In Israel’s corner

As president of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America – an organization that has never wavered in its support of Israel – I find the current climate painful.

For millennia the Jewish people have lived, and often thrived, amid prejudice. But even if we can get along without the respect of others, that doesn’t prevent us from desiring it. That is why the mood right now for Israel’s supporters in America is so gloomy.
The one-sided view of the blockade of Gaza, which pops up in opinion columns, blogs, demonstrations and conversations, reveals large numbers of people unwilling or incapable of putting themselves in Israel’s position. Some commentators have even questioned its strategic value to the US.
Last week, protesters impeded the unloading of an Israeli cargo ship in Oakland, California.
Within the Jewish community, there is angst about a younger generation either indifferent or alienated from any relationship with the Jewish state.
AS PRESIDENT of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America – an organization that has never wavered in its support of Israel – I find the current climate painful. At the same time, I think a hard-headed look at how Israel’s image is faring in the world reveals a bigger picture than today’s headlines.
To begin with, Hadassah’s representatives in most countries in Europe and South America report growing efforts to delegitimize Israel. Through Hadassah International, an organization of men and women of all faiths, established by HWZOA specifically to build bridges through medicine, Hadassah International leaders stand up to debunk myths about unethical behavior, many of them related to medical care.
We have successfully fought European calls for boycotting Israeli doctors and scientists, and practice “health care diplomacy,” and in doing so bring to the world’s attention Israel as a moral and ethical society.
WHILE THE effort to delegitimize Israel seems to be spreading in Europe, it still has gained little traction in America. Public opinion polls consistently reveal broad public support among Americans.
Despite inevitable debates over specific policy questions, that backing at the grassroots level extends to the corridors of power in Washington, where bedrock support for Israel remains the rule rather than the exception.
There are many reasons for this support. Though the media doesn’t like to recycle the same vocabulary every day, most Americans know deep down that Israel is the only stable democracy in the Middle East. Americans admire the Jewish state for its self-reliance and its success against great odds. They recognize that it shares America’s values.
American support also rests on the efforts of a Jewish community and organizational structure that is spread throughout the US, from Florida to Alaska. Hadassah, for example, is made up of 300,000 households, located in every congressional district, involved in both local affairs and talking to our friends and representatives about Israel.
Those who know us – our neighbors and officials in Washington – know that we build as well as talk. They know that Hadassah contributes to Israel’s reputation as an ethical society.
They know that our hospitals in Jerusalem are oases of peace in a troubled region. From our example, they know that medicine can transcend politics and borders.
We not only cooperate as individuals in local affairs, we also partner with other organizations to advance common goals. Hadassah’s newest partnership is with Susan G.
Komen for the Cure – a global power in the fight against breast cancer – and the city of Jerusalem.
This coming October, that partnership is bringing the Komen organization’s Race for the Cure event to Israel for the first time.
Through coalitions like this, we strengthen Israel and engage in health care diplomacy.
As the largest nongovernmental employer in Jerusalem, Hadassah is as dedicated today to the building of Israel as our grandmothers and great grandmothers were when the organization began in 1912. We are not Pollyannas who believe Israel is perfect, but we refuse to make every action or decision taken by an Israeli government a test of our love.
This month, 1,500 Hadassah convention delegates will gather in Hallandale, Florida, where we will reaffirm our support for Israel in spirit and in practice. We’ll explore what actions we can take to protect its image in the world. We’ll discuss our health and education programs, including the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower, the new medical facility we will dedicate in Jerusalem in 2012.
And we’ll talk about our youth movement, Young Judea, a pillar of Taglit-Birthright, and how to strengthen the ties between American Jewish youth and the Jewish state.
Neither Hadassah nor the other dedicated Jewish organizations in America can convince everyone in an indifferent or hostile world that Israel’s security concerns are legitimate. But we firmly believe that a world in which Israel and the Jewish people are respected is a world that is better for everyone.
We don’t take anyone’s support for granted, nor do we consider support from any quarter permanently lost. We are committed to making our case and doing our work.
The writer is the national president of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.