The war between the Jews over Israel just got a little hotter. An American Jewish Committee official says that American Jews themselves are responsible for “some of the most evil name-calling” against Israel.
And a second AJC official says his job fighting “Israel haters” on American campuses would be easier if some Israeli rightwingers left the government and centrist Benny Gantz becomes part of the Israeli government.
The two spoke during an AJC webinar about How Israeli policies affect advocacy for Israel on campuses.
Laura Shaw Frank, an official in AJC’s “contemporary Jewish life” program, said it was important for Israel supporters to talk to other American Jews, because other Jews are saying evil things.
[H]aving those conversations internally among Jews is also so important because sometimes some of the most evil name-calling and epithet-slinging that takes place is sadly within our own Jewish community.
Frank didn’t name the evil-speakers. But her accusation echoes AJC accusations against two Jewish groups: Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow.
AJC has said that JVP proves that “Jews can be their own worst enemies… sadly.” Because JVP is anti-Zionist and supports the BDS boycott campaign targeting Israel.
IfNotNow is a leftwing anti-occupation Jewish organization that has repeatedly gotten under AJC’s skin because it is highly Jewish-identified and being young, the future. An AJC official has characterized IfNotNow as a “radical anti-Israel” group that is unrepresentative of American Jews generally. And IfNotNow surely prompted AJC head David Harris’s lament of 3 years back that young Jews don’t celebrate Israel. “What is it that brings shame among some? What are we doing wrong in our homes? What are we doing wrong in our schools?”
On the same AJC webinar, Avi Mayer, global communications director for the AJC, pushed for a centrist government in Israel to make his job easier. He was asked by Zev Hurwitz of AJC how a “Jewish advocate” could defend Israel over its 2018 Jewish nation state law, which says Jews have greater rights than Palestinians. Hurwitz said the law is a “very easy point for Israel haters on campus to start picking apart.”
There are “many… objectionable” policies in Israel, Mayer allowed, but that doesn’t mean he and other advocates aren’t proud to be connected to the country. And the high likelihood now of a “unity government” that joins Netanyahu and his top Jewish rival, Benny Gantz, will make Mayer’s job easier.
I think the fact that we are now hopefully going to see a unity government that will have elements that are perhaps more moderate in the perception of many American Jews than many of the current members of the government may be helpful in that regard. The fact that we will see policies enacted hopefully that will drive the country towards peace and towards greater equality I think will be helpful in that regard.
Mayer said that his aim as an advocate is to show that the Israel/Palestine conflict is “very complicated” and there is “legitimate pain on both sides” and “legitimate blame.” That understanding is best conveyed by bringing people to the country (on propaganda trips like this) and in getting American Jews to see the “complexity.”
While Laura Shaw Frank said that Israel is a “victim” of leftwing discussions on campus that “willynilly” apply a false choice between oppressor and oppressed, colonizer and indigenous. Israel is too complex for such a simplistic understanding.
[T]his situation, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is a very complicated one and it doesn’t fit neatly into the binaries that many students on campus like to use to understand their world. There is a binary of oppressor and oppressed. There is a binary of colonial occupier and indigenous occupied. Powerful/powerless. Wealthy/poor.
And those are the kind of binaries that student activists often try to apply willy nilly to every conflict in the world. And unfortunately we are maybe– maybe I shouldn’t say this, I’m not knowledgeable enough to say that Israel is kind of the biggest victim of this silly binary structure that everything has to be shoved into, but I will say that we are a major one.
The problem is a lack of education and a lack of understanding. It is such a complicated situation that it doesn’t lend itself to pithy slogans, it doesn’t lend itself to speeches at student council meetings that are talking about divestment, it doesn’t lend itself to signs, it doesn’t lend itself to writing to chalk on the sidewalk when you’re walking around campus, etc. It’s much more complicated than that…
Not to say that Israel doesn’t makes mistakes. Israel does make mistakes and Israel does things that we all might find– maybe not all, but many of us might find reprehensible in certain situations. But it doesn’t fit into this binary and to understand why it doesn’t fit into this binary I think is really important.
Frank said the only way to combat the left on campus is to try to have private dialogues with the other side and let critics of Israel see Israel supporters as human beings. “Can we sit around with a pizza? Let’s just talk together. I’ve seen that work on many campuses.” Such meetings allow “barriers and anger to fall down a little bit. Away from media.” That way people understand that “There aren’t two sides, there are many, many sides…. There is one true thing, and that is that war is hell for both sides, and that there are human beings on both sides.”
Advocates for Palestine often criticize such dialogue groups as normalizing human rights abuses; Israel advocates get to expiate their backing of Israel’s atrocities without having to take a stand against them.