Reclaiming Israel’s narrative of freedom

Public diplomacy will not succeed until we can unabashedly declare the story of who we are and why we are here.

google israel 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
google israel 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel has lost the plot. To be precise, we have lost our plot. We are like tragic characters trying to find the story line in an absurd existentialist play. We have forgotten our narrative. Whether from self-imposed amnesia or a wistful yearning for “normality,” we are no longer able to articulate our remarkable story to ourselves or to the world.
Those who say we must go “beyond the conflict” to win the battle for international public opinion are half-right – of course we should tell of the stunning achievements of modern Israel. But public diplomacy will not succeed until we can unabashedly declare the story of who we are and why we are here.
Google “why should Israel exist” and most of what pops up is vitriolic hate about why Israel shouldn’t. If we are going to advocate for Israel, we must proactively and dramatically present the essential value that Israel stands for in the world and that frames all our actions and our efforts at self-defense.
That value is freedom.
IN NATAN Sharansky’s inspiring book The Case for Democracy; the Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror he argues that “all peoples desire to be free” including the Palestinian Arabs, and that “freedom has the power to change our world.”
But one thing Sharansky doesn’t emphasize is that the Jewish people are the original and quintessential national liberation movement.
From the Exodus from Egypt to the struggle against British rule that led directly to the founding of the State of Israel, the unfinished story of Israel is our march to freedom. Modern Israel is the solution to the perennial problem of Jewish homelessness. It is the miraculous culmination of 2,000 years of yearning to recover sovereignty and self-rule in our land.
Israel needs to retell the story of the ingathering of Jewish exiles from every corner of the Earth – both before and after the devastation of the Shoah – individuals who joined the unbroken historical chain of Jews living in the Land of Israel. We must once again proudly trumpet the extraordinary pioneers who found their way, against enormous obstacles, to their ancestral homeland – right up to and including today – and who with through their sweat and determination built a new future for themselves and the Jewish nation.
We must talk again of how we sacrificed many of our best and brightest youth who served valiantly in a citizen’s army to protect their families and keep the fledgling Jewish state free from invading armies.
Our march to national freedom is unique. What other nation, dispersed for thousands of years and disparaged as without hope, has rebounded to full vitality? What other people whose identity was so brutally repressed shook the foundations of a great empire and forced the release of over a million people, as happened when the “refuseniks” were brought to Israel through the “Free Soviet Jewry” campaign? What other modern state heard the cries of their brothers and sisters separated for centuries in the heart of Africa and launched “Operation Solomon” to fly thousands of endangered Ethiopian Black Jews to freedom in their ancestral home? And what of the heroic tales we still hear every day of Jewish immigrants who have made great personal sacrifices to raise families here? What of the unprecedented creativity that led to breakthroughs in fields like medicine and green technology? What of the unique blend of cultures and traditions that have revived the ancient Hebrew language and forged a living, dynamic culture? IN 1948 most of the world recognized the extraordinary rebirth that took place here. Today, Israel receives attention – albeit most of it negative – that is out of all proportion to our size or importance. It is as if the world continues to expect great developments in the human journey to emerge in this land.
Indeed, Israel is a crucible of freedom today no less than in 1948. We are on the front line of the embattled democratic states fighting against terrorism and tyranny.
What happens to the Jewish people will indicate whether the world truly cherishes the value of freedom and will fight to preserve it.
Israel as the Jewish home continues to be under threat from violent attack and insidious de-legitimization.
There are those who say it is too difficult to turn the negative tide of public opinion, whether in global forums or on university campuses.
We must not allow this to lead us into despair; we must act by restoring our core narrative of freedom.
We can energize a grassroots network of supporters around the world. Together, we can tell the story of Israel as the fulfillment of the Jewish people’s long march to national liberation in our land – a beacon of hope for humankind.
The writer is Director of Hadar-Israel Council for Civic Action, a non-profit organization based in Israel.