rights are preserved despite the constant and terrible threat and hatred of our enemies. The barrage of anti-Israel feelings on campuses has undermined his core belief in the morality of the Jewish State. THAT OLD ditty about sticks and stones simply isn't true. The names we are called do hurt us. Brand Israel an "aggressor," "occupier" and "Nazi regime" enough and you are going to change the tone and battle lines of every argument. Morality is the operative word in discussions of Israel, and it soon became the center of ours. How respectfully do we treat the Palestinian Arabs at the checkpoints while we're searching for explosives? Do we really appreciate the suffering of those who live in the Palestinian Authority? Are people literally starving because of us? The weight of proving that we are up to the moral standards of a utopian state is always on us, never on the enemy. As our enemies pile up a long charge list of imperfections of the Jewish state - some true, some half-true and others complete lies, Israel is transformed from a light unto the nations to a black hole sucking in the illumination around it. Even educated supporters have a hard time ignoring this image of the Big Bad Israel. IT'S NO wonder that young Jews who carry our historical sympathy for seeking justice and being righteous, who want to be on the moral side of every issue, feel so intensely uncomfortable about the Israel that they condemn. Pushed to an extreme, that discomfort will become a questioning of justification of the existence of a Jewish state. Of course they don't realize that their own sense of freedom to express such views has a lot to do with the strengthened Jewish identity, security and pride in having a Jewish homeland. Disheartened, I came home and read my copy of Gil Troy's Why I am a Zionist. Troy lives in Canada, where he is a professor of history at McGill University and faces the same daily challenges to Zionist sensibilities. His public Zionism has garnered him a barrage of nasty epithets and threats. Says Troy: "Over the last three decades, while the Jewish people slept, an unholy alliance of Islamicists and anti-colonialist intellectuals, supposedly devoted to upholding human rights, systematically libeled the Jewish national project." He describes the years of relentless attacks on Israel's good name, the chronic linking of Zionism to racism and denunciations of Israel as anachronistic and uniquely oppressive. Troy is a professional historian with a nice turn of phrase, which makes him a particularly effective debater. He offers helpful tips and some essential dates and facts that are necessary for anyone attempting to answer the Israel-bashers. He also has excellent tips for formal campus discussions. My favorites are insisting on ground rules and intellectual parity. "Don't debate Israel's right to exist unless the debate questions the rights of all nations to exist, from Switzerland to Swaziland. Similarly, before debating whether Zionism is racism, determine if the debate will also address the exclusionary character of all nationalisms, including Palestinian nationalism." The so-called narrative of those who oppose Israel sees the establishment of the Jewish state as European colonization of Palestine to make up for their guilt over the Holocaust. We see a century of Zionist immigration, investment of human and monetary resources as a return to our ancient homeland. They see every Arab, even if he emigrated from Arabia, Jordan, Egypt or Lebanon after the revival of the local economy by the Zionists as a "native," and every Jew, no matter how many generations he or his family has lived here, as an interloper. I get teary when I watch new immigrants deplane. We may be getting rusty about our own narrative. A helpful exercise in this time of crisis is to renew our acquaintance with it. Doubtless, most of us who will read Troy's recently updated book are already Zionists. That's just fine. I'm all for preaching to the choir. In between keeping up on the situation and playing with my baby granddaughter whose northern town is being continually bombed, I'm watching Pillar of Fire, the Israel Broadcasting Authority's seven-part documentary now on DVD (also in English). Just as we stand our ground through terrorism and missile attacks, we can stand our ground in verbal barrages, no matter how lethal.