Jewish college students growing up in the American Reform movement bring the movement’s passion for social justice with them to campus; for many it defines their Judaism. On campus, they naturally come into the company of other social activists, some of whom despise the very existence of the Jewish State of Israel.
It is difficult for these Jewish students to differentiate between social activists who support a Jewish state but are troubled by the “occupation,” or don’t like its current leaders, from those who want Israel to entirely disappear, partially because the more clever among the latter, mortal enemies of the Jewish state soft-pedal their agenda, claiming to object only to settlements.
It is cool to be anti-Israel on campus, especially when Israel is portrayed as an occupying, human-rights-abusing, racist, apartheid state that colonized a territory and ethnically cleansed its indigenous inhabitants. The problem is compounded by the fact that the anti-Israel far Left is disproportionately represented among college professors, who naturally command the respect of their students.
To combat these peer and mentor sources of anti-Israel propaganda, a strategy must be created that creates space and time for these kids to hear all the arguments, and to understand how their passion for social activism can be channeled in a positive pro-Israel way.
So the first thing that pro-Israel organizations need to do is to help make apparent the difference between those who have reasonable gripes about particular aspects of Israel but want to support it, and those who are determined to destroy it.
For Reform kids this should, one hopes, begin in their synagogues, when they are still in middle and high school. A healthy respect for Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state must be a foundational principle. If all they hear growing up is criticism of Israel, and their only trip to Israel is with an organization that highlights the negatives of Israel while whitewashing the misogyny, homophobia and intolerance of Palestinian society, then it is up to rabbis, parents and donors of the Reform movement to demand a change.
Social Justice promotes a society based on justice, where there is equal access to the judiciary and rule of law. It is a movement where women, minorities and those of differing sexual orientation are tolerated and do not fear. That is the very definition of Israel. The human rights groups and progressive news sources the kids read trumpet Israel’s supposed faults, and ignore those of its enemies.
My colleague Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal inspired me to ask our kids who are concerned about social justice in Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the Muslim world the following questions: Are you in favor of women’s rights? Are you in favor of freedom of the press? Are you in favor of religious tolerance? Are you in favor of gay rights? Are you in favor of freedom of speech? Are you in favor of democracy? Then you should be a supporter of Israel.
As Ambassador Dennis Ross wrote, “For now and the foreseeable future, [Israel] will remain the only country in the Middle East governed by the rule of law, separation of powers, an independent judiciary, regularly scheduled elections where the losers accept the outcome, freedom of speech and assembly, a vibrant and open media, respect for women’s rights and for gay rights, artistic freedom, active civil society groups-and an innovative, dynamic economy.”
How do we get that message to our kids in college, and how can we convince liberal Jewish movements that it is important to emphasize Israel’s accomplishments while defending Israel’s right to exist despite its warts? A positive message for Israel will only go so far. Mainstream Jewish organizations, including the Reform movement, need to take the gloves off and go on the offensive, applying the same standards for the Palestinians as for Israel. So much is made of harsh interrogations of would-be bus-bombers in Israel, but the progressive voices on campus never mention the much more egregious PA and Hamas torture of Palestinians, the honor killings of women, or the utter humiliation of homosexuals.
These should be progressive causes of social justice, instead of excusing Israel’s neighbors.
Dr. Ammar Dwaik, director-general of the Independent Commission for Human Rights, a Palestinian group, revealed that his group received 782 complaints regarding torture – 168 in the West Bank and 614 in the Gaza Strip.
According to Arab-Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, “The two Palestinian governments.... are both major violators of human rights. The PA has used international funds to build prisons and detention centers in the West Bank where torture has become the norm.”
Amnesty International’s 2015 Annual Report on the Palestinian Authority reported: Security authorities in both the West Bank and Gaza arbitrarily arrested and detained their critics and supporters of rival political organizations.
Torturing Political Prisoners: “Detainees were tortured and otherwise ill-treated with impunity” No Fair Trials: “Authorities in the West Bank held detainees for indefinite periods without charge or trial.”
Suppressing Free Speech: “Authorities restricted freedoms of expression, association and assembly in the West Bank and Gaza.... Security officials also harassed and sought to intimidate journalists and social media activists.”
Violence Against Women: “Women and girls continued to face discrimination in both law and practice, and remained inadequately protected against gender-based violence committed by male relatives, ostensibly for reasons of family ‘honor.’ At least 11 women and girls were murdered by male relatives in so-called ‘honor killings’ during the year.”
A 2013 Pew report on Palestinian views on women found 87 percent of Palestinians think women must obey their husbands.
Is this anything a modern Reform Jewish college student can support? We must help our kids to understand the hypocrisy of supporting and defending cultures that do not share our values of individual rights, women’s rights, rule of law and a genuine judiciary in the name of cultural relativism. We must make our young adults understand that the weaker party is not always the victim or in the right. We must make them understand that Israel tries to live up to a standard that conforms with their social justice values as much as any people in history has, but that it is incredibly hard when the vast majority of your neighbors want to annihilate you, preach hatred to their children and shoot missiles from schoolyards.
Israel, like any other complex real-world democracy, has real social justice issues.
But overall Israel needs to be seen by these young people as the miracle it is, something to be proud of, an experiment in developing a democratic, pluralistic, liberal, free nation in a Middle Eastern desert where nothing like that has ever taken root before.
Now it is up to pro-Israel college organizations, liberal Jewish movements, and mainstream Jewish groups, to come together and express a positive social justice message that supports the Jewish state.
The author is the director of MEPIN™ (Middle East Political and Information Network) and a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post.
MEPIN™ is a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders. He regularly briefs members of Congress on issues related to the Middle East.