by Lee Bender (May 1, 2017)
I was recently invited to address classes at a Sunday Hebrew high school and a Jewish high school (many of whom have recently spent three months living and studying in Israel). I am frequently requested to speak, be part of panel discussions, and be a radio guest in my capacity as co-president of Zionist Organization of America, Greater Philadelphia; the co-author of a book, Pressing Israel: Media Bias Exposed From A-Z and website, www.factsonisrael.com. I was specifically asked to present the ZOA’s perspectives and positions because the students during the course of the year have been hearing speakers from other Jewish organizations. However, it was I who learned a lesson or two about what Jewish pupils are being taught and the consequences of miseducation: the onus is being placed on Israel, little recognition of any responsibility on the part of the Arabs to make peace.
First, I stated that ZOA was founded 120 years ago, making it the most veteran pro-Israel organization in the U.S., and that the State of Israel has commemorated the milestone with a special stamp, which I showed. I explained that ZOA is an advocacy organization that works to educate our political officials, the media, and students on the ongoing Arab/Islamist war on Israel—which is how we characterize “the conflict” – and strengthen the U.S-Israel alliance. Then I stated ZOA’s most basic positions: Jerusalem is the eternal, undivided capital of Israel and Jews have the historic right live in Judea and Samaria. I reiterated our mantra: Israel wants peace, but our rights and security first.
Both talks were divided into four sections: BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions), Israel is not an “apartheid state,” Israel’s “peace partners,” and Israel as the “Start Up Nation.”
BDS: I mentioned that its true goal, according to its own founders and leaders, is to weaken, isolate and ultimately destroy Israel; it is discriminatory; it is not about being a mere non-violent “economic boycott” and that it actually hurts thousands of Palestinian Arabs who work for Israeli companies. The students had not heard of Omar Barghouti, a BDS leader, who claims Israel is an apartheid state. Yet, he studied at Tel Aviv University for his PhD. Dishearteningly, Barghouti just received an award from Yale University. I also made the point that to those who want to “BDS” to do it right and go all the way: Stop using any devices, medicines or scientific methods devised by Israelis.
I explained how the “apartheid” label is a fabricated libel and clear lie since Arabs and other non-Jews are citizens, serve in Knesset, on the courts, work alongside Jews in hospitals, etc., and have the same civil rights. Israel is a multi-ethnic, diverse society.
With regard to Israel’s so-called “peace partners,” I highlighted the PLO, Fatah, Hizbollah and Hamas, their charters, and I demonstrated what they and their leaders say, in public, concerning Israel, its rights to exist as a Jewish state (none), and their utter rejection of any peaceful resolution. I pointed out the new, revised Hamas charter which, while no longer expressing genocide against the Jewish People, still professes to eradicate Israel and replace it entirely with a Palestinian Arab state.
I stated that if you cannot make peace with your enemies, you must defeat them- snuff out their will to extinguish you and end the conflict so there can be a chance for true peace. Unfortunately, right now the status quo is the best “peace” Israel can get, and it must manage the situation.
Some students were uncomfortable with that notion; they do not like the status quo and expressed that it is Israel that has to do more because it is the stronger party and is “the light unto the nations.” I challenged them, saying that does not mean that we are better than anyone, nor does that mean that we should not continue to seek peace. And that if Israel were not stronger it would not survive. I also said that the students were setting the bar far too high for Israel and unreasonably low for the Arabs, and that we must hold the Arabs accountable for their actions. I reminded them the Arabs have rejected a state living side by side with Israel six times since 1937 and we must place the burden on them for peace- not us. This was a re-orientation of thinking for some students.
Several students mentioned “international law” and that Israel was violating it by building in the “West Bank.” I challenged them to tell me which specific international law they were referring to, because there is none. Moreover, I stated that under actual international law, Israel has rights to the territory it captured in a defensive war and via internationally legally sanctioned agreements including the Balfour Declaration enshrined under the San Remo Conference in 1920 and the UN..Several students did nod their heads when I mentioned that. Moreover, I stated, the Arabs are the only people who lose land in defensive wars and then sue for peace because they refuse to end the conflict.
I was also asked about “settlements.” I answered: It is insulting that these Jewish communities are not referred to as cities, towns and villages; it is discriminatory and racist to tell Jews where they cannot live, is it not? I said that the Jewish “settlements” constitute only 2% of the land in Judea and Samaria; most are bunched along the Green Line as a defensive buffer; some were re-constituted after Jews were murdered and expelled from the area by Arabs before the state was re-established; the only expansion are within the footprints of the towns- and even that is restricted by Israel; every sovereign entity has the right to control its land and construction via permits (I said the very township the schools were located in certainly do so). I asked if the student was saying the “settlements” were an obstacle to peace? The student conceded they were not. But wasn’t it wrong for Israel to tell people where they could build? No, under Oslo agreements Israel and the PA agreed to administer the land via Areas A, B and C; Jews are not permitted in Areas A and B, which are administered by the PA, but Arabs can live in Area C. I also mentioned that 95% of all Palestinian Arabs are governed by their elected officials from Hamas in Gaza and the PA in the “West Bank.”
I discussed in clear terms what ZOA believes must occur for there to be any real chance of peace: 1)The PA and PLO must cease payments ($300 million annually) to terrorists and families of terrorists who murdered Jews, and that this is an insult to U.S. taxpayers who provide them with $500 million/year; 2) must stop the incitement to violence and hatred of Jews in its media, television, newspapers, mosques, schools, textbooks, and the honoring of Jew-killing murderers via naming of schools, sports clubs, streets, public squares, children’s camps; 3) change all official PA symbols, emblems, stamps, and maps that show Israel as a Palestinian Arab state; 4) stop all demands that a future Palestinian state be judenrein; 5) preach a curriculum of peace and forcefully and unequivocally condemn all Palestinian Arab terrorist attacks against Jews.
I ended on a high note. Despite the above, the incredible story of Israel as a “Start Up Nation” that shares with the world amazing life-saving innovations, high-technology in computers, security systems, cellphones, medicine, water, and agriculture, is a testament to the Jewish People and our spirit and values of tikkun olam. Israel is also a humanitarian first-responder worldwide. This, I said, was being a “light onto the nations.”
But let us not forget that Israel is a sovereign nation, a proud, open democracy that votes and decides for itself what is in its best interests. And unlike most other places in the world, and certainly in its region, it upholds minority, gay, women’s rights, has an independent judiciary, a robust free press, an advanced health care and first-world educational opportunities for all its citizens, guaranteeing freedom of worship and access to all religious sites.
I closed by saying that each of them were leaders, had a duty to be ambassadors for the Jewish People and Israel and for the truth, and that they would need these skills in abundance on college campuses and beyond. We can all certainly hope they do so — we are depending on it.