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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

In Defense of Israel's Right to Exist Safely

Nadene Goldfoot
What does J Street, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and Stand With Us have in common?  These three distinct Jewish organizations all support one thing; the right for Israel to exist in security as the nation-state of the Jewish people.  The old joke of having two Jews stranded on an island forever with them building three synagogues defines the path these three take to support Israel.  When David Ben Gurion, first Prime Minister of Israel, met President Truman, he was told that Truman  was president of  152 million people.  "That's wonderful," said Ben Gurion.  "I'm Prime Minister of  600,000 presidents."  We Jews do come up with many opinions.   

Each of these groups presented different opinions about supporting Israel at a time in history when so many others in the world are against her.   Others are showing their disfavor with her policies by bringing about boycotting of her products.  Last night the Mittleman Jewish Community Center was the scene of a presentation of combating the Anti-Israel Boycott and Divestment Movement with the perspectives from the Left, Right and Center. 

Bob Horenstein was the moderator and reminded us of the UN Conference on Racism before 9/11 starting off the BDS movement.  There began global efforts to escalate and delegitimatize Israel.  At that time AIPAC and Hillel worked hard lobbying and our President did veto the resolution to divest from Israel.  It did fail, thank goodness.  We find that BDS is not a peaceful solution in solving any problems.

Martin J. Raffel of JCPA spoke first.  He spoke about how the UN not only has double standards for Israel, but that it is held to a different standard than any other country.  In 2001 Israel was charged with racism.  The Presbyterian Church came out with this method of boycotting to turn Israel around populating the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and East Jerusalem.  Groups were comparing Israel to South Africa's Apartheid and backed boycotting.  We saw Olympia with a food co-op boycotting all Israeli products.  Princeton  had Sabra Humous removed from the menu, stevedores refused to unload Israeli ships, ads were placed on buses against Israel as well as other damaging acts.  There is a global campaign to smear Israel in favor of the Palestinian Arabs.  These are malevolent acts of uninformed people.  People are treating Israel like a rogue pariah state who is in violation of human rights and think that they deserve punishment.

This type of behavior is not the same as constructive criticism of policies.  Israel is facing a serious threat from Iran, and here we have people questioning its legitimacy.  Hamas in Gaza has been constantly attacking her.  How we can help is by countering these false claims.  We have 157 federations in the USA as well as many other groups.  Through our relationships we can show people that this boycotting is morally wrong and certainly counter-productive.  We need to educate people through our large network.

Rachel Lerner spoke next from J. Street.  She didn't really agree that the boycotting was a big deal or a threat to Israel, though a year ago she did work to oppose BDS at U of C's Berkeley.  She was in agreement with the BDS's good points but noticed bad parts about the movement.  Finally she did speak out at a Presbyterian assembly and told them not to demonize Israel.  She has found that many people speaking out against Israel are young Jews and that they are not lost causes.  She mentioned a San Diego student who hates the occupation of the West Bank.  She encourages criticism but not to go so far as to delegitimatize Israel. 

Rob Jacobs from Stand With Us was the last speaker.  He feels we can all work together.  Education is a key  to counter unfair criticism.  Israel is not a genocidal apartheid state.  The attack of divesting all of Israel's products is serious.  StandWithUs has worked on initiative 97, going to the Olympia coop to change attitudes about the divestment, working on the bus posters against Israel, and working on college campuses has been their line of defense.   He said that we can help by being persistent in our involvement to counter these false claims.  We need to create relationships, be passionate, and collaborate with each other.  Most of all, all of us need to really get involved and have personal relationships with people in order to change their attitudes.  He noted that the Presbyterians listened to Rachel Lerner because she had been criticizing Israel, so they felt she was one of them.  People forget that none of us are perfect.  War is hell, and that's why Israel and all of us wants peace.  We need to be compassionate.  We should realize that the Palestinians are living in miserable camps, but people also need to realize that this is not Israel's fault but their own leaders and they themselves  have put them in this position.  The majority of the Palestinians are naive and do believe the lies of their leaders. 

Bob Horenstein asked questions of the panel.  Rachel didn't think that the BDS movement meant people were deligitimatizing by doing this.  Martin quoted Tom Friedman.  He mentioned that even if Jews are against Israel they are still in our minyan.  He doesn't give up on anybody. 

It was brought out that there are constructive ways to change policies.  An audience member asked if this was also a show of anti-Semitism and Martin and Rob agreed.  Rachel's opinion was that young Jews don't see it as anti-semitism.  People have unfair stereotypes of Jews, commented Martin.  Rachel brought Israelis who were critics of Israel to university campuses for students to see that they are just regular people able to criticize themselves.  People see Jews as something completely different from their own families.  Even Martin commented that his own 15 year old daughter didn't understand why it was important for us to have a Jewish state. 

My viewpoint after hearing this panel is that we have to start with our own house and our young people to successfully understand what many of us older folks know.  I grew up with WWII newspaper headlines wondering whatever newspapers printed other than our war's progress.  At age 14 Israel was proclaimed a regular state in the UN and I had already learned about what our relatives had gone through in the Holocaust and why Israel was a miracle and a need.  This was at a time that the UN had just been created and I thought it was the end to all wars.  How wrong I was.  Our young descendants know nothing of all this by experience.  They've become a part of society and not necessarily a part of us.  It's what the Pilgrims feared in Holland and why they sailed the deep ocean to get to America.  We've got to get back on track and educate our youngsters and our neighbors so that they don't throw out our baby with the bath water. 

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