Sunday, November 27, 2011

Gordon - Re: Failures in Israel Advocacy

Evelyn Gordon
27 November '11

Matthew’s critique of Israel’s latest PR fad is spot-on: No campaign can succeed without addressing the fundamental issue of the Jews’ “right to self-determination in their homeland.” But there’s one simple thing both Israel and Jewish organizations could do to improve the situation: stop appointing official representatives who actively promote the anti-Israel case. Consider two examples: former Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gabriela Shalev, and Zoe Jick, New York regional director for the World Zionist Organization’s Department of Diaspora Activities.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in August, Shalev said Israel shared the blame for the Palestinians’ statehood application to the UN, inter alia because it put “new things on the table, like the requirement that Palestinians recognize Israel as the homeland of Jewish people, which to my mind is superfluous.” If even Israel’s former UN ambassador deems this a “new” and “superfluous” condition that contributed to stymieing peace efforts, you can’t blame the general public for thinking so. Yet Shalev is wrong on both counts.

First, far from being a “new” condition invented by the Netanyahu government, this demand originated with the Olmert government – the very one she served. As leaked memos from the Palestinian negotiating team revealed in January, Olmert’s foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, repeatedly raised the issue of Israel as a Jewish state with her Palestinian interlocutors, though to no avail: They replied that while they couldn’t stop Israel from calling itself Jewish, the Palestinians would never recognize it as such.

Moreover, far from being a superfluous issue, the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is the core of the conflict: Until Palestinians are prepared to accept a Jewish state, as opposed to an “Israel” flooded by millions of Palestinian “refugees” to create a second Palestinian state, no solution is possible. But if even its former UN ambassador refuses to admit this, how can Israel possibly convince the general public of it?

Or take Jick, who was hired for a job that “entails designing and leading Zionist education seminars” despite her “personal doubts about Israel,” as she frankly acknowledged in a Jerusalem Post column in September. But no worries: She soon concluded that Zionism “does not entail defending Israel”; one can maintain “steadfast loyalty to Zionist ideology” while being “anti-Israel.” How? By focusing on the original Zionist vision of Israel as “a utopia.”

To be fair, Jick also offers an impassioned defense of Zionism as “the belief in the Jewish national movement,” which can’t be rejected without “rejecting the history, heritage, and tradition that defines Jewish peoplehood,” and of the need to educate students “about Israel’s limitless potential and its raison d’etre” rather than rejecting “the ideology that gave us this miracle”–a state.

But if even someone who supports Zionism in the abstract isn’t willing to defend the actual Jewish state – if Jick can only tolerate the actual Israel’s existence by fantasizing about a “utopia” that no flesh-and-blood state can ever become – then how can one expect the general public, which lacks even an abstract commitment to Zionism, to tolerate the Jewish state’s existence at all?

And if neither Israel nor Jewish organizations can be bothered to find representatives willing to sell Israel’s case, how can they expect the world to buy it?

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