By JEREMY GIMPEL
If we hope to win the hearts and minds of people around the world, we must speak not only as modern Israelis but as Jews.
Have you ever heard of an organization called QUIT? It’s a lovely organization – Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorists. I’m not joking. Imagine for a moment that the social activists of QUIT decide to relocate their San Francisco offices to Ramallah or Gaza City. How many days (or maybe hours) would pass until their offices burn to the ground and their staff are murdered? What makes QUIT intriguing is that it knows this about Gaza City. Nonetheless, it chooses to side with those who would hang them in the public square over siding with Tel Aviv, the gay capital of the Middle East. “Professors for Palestine” are not much different – they’re a group of “openminded” academics who oppose the only liberal democracy in the Middle East.
It’s bizarre and counterintuitive but it’s undeniable, the people that seemingly should be our greatest allies are our worst enemies.
The question is begging to be asked: Why does the liberal Left globally, universally oppose Israel? On college campuses, the anti-Israel activists aren’t isolating the settlements or demanding peace talks. They’re calling for the end of Israel. At rallies they march and chant “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” Just to be clear, Tel Aviv and Netanya are as much between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea as Hebron and E1.
The anti-Zionists are waging a fullfledged ideological war delegitimizing the Jewish state and the right for Jews to live anywhere in Israel.
For years I dismissed these people as classic anti-Semites who found attacking a Jewish state more politically available than attacking Jews. Although I’m sure that there are a lot of good ol’ -fashioned Jew haters in the mix, after speaking with many of these left-wing activists, I realize that their orientation, aimed at undermining Israel, is rooted in a basic flaw. The sad news: the flaw is our fault. The good news: we can fix it.
For example, the State of Israel has a protocol when distinguished guests visit Israel. If a senator, diplomat or foreign president comes in an official capacity, the first destination they are directed to is Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum. The context is clear – the Jewish state is a result of the Holocaust.
And therein lies our essential mistake and conveys a deficient, even damaging message to the world that ultimately harms the State of Israel.
Time and time again, we lean on the Holocaust, even if only implicitly, to justify Israel’s existence. Laying on guilt and pulling on heart strings may have been a useful tactic when the Holocaust was still a vivid image in world consciousness. Today it’s not only ineffective, it’s harmful.
In an interview with Larry King a few years ago, now-outgoing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad challenged, “Let’s say that there was a Holocaust. Why does a tragedy in Europe justify the suffering of the Palestinian people? A European problem should be solved in Europe, not the Middle East.”
Although I’m not keen on agreeing with Iranian leaders of late, his logic is more than compelling – what does a European problem have to do with the Middle East? The current narrative on Israel is that a group of Jewish Europeans savagely suffered under Nazi domination with little concern or attention from the Allied forces. To compensate and perhaps avoid that moral failure, the Jews were relocated by the West to British-controlled Palestine, allowing for the establishment of the State of Israel. In that narrative, the Jewish connection to Israel is historically shallow and almost random. Israel is seen a foreign occupying force oppressing the indigenous people of the land. In that narrative, “settlements” and “apartheid” (loosely defined) fit right in. It is through that lens the liberal Left sees Israel, and as we continue to confirm that narrative, we lose the battles for public opinion.
THE TIME has come for a total overhaul of Israel’s messaging to the world. Our story must be told. The world must hear the story of the Jewish people.
Jews are not a European people; we are a Semitic people from the Middle East. Jews are not occupying foreign soil, we have returned to our ancient homeland. We are called “Jews” not because of Judaism, but because we once lived in Judea and Jerusalem was our capital. We lived as a people in our land for millennia. We saw the fall of the great pharaohs of Egypt and the rise of mighty Assyria. We suffered under the rule of Babylonia and our people defeated the Syrian-Greek Empire.
While Socrates delved into the depths of the human mind and Alexander the Great conquered the entire world, the Jews continued to live as a free people in their land, Judea and Jerusalem.
Our story must be told now more than ever. The Jewish people alive today are another link in a 4,000-year-old chain that began with Abraham and Moses, and continued through the biblical era of judges and kings. The warrior priests known as the Maccabees and students of Rabbi Akiva aligned with Bar Kochba fought for our freedom in Israel. And it was imperialist Rome that ultimately conquered our land, destroyed our Temple and exiled us from our homeland, scattering Jews to all corners of the world – including Europe.
We lived through 2,000 years of exile, persecution and prayer. Every force known to humanity tried to extinguish the flame of our people and our hopes to return to Zion. Against all adversity and all odds, the Jewish people hoped to return to our land and rebuild Jerusalem.
No matter what happened the night before, whether a pogrom or crusade, Christian or Muslim oppression, the next morning the Jew dusted himself off, wrapped himself in a tallit, faced Jerusalem and prayed to come home.
Our people never lost hope.
Today we are living the prayers of our fathers and mothers as we walk through the land of our ancestors. Our connection to Israel began long before the atrocities of the 1940s. It is time to transform the dialogue around the Jewish claim to the Land of Israel. If we hope to win the hearts and minds of people around the world, we must speak not only as modern Israelis but as Jews.
It’s time for the world to hear our story.
The writer is a filmmaker, Israel advocate, educator and journalist. He is the deputy director of the World Mizrachi Movement.