The Village Voice film critic Alison Benedikt recently wrote a particularly galling essay about her disillusionment with Israel. It launched a raft of refutations, including two columns in this newspaper (see “A foot in both camps” by Andrew Silow-Carroll and “When young Jews fall out of love with Zionism” by Jared Silverman). Commentators on the Right and Left denounced Benedikt and quoted one of her more prominent critics, Jeffrey Goldberg, leading me to believe that we are approaching the End of Days when the lion and the lamb may graze together.
Readers of NJJN are aware of the attempts of anti-Israel students to organize “Israel Apartheid Week” on campuses across North America. Recently we read that no less a personage that Natan Sharansky is speaking of a “crisis” confronting Israel on American campuses. Yet, in the same issue of NJJN, Mitchell Bard reported that only 12 out of 4,000 campuses hosted “Apartheid Week” and many of those were sparsely attended.
True, even a relatively small event can be discomfiting. Recently, NJJN reported that six pro-Palestinian groups at Rutgers University sponsored a lecture by Omar Barghouti advocating the boycott of Israel. Barghouti is a major name in Palestinian circles. A relative, serving a life sentence for murder in an Israeli prison, is frequently mentioned as a future “president” of an independent Palestinian state. Approximately 40 people attended the lecture, and that included a number of Hillel “observers.”
And yet anger over such events can obscure the bigger picture. A few months ago, Forward reported that of the 4,000 North American campuses, only 17, over five years, saw significant activity by the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movement, which petitions administrations to reduce their involvement with Israel. In every case, these efforts were rejected by either university authorities or students in campus referendums. These “significant” 17 activities included the referendum at Princeton University demanding that its eateries provide an alternative to Sabra-brand hummus. Students rejected the referendum by a 400-vote margin.
And so, why the uproar? Bard observed that we Jews “want unconditional, universal love and aspire to win the hearts and minds of every American.” He cited a CNN poll revealing that 67 percent of Americans support Israel, with most of the remainder favoring neither side. I have attended many meetings in which Israeli officials explain aspects of Israel’s foreign policy, only to be asked by a supporter: “Why can’t Israel’s hasbara (public relations, propaganda) be more effective?” The questioners simply cannot understand how a person, if presented with the relevant material, could not come to the same conclusions as those reached by supporters of Israel. They refuse to accept that on international issues there are people who view events with a different lens — or, moreover, that a positive ranking of 67 percent is the envy of most countries.
Shortly after the Six-Day War, my good friend Chaim Adler of The Hebrew University began his sabbatical at Harvard. We were living in Winthrop, Mass., at the time. On his first visit to us he expressed surprise that his American colleagues at Harvard were pleased when the United States faltered in its international dealings. I was not surprised, as it was sort of an academic game to gloat over American difficulties.
Similarly, to the hard Left, the United States is almost always wrong, while such “progressive” states as Syria or Iran rarely receive an iota of disapproval. When did anyone see criticism of Hamas or Hizbullah in The Nation or The Village Voice?
And so, when Benedikt’s husband berates her sister for having made aliya, why be surprised? He has long since determined that Israel is an illegitimate state and those who choose to live there are simply abetting the crime.
Among certain circles, the close relationship between Israel and the United States is sufficient grounds for opposing Israel. Others, who exempt Third World peoples from any wrongdoing, will always use any opportunity to censure Israel. Jews like Adam Shapiro, an organizer with the “Free Gaza Movement” and spokesperson for the ill-advised flotilla, see Israel as a barrier to their being accepted in the progressive camp.
With it all, Israel is supported by two-thirds of the American people in its dispute with the Palestinians. Considering the odds, this is no mean achievement.