Faced with threats from Iran and an international campaign to paint it as an oppressor of Palestinians, Israel, says Martin Raffel, needs the American-Jewish community more than ever.
Local communities should arm themselves with facts to counter critics who try to portray Israel as “a human rights abusing country” that practices “apartheid and the colonization of Arab territories,” said Raffel, senior vice president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
He presented the talk, “What’s New in Israel and the Mid-East?,” Jan. 19 at the South River offices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County.
Raffel asked community members to emphasize that a nuclear Iran is a threat not just to Israel but “to Europe, America, and the West.”
“We have to keep that drum beat up,” said Raffel, and ensure that economic and banking sanctions imposed by the United States and the United Nations remain in place.
Raffel, an East Brunswick resident, helped lead an annual JCPA leadership mission to Israel — representing a range of Jewish groups and community relations councils — in early December. Participants met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, members of Knesset, and American diplomats.
He also serves as project director of the Israel Action Network, a joint initiative of the Jewish Federations of North America and JCPA, whose mission is to counter attacks on Israel’s legitimacy.
Raffel told those gathered for the program, sponsored by federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council and the JCC of Middlesex County, that the pro-Israel community’s support has ensured that Israel receive American weaponry critical to its defense.
“It is the efforts of people like you that make this happen,” said Raffel.
The Israel Action Network is working with federations to develop a proactive rather than reactive approach to Israel advocacy by creating ad hoc committees familiar with local institutions and issues.
The program was one of four Israel action programs the JCRC is offering this month and in February, said its Israel task force chair, Eliot Spack.
“We at federation are working grassroots,” he said, and extended an invitation to community organizations. “We will come to any organization or synagogue and work with you. It’s very important to educate students about how to handle what they may face at college, so we can come to your Hebrew high school or youth group. We will tailor it to your needs. We will even do the same program over again because we know not everybody can come to every location.”
Israel’s security continues to be threatened on a number of fronts, including from Iranian efforts to become a nuclear power and the precarious state of the “cold peace” with Egypt, said Raffel.
Additionally, the international “assault on Israel’s legitimacy” through the boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign has gained some traction, particularly on college campuses. That situation will become particularly worrisome when annual anti-Israel apartheid week activities take place at locations across the country the beginning of March.
Noting that although Israel’s future is linked to a secure peace with Egypt, the “Arab Spring” movement there has made that agreement shaky.
“Many people we met with called it the ‘Arab Winter,’” said Raffel. “What happens in the Arab world is largely beyond our control. But Israel must grapple with the Islamist forces rising in the Arab world, especially in Egypt, which is really the cornerstone of Israel’s position in the Middle East. It is of tremendous concern to Israel.”