Israel needs a bigger message
I’m repulsed by these anti-Israel groups on college campuses that pretend to care about oppressed people in the Middle East. They don’t. What they really care about is undermining Israel. Groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, for example, have no interest in engaging in a constructive debate about Israeli-Palestinian co-existence. What they live for is to single out Israel and crush it.
No wonder UCLA Chancellor Gene Block quickly released a statement last week opposing the vote by anti-Israel students that singled out Israel in a divestment resolution. Maybe he saw how crazy it is to go after the only democracy in the Middle East while tens of millions of poor souls throughout the region are living under brutal dictatorships.
I remember interviewing Arab-Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh a few years ago, after he finished a tour of campuses across the United States. When he asked pro-Palestinian students, “What makes you pro-Palestinian?” they had nothing good to say about Palestinians. All they could say was, “Israel is an apartheid state,” “Israel is a violent oppressor,” etc.
It’s only gotten worse. Anti-Israel groups on U.S. campuses have become so brazen that their actions have started to backfire, as we saw with Chancellor Block’s statement.
But what about the pro-Israel movement? What’s the best way to respond to the hypocrisy and bad faith of these anti-Israel groups?
Here’s a tip — not by going into the mud with them. Not by simply responding and reacting. Not by letting them frame the debate.
Defending Israel against unfair resolutions is important, but it’s not enough. What the pro-Israel movement must do is ambush the enemy with a big, positive idea — an idea that will galvanize the movement and empower all students on campus, Jewish and non-Jewish, to support Israel.
Here’s the biggest idea I can think of: “Israel can save the Middle East.”
That’s right, Israel can save the Middle East.
There’s no bigger, more important message today: The Middle East has cancer, and Israel has the cure. Over many long decades, Israel has managed to build the democratic institutions — social, economic, civil and legal — that the chaotic countries of the region desperately need. On every issue, from water to medical care to education to creating jobs, Israel can help transform the region and bring it into the new century.
Yes, of course, it’s a pipe dream to expect the Arab world to look to Israel to transform its societies. But that’s not the point. The point is to transform the debate about Israel.
Our defensive stance makes us look weak. When all we do is react, we dance to the tune of our enemies.
It’s time for the pro-Israel movement to take over the high ground. We must position Israel as what it truly is: a light unto the Middle East. An imperfect light, to be sure, but that is precisely its strength. Israel is a model of an imperfect country constantly trying to improve itself.
What other country in the Middle East can say that? What other country in the area can offer the same freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press and overall freedom to fight injustice and correct itself, as Israel does?
In short, it’s time to stop thinking small and start thinking big. While we should never stop trying to resolve our conflict with the Palestinians, we must expand our horizons and show that Israel has the know-how to help all the oppressed people of the region and transform the Middle East.
Pro-Israel groups can unite and turn this idea into a serious movement. Every sign, every demonstration, every YouTube film, every conference should revolve around this singular, meta message: “Israel can save the Middle East.” If the chutzpah behind the message drives the anti-Israel crowd nuts, so much the better. Let them dance to Israel’s tune.
Ultimately, the best way to respond to hypocritical groups like Students for Justice in Palestine is to create a bigger group called “Students for Justice in the Middle East.”
On that playing field, Israel can only win.
David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.