Selling Israel

Jonathan Tobin writes in the Jerusalem Post today about the organized Jewish world’s quest to sell Israel and how bias, especially in the Academy, has contributed to the increasing anti-Zionism amongst graduate students. His conclusion is interesting:

To say this is not to counsel inaction, or even rejection of Luntz’s proposal, if directed at the right target audience. But as we ponder these proposed media fixes we ought not to forget that America is more than the sum of its elite grad students.

There is some truth to that, but I have a few objections: First, I don’t think Israel needs to be sold. Israel is not a product or a president to be elected. It is a country, a representation of a nation, who should be granted the same legitimacy as any other nation–and criticized in the same vein as any other nation. The fact that this doesn’t happen–that Israel is somehow different–is the critical problem, because it denotes a measure of prejudice. And in these cases Israel’s right to existence should be justified and reaffirmed.
Second, I think that elite Universities are the crux of the problem. Not only does a great majority of the policy establishment come out of these institutions, but also the leadership in the journalistic and business worlds. And, not to mention, the leadership of the professorship, which will go on and teach across the country, spreading their ideas as they go. So, truly wrestling with what is causing so many people to single out Israel for delegitimization is crucial.
Third and last, Israel should be called to act in a moral manner–one that Jews can be proud of associating with. True, not all Jews will agree, ever, about anything, but that does not absolve the Jewish community from holding itself up to the standards set forth by our prophets and Sages. But this means that there needs to be a clearer understanding within the community what criticism stems from love, and what criticism stems from hate. In other words, criticism that accepts the fundamental right of the Jewish people to define themselves as a people–but calls them to task to act morally when they can–should be supported and included. But criticism that rejects the right of the Jewish collective to live under its own determination should be alienated from the community and cut off.
By re-understanding the issue, re-targeting the efforts, and re-setting the ground rules, I think Israel activism can start down the path towards what should be the ultimate goal: the end of having to be outwardly pro-Israel and the birth of just being Israel.

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