The war Israel must fight

In the past, Israel’s opponents and enemies of the Jewish people funneled money to the state’s adversaries through weapons programs and militias. Today, it’s more insidious.

President of the World Jewish Congress Ronald Lauder (photo credit: Courtesy)
President of the World Jewish Congress Ronald Lauder
(photo credit: Courtesy)

The State of Israel is in a fight for its life: but you wouldn’t know it. For 75 years, Israel’s enemies could not defeat it militarily. What’s more, given enviable strides over the last decade, Israel’s enemies cannot defeat it economically. Yet we are in a far more dangerous place than ever. 

That’s because these achievements are only part of the equation of Israel’s security and the battle for the safety of the Jewish people. Israel’s enemies have opened a new political front in their attacks – and Israel is losing that battle, which is not being fought on a border, in the sky or on the ground.

The battle for public opinion is being fought on campuses and billions of iPhones. And Israel has let itself fall behind and, as Jews in Israel and in the Diaspora, by not fighting the daily lies, distortions, dishonesty, and slander unequivocally and with one voice, we have let it happen on our watch.

Opponents of Israel’s right to exist have overtaken many mainstream press outlets, and this bias has infiltrated editorial boards and even supposedly unbiased reporting, who parrot anti-Israel, antisemitic talking points that would make the Muslim Brotherhood proud. They refer to Israel as an “apartheid state,” guilty of “ethnic cleansing,” and “crimes against humanity” – simply for defending itself.

On social media, influencers attack Israel for said self-defense in the face of rocket barrages launched by terror groups.

In the past, Israel’s opponents and enemies of the Jewish people funneled money to the state’s adversaries through weapons programs and militias. Today, it’s more insidious. It has effectively penetrated former staunch Israeli allies, including the US, through media and academia. It has split American Jews. Jewish students and professors are openly ridiculed, censored, and penalized for expressing support for Israel, including by fellow Jews. Universities recognize the problem, but most stay silent out of fear of condemnation and cancellation.

In government and politics, formerly unassailable allies of Israel and the Jewish people, including the Speaker of the House, are starting to bow to extremist factions including, terrifyingly, agreeing to temporarily pull votes for Iron Dome funding.

Most claim that anti-Israel action is based on objections to certain Israeli government policy and the collateral damage of self-defense. Yet, it is incontrovertible that much is rooted in disregard, disrespect, or outright hatred of Jews.

UNFORTUNATELY, Israel ignored this buildup over the years. And while military defense is crucial, it is only half the battle. No administration took this threat seriously, thinking that a booming economy, strong army, and the protective bulwark of powerful allies and postwar goodwill toward the Jewish people was all Israel needed.

To fight, Israel must play its part and engage. To survive, the country must do its part to unify internally, and spur unity externally. How can we expect the world to reunify behind us and stand with us, if we will not or cannot do it ourselves?

It is unacceptable for Orthodox Jews in Israel to refuse to stand with those who are more secular. It is unacceptable for Likud to refuse to work with the coalition government. Such a position says that if victory eludes their political party, Likud leaders will disengage and stand on the sidelines. This position is a gift to Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran.

It also signals strongly to the Diaspora that disunity is acceptable. It is no surprise that we are seeing support break along similar lines outside Israel: ultra-religious versus secular. Conservative versus progressive. Left versus right, and vice-versa. For 15 years Israel has neglected the Diaspora, expecting old alliances and allegiances of the 20th century to hold. They aren’t.

And without that unified support and the political imperatives that accompany it, Israel will be no more.

Historic precedence takes us back to 1938. Europe’s Jews implored American and foreign governments to take them in as Hitler advanced. At the last minute, despite participants in the Evian Conference agreeing to take Jewish refugees, Roosevelt sensed soft support and sensed potential political blowback in his upcoming reelection and reversed, taking a tiny quota. Other nations followed. Europe’s Jewry was wiped out. 

It was avoidable then, and it is avoidable now. To avoid the catastrophes of history, we must learn from them. I urge Israel to take this political war seriously. To that end, the Israeli government must create a well-funded ministry of hasbara (public diplomacy) and fill it with the most creative and strategic minds in messaging, media, public relations, public information, public education, and crisis communications.

To demonstrate seriousness, it must be at the ministerial level, reporting to the highest level of government.

This is the time to come together no matter what, behind our shared commonality as Jews in and out of Israel and insist on our futures, by standing as one and rejecting lies, disrespect, and disparagement. This is the time to insist on support and strength through unity. This is the time to reach out to our neighbors, as Jews. We will be stronger and safer if we summon the will. Because together as one unified people, there is nothing we cannot accomplish. But a house divided falls.

The writer is the president of the World Jewish Congress.

Ronald S. Lauder will present at The Jerusalem Post Annual Conference. To watch live on October 12 (or see the recording anytime thereafter), click here.