WHILE YOU STAND ON ONE LEG: A while back, a rabbi from Israel told me and some others that the way to get through to American liberals is to make clear to them that Jews, not Arabs, are the land of Israel’s indigenous people and that Zionism is our homeland’s national liberation movement. A blog posting this week made this point, to which I append a trio of suggestions for how we who believe this can get it across to Americans, starting with our own American Jews.
This Week: Going on Offense
Kevin Ross, president of the Philly ZOA District, hosted a small-group talk by a rabbi from Israel on a hot summer day awhile back on how we might do better at making the Israel case to American liberals. I was invited to be in that small group. I was glad that I went.
The rabbi had posted signs on the conference room’s walls. I don’t remember them all. One said something like “Israel, alone in the Mideast, is a democracy like the U.S.” Another: “Israel, alone in the Mideast, shares America’s respect for women, religious and sexual orientation etc. minorities.” Another: “Zionism is the national liberation movement of the land of Israel’s indigenous people, the Jews.”
The rabbi, seated at the head of the conference room’s table when we came in, didn’t mention the signs then, or refer to them during his opening remarks or in the discussion that followed on how we might better get across to liberals in the West why Israel deserves their respect and support. We began wondering whether these signs on the wall were connected to our meeting at all. Then the rabbi stopped the discussion and told us each to get up and stand under the sign stating the argument for Israel most likely to connect with American liberals. Most attendees stood under the “democracy” or “respect for minorities” signs. Only one other attendee and I stood under the “Jews as Israel’s indigenous people” sign. The rabbi looked toward the two of us and said that liberals in the West empathize with indigenous peoples’ national liberation movements, that if any argument can muster rachmones for Israelis among western liberals, appealing to this rachmones-for-the-aboriginal-natives sentiment is it.
I was reminded of that hot summer day meeting this week by an “IsraelForever.org” blog Thursday by Aryeh Green, a veteran of Israeli government services and expert in Israeli history and regional affairs. It’s titled Re-Asserting the Legitimacy of Israel and Zionism, and persuasively makes the case that in this time in which “Israel is increasingly attacked as an imperialist, colonialist, apartheid aggressor and occupier,” our “combating the delegitimization” of Israel through assaults like BDS, media bias and political and cultural leaders’ verbal attacks is “a necessary but not sufficient response.” He says “Israel is in desperate need of a coordinated, pro-active, strategic approach to this long-term erosion of its standing even among those who purport to support her.” He says that some organizations are working hard to stem the tide, but they’re “literally overwhelmed by the hostility permeating the intellectual climate in which the top echelons of the political, academic, media and cultural worlds operate.”
Aryeh Green in this blog posting says:
“This is an ideological, intellectual, civilizational struggle – and Israel and the Jewish people need an assertive strategic approach to coordinate and initiate efforts to re-legitimize Israel. We must generate nothing less than a paradigm shift in perception: Rejection of the present view of Judaism as just another religion or faith community, and acceptance of Zionism and Israel as expressions of the national/liberation of the Jewish people/nation. (This was accepted by western nations – and most Jews – a century ago.)” [emphasis original]
He says “we must educate key elites to change the way Israel is perceived by political decision-makers, intellectual and cultural elites, academics, religious leaders of all faiths, the media and the general public. He says this will “lead to better understanding of the history of Israel, Jews and Judaism and acceptance of Zionism as the national liberation movement of the Jewish people” and engender greater understanding of “Jewish rights to the Land of Israel as the indigenous people returning to their ancestral homeland,” even among those with territory-compromising views of political solutions. [emphasis original]
Aryeh Green in this blog posting calls for “a combined top-down and bottom-up tactical approach” to impact public opinion by “impacting opinion-makers, while driving changes in leadership attitudes by grassroots activities on-line and in the street/on campus.” [emphasis original]
I agree that grassroots American Jews have a role in all this. If we’re not the “Jewish street” in America, who is? Over the past year, I’ve chronicled in this weekly email how, in my conservative grassroots view, our major American Jewish membership organizations – the Reform and Conservative movements and others in their letter last year to President Trump on Israel “annexing” territory in “the West Bank” over “the 1967 borders”; even CAMERA on telling the media to call Judea-Samaria “the Palestinian West Bank … the Palestinian territories”; even AIPAC in advocating “the two-state solution” – have let down not just their memberships but the Jewish people in not championing the Jewish homeland claim to the land of Israel in its entirety, including Judea-Samaria and undivided Jerusalem.
It may be that these major American Jewish membership organizations believe, as a May 3, 2019, Haartez article, Two-State Solution: U.S. Jews Won’t Budge. Will It Cost Them Their Relationship With Israel?, I quoted last year posited, that in championing “the two-state solution” that they “faithfully reflect their constituency on this issue.” If so, and by me that would further reflect on the failure of their leadership, it makes even more daunting the task facing us who agree with Israelis themselves on what a nakba for our people implementation of that “two-state solution” would be.
That task facing grassroots American Jews who agree with Israeli Jews that there must not be a western Palestine, inside-the-land-of-Israel, Judea-Samaria and heart-of-Jerusalem Arab state is to prevail upon fellow grassroots American Jews actively to oppose such a state.
We do this, one, by being forthright and clear in our own speech on the meanings of “Palestine” and “Palestinian.” The partition of Palestine was not between Israelis and “Palestinians,” but between Jews and Arabs – the 78% of the Palestine Mandate east of the River to Arabs, the remaining 22% of the Palestine Mandate, with its Jewish national home, left for the Jews. The Arabs (and UN and EU et al) don’t call what they call “the West Bank” and “East [i.e., historic] Jerusalem” places that are “disputed.” They call them “occupied Palestinian territory.” We shouldn’t call them “disputed” (and not “the West Bank” and “East” Jerusalem) either. We should call them Judea-Samaria and Jerusalem [period], integral parts of the historic homeland of Jews.
We do this, two, by not calling the 1949 Israel-Jordan military ceasefire lines, which were never among the Holy Land’s holy places, and were obliterated by renewed 1967 fighting between the same sides, “Israel’s 1967 borders,” and by pointing out to members of the American Jewish organizations that wrote that open letter to the American president saying “the 1967 borders” how historically wrong and damaging to the Jewish people their using that misleading expression “the 1967 borders” was.
We do this, three, by affirmatively making the case to grassroots Americans that we Jews are the indigenous people of western Palestine, the land of Israel; that Palestinian Arabs have never ruled western Palestine ever; that from Judaea’s final defeat in 135 CE by ancient Rome until today’s State of Israel’s independence in 1948 as the land of Israel’s next native state, every ruler in between was a foreign empire invader, and mostly non-Arab at that; and that what the media calls “the war that followed Israel’s creation” was an Arab invasion for Israel’s destruction thrown back by a homeland army of homeland Jews.
In 1948, there was a minority Jewish group, the American Council for Judaism, that was opposed to Israeli independence. Today, American Jews opposed to an Israel at all are still a minority. But there are many many American Jews, likely a majority, who would drive Israel back to the perilous nine-miles-wide in the heavily-populated lowland middle, sans historic Jerusalem, 1949 military ceasefire lines, which they join the Jewish homeland’s enemies in dubbing “the 1967 borders.” Israelis themselves see both the security and homeland meaningfulness peril and folly in this. But it’s not Israelis’ task to make sense to American Jews. That task is ours.