Danny Ayalon, Israel’s former deputy foreign minister, urged local students to “know the facts” and be ready to respond to attacks on Israel on college campuses.
“Slander is everywhere, and you should respond,” said Ayalon, addressing students from the Rav Teitz Mesivta Academy and Bruriah High School for Girls, both arms of the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth, a partner agency of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. “Because people will repeat a lie 1,000 times until people start to believe it. But with your capability, you can do it. Your job is to keep our faith. We will have Jewish continuity through Jewish identity, education, and advocacy on campus, in the streets, and in the media.”
The talk, on Feb. 25 at RTMA, marked the first time JEC administrators brought the boys’ and girls’ high schools together, although only the seniors from Bruriah attended. The visit was coordinated with the Yeshiva University Honors Program in recognition of the students in both schools who were accepted into the program for next year.
Ayalon, Rennert Visiting Professor of Foreign Policy Studies at YU, is a former Knesset member and former ambassador to the United States. He also served as deputy foreign policy adviser to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and to Benjamin Netanyahu during his earlier term as prime minister.
In his talk, Ayalon suggested that the students must pick up where Israel itself left off when it comes to outreach.
“In 1993, there was a notion in Israel to stop hasbara,” or public outreach, he said. “They did not realize that Palestinians would continue. All we have spoken about for the last 20 years is Israel’s right to self-defense. We need to go back to a basic message: The Jewish people belong to the Jewish land, and the land belongs to the Jewish people. Full stop. Any debate should start with this assumption. And anyone who objects is not a partner for dialogue.”
The core of his talk focused on his belief that the State of Israel is a bulwark between the Jewish people and the persecution they endured in the millennia before its rebirth.
“The last pogrom took place in 1946 in Poland. Do you know why that was the last one? Because two years later, the State of Israel was reborn,” he said. “It was reborn as an independent country that can defend itself. Everyone knows there is accountability now. Israel will not sit idly by and let things happen to people. Since 1948, there have been no pogroms.”
He also asserted that Israel is the one thing that binds all Jews together.
“All Jews, whether they live in Israel or not, should feel responsible for the State of Israel. Israel belongs to all of us,” he said.
But that does not mean they all have the same responsibilities.
“The responsibility of Diaspora Jews is advocacy and to help Israel on the political front,” he said. “Radical Islam and radical Arabs know they can’t win if they attack Israel. They tried boycotts for years but they did not succeed. We jumped over them and began to compete in international markets and the high-tech sector. They realize they couldn’t take us on the economic or military front. So they changed again to the political arena. The political arena is just as dangerous as the economic or military.”
In that arena, he said, Israel’s enemies are trying “to turn us into a pariah state and drive a wedge between Israel and her allies.”
Asked by a student to address the current relationship between Netanyahu and President Obama, said to be at a low point following Netanyahu’s address to Congress this week, Ayalon deflected the question.
“What we need to do is change public opinion in the United States. I’m not concerned about the relationship,” he said. “The relationship is stronger than any individual in the White House or any prime minister. Although they do not have the best relationship, security cooperation and defense cooperation continue.”
Brian Berko, an RTMA student from Manalapan headed to the YU honors program, said he was excited to hear from a former member of Knesset but added, “He scared me about college campuses. But I’m going to YU so I guess that won’t be my problem.”