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Defending Israel and Zionism - WorId Union of Jewish Students

Personal Politics in Israel Advocacy

(editor's note - Text in blue italics and links have been added or changed by the editor)

Personal Politics in Israel Advocacy

An important moral and tactical question for the Israel activist is whether he or she should always defend Israel, even on occasions when he or she may not agree with the actions of the Israeli government or military.


Jewish students are often identified as representatives of Israel. People look to Jewish students for explanations of Israel's actions, and unfortunately can exaggerate a lack of support for a specific action to mean far more than it does. When prominent Jews criticize Israel it is very damaging, and Israel needs all the support that she can get. However if a Jewish student genuinely disagrees with an action taken by the Israeli government, why should he or she have to defend it? Could a Jewish student even do a good job half-heartedly defending Israel?


Consider the real meaning of the attack

Try to consider what the intention is behind an attack on Israel. Is the attack really about a single incident or specific policy, or is it being used as an excuse to attack Israel in general. If an attack on Israel exploits a particular incident as an excuse to attack Israel then this ought to be exposed. Here, the incident is not the issue, and the real debate the person attacking Israel wants to have is the wider one.


Take the example of a pro-Palestinian activist arguing in front of a large crowd that:


"It was disgusting for Israel to destroy those houses, they are oppressing the Palestinian people and forcing them to live in awful conditions. They have no right to be there"


In this case the specific criticism is just used to introduce a wider attack on Israel. Wholeheartedly agreeing with the claim would only lend the apparent support of a Jewish student to a far-ranging attack on Israel. An Israel activist could respond by disputing the general claims: "Regardless of this incident, it is not true to say that the Palestinians as a whole are being oppressed by the Israelis. In fact, 99% of Palestinians are currently living under the Palestinian Authority and not under Israeli rule. Things will no doubt return to normal when Palestinian terrorism stops." This approach accepts the criticism of Israel, but quickly reframes the debate in a wider context.


Criticize Actions not Existence

In general the role of an Israel activist is to defend Israel (as a country) and the idea of Zionism, but not necessarily to endorse every action of the government, army or people. If a Jewish activist genuinely disagrees with some action, it is legitimate to say so, provided this is done in a way that defends and supports Israel as a country, and attempts to place the action in the context of a complex situation. This can be done by reframing comments, for example: "I understand where you are coming from, personally I also think that it was wrong of the army to destroy those houses, however you should also consider that Israelis are under a daily threat of terrorist attack and…"


 On some occasions defending certain actions is counterproductive to Israeli interests and morally wrong. For instance when the Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein massacred Palestinians at prayer in Hebron in 1994, the Israeli Government condemned the action. It is always right to immediately condemn actions of this sort.


Thankfully it is rare that situations are this clear cut. In more ambiguous situations Israel activists should find ways of accepting justified criticism, while still defending Israel as a country. When an Israel activist accepts a limited criticism of Israeli Government action, it demonstrates openness and balance, and can increase the chances of being trusted when talking about other issues.


It is important to distinguish between specific and general criticisms of Israel. Even Israel activists who don't support the approach of a specific Israeli Government should be wary of criticizing the government in general terms. Criticism leveled at ministers or the government can undermine attempts to defend Israel at a later date. People who start by making specific justifiable complaints about Israel often go on to make unfair general criticisms. Israel activists need to be careful to tread the fine line between being true to themselves and the facts as they see them, and not allowing enemies of Israel leverage to attack Israel unfairly.


There is an argument that Jews living in the Diaspora have no right to get involved in debates about Israeli policy, and ought instead to support Israel's every action. However... Jewish students, as the targets of anti-Israel attacks, are affected by Israeli policy. For these reasons, it is generally considered reasonable for Jewish students to express opposition to specific Israel policies, but, as noted above this ought to be done in a constructive manner that doesn't give ammunition to those seeking to undermine Israel's very right of existence.


Remember that you are yourself, not an Israeli official. You have an obligation to yourself to defend the truth as you understand it. The truth is our best "propaganda  weapon" and your belief in your positions is your most precious intellectual asset: integrity.


You have an obligation to make it clear that your views are not those of the Israeli government necessarily or of "Zionism" in general. On the other hand, outsiders will necessarily view you as a "representative" of Israel and "the Jews" no matter what you do. If you happen to advocate violence, you will leave the impression that all all Israelis or all Jews are violent. If you express racist opinions, outsiders will get the idea that "Zionists" are racists.


Remember that any point anyone offers as honest criticism is invariably distorted and used in the propaganda war against Israel, Zionism and the legitimate rights of the Jewish people to self-determination and self-defense. It is comical, for example,  to see the arguments of Ahad Ha'am, an ardent Zionist, voiced over a century ago, used as ammunition against Israel.



Introduction and Main Page

Antisemitism (Anti-Semitism), Anti-Zionism, and Israel

Anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism, and Israel -II

Media Bias Toward Israel

Seven Characteristics of Propaganda

Personal Politics in Israel Advocacy

Accusations and Rebuttals:

The Collapse of the Peace Process And the Road Back to Peace

Camp David 2000 - And After


The Palestinian Refugees

The Jewish Right to Israel

Israel in the Middle East


Handbook text is copyright by The World Union of Jewish Students ( http://www.wujs.org.il ). Excerpts have been adapted and are reproduced here by permission.

 Israeli personality Mehereta Baruch and American-Israeli basketball star LaVon Mercer tell us Zionism is not racism.

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More About Zionism:

Zionism and the Creation of Israel

More Commentary about Zionism

Zionism and its Impact

Zionist Quotes

Not in My Name - Don't Let Extremists Hijack Zionism

Was Israel Founded Because of the Holocaust??

The Two State Solution is the only solution for peace

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