Last month, the Community Relations Committee of Greater MetroWest NJ and the American Jewish Committee cohosted its second annual Israel Advocacy Summit. The keynote speaker was Itamar Marcus, founder and director of Palestinian Media Watch, an organization whose purpose is to monitor and analyze Palestinian media in its presentation of Israel (see “At Whippany summit, enlisting a ‘corps’ of advocates for Israel,” NJJN, Feb. 7). Needless to say, he found many ongoing negative references, and this is too bad.
The question that is unanswered is whether Marcus is engaged in this effort in order to illustrate that such a portrayal of Israel poisons the atmosphere for achieving peace, or whether the purpose is to demonstrate that it is futile for Israel to engage with a group that seeks to demonize it at every turn.
If the former, Marcus has my wholehearted endorsement. It is important to demonstrate to the Palestinians that such propaganda is self-defeating and results in Israel being less likely to make concessions that will be necessary if a peace is ever to be achieved.
In the most recent issue of Moment magazine, law professor Marshal Breger reports on a study of textbooks in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza initiated by the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, an organization consisting of religious leaders, including the chief rabbis. The study was organized by Bruce Wexler, emeritus professor of psychiatry at Yale. Breger, himself a traditional Jew, is no flaming liberal. He served as Ronald Reagan’s emissary to the Jewish community and is vice chair of the pro-Republican Jewish Policy Center. And yet he defends the study, and rebuts its critics — including the Israeli government and the Anti-Defamation League — by charging that they refuse to recognize some improvement on the part of the Palestinians, and some troubling aspects of Israeli textbooks.
The study shows that Palestinian textbooks, while still negative, are improving. Some (13 percent) show the Green Line separating Israel from the occupied territories, with 4 percent even labeling it “Israel.” An improvement, but still a long road to travel.
However, the Israeli textbooks, on the same topic of map drawing, also raise questions. In state schools, 70 percent of textbooks also omit the Green Line separating Israel from the West Bank. Textbooks used by fervently Orthodox, or haredi, schools (26 percent of Israel’s children attend haredi schools) present a much more negative picture of Arabs than the state schools.
My purpose is not to compare the Palestinian and Israeli textbooks, and thus conclude that they are equally bad. The study itself found that the Israeli textbooks, if one excludes the haredi ones, are much fairer than the Palestinian ones. Yet they too leave much room for improvement, and my concern is the effect it is having on Israeli children. Breger asks us to consider this: A 2010 survey in Israel revealed that in the 15-18 age bracket, 59 percent of the Jewish students did not believe that Arabs should have equal rights in Israel. Fifty percent did not want to sit in the same class as Arabs. Is Israel today what Mississippi was in the 1950s?
For those of us who have labored in or on behalf of Israel’s vineyards for the past 65 years, who volunteered to support Israel when it was under attack, and who had dreamed that the dream of 2,000 years would produce a state in which the ideals of the Prophets would flourish, this is very disheartening. Being both a Jewish and democratic state is not a slogan but demands internalization of certain values and norms of behavior.
These surveys call on all of us to expand our understanding of advocacy. Of course this advocacy should fight efforts to delegitimize Israel, the BDS (boycott, disinvestment, and sanctions) movement, and other forms of Arab propaganda. It should project Israel’s numerous achievements in science, art, medicine, and agriculture.
However, we should also advocate for a better Israel: one free of racism, one in which Jews of every denomination should be recognized and treated equally before the law and, in short, where everyone can “dwell without intimidation under his vine and fig tree.”