It was a breathtaking moment. I asked a group of highly successful Orthodox adults to raise their hand if they heard of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees from Israel’s War of Independence. Nearly everyone in the group raised his or her hand. I then asked how many knew of the nearly one million Sephardic/Eidot HaMizrah Jews forced to leave their homes located in Arab countries in the wake of the creation of the Jewish state. Hardly anyone raised their hand. Here was clear evidence of the success of the anti-Israel propaganda machine on the one hand, and on the other hand the sore need for even the most committed Religious Zionist Jews to learn our own narrative.
The imperative to become conversant with the pro-Israel narrative was clarified this past Shabbat when respected member of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck, Alain Amar excitedly told me of the stirring talk Wall Street Journal Editor Bret Stephens had delivered to a packed audience at Congregation Rinat Yisrael the prior week. This respected and well-known figure spoke of the rising power of radical Islam and other anti-Israel forces such as the BDS movement. These groups, Stephens reported, are growing in strength and are poised to become the dominant force in Europe within a relatively short time frame.
What can be done to ensure that the same scenario does not repeat itself in this country, God forbid? We take our cue from none other than Yaakov Avinu. Yaakov Avinu took three steps to prepare his family for the onslaught of Esav and his 400-man army, Rashi notes. His three-point action plan consisted of diplomacy, tefillah and preparation to wage war.
We are succeeding in implementing two of the three strategies. Each of us certainly regularly petitions HaKadosh Baruch Hu to help us in our struggle against those who wish to destroy us. Israel has, with Hashem’s help, built a most formidable fighting force and we are exceedingly proud of the members of our community who serve in Tzahal. It is in the area of diplomacy where we need to up our game.
AIPAC and NORPAC are effective advocates for strengthening the American-Israeli alliance. Do each of us participate in either the AIPAC policy conference or the annual NORPAC mission to Washington? As one who has joined every NORPAC mission to Washington since 1998, I have seen participation rise from a few dozen people to more than a thousand. Let’s increase that number in the coming years to 2,000 attendees who meet with nearly all of Congress to ensure bipartisan support for the Jewish state.
BDS and media hostile to Israel are beginning to impact Americans, especially the younger generation of millennials. Diplomatic outreach is needed not only to government members but also to the American public to stem the rising tide of the anti-Israel onslaught that has, tragically, taken root in Europe and threatens to overwhelm this country as well. Knowledge of the pro-Israel narrative is the armament and weapon of choice in our diplomatic war on behalf of Israel. For beginners, the attractive pamphlet “Answering the Tough Questions about Israel” (available at http://www.standwithus.com/booklets/25Answers/) is a must-read to empower us to present the case for Israel to a liberal and secular population, and not only religious and conservative groups. Alan Dershowitz’ “The Case for Israel” is another good read to build our knowledge to the next level. Further enriching our knowledge are quality books such as “Palestine Betrayed” by Efraim Karsh who brilliantly documents how Zionist leaders eagerly pursued peace with its Arab neighbors and were well-received by the mainstream Palestinian populace but were undermined by Palestinian leaders such as Haj Amin Al-Husseini who acted against Arab interests and stymied peace efforts at every turn and opportunity. Benny Morris’ “1948” explains the overall justice of Israeli conduct during the 1948 war, Michael Oren’s “Six Days of War” explains why Israel fired the first shot in the Six Day War and Dennis Ross’ “The Missing Peace” squarely places the blame for the failed Camp David peace talks on the shoulders of Yassir Arafat. Finally, if one wishes to become personally acquainted with some Jewish refugees from Arab lands, visit Shaarei Orah where three of its members were compelled to leave their homes in Egypt in the wake of Israel’s birth.
Our three-pronged strategy to counter our foes will inevitably lead to success following the pattern set by our ancestor Yaakov. Our efforts from below, borrowing from the language of the Zohar, will generate an awakening from above to rise above our current challenge. Ours is the responsibility to act; success is in the hands of the Almighty.
By Rabbi Haim (Howard) Jachter
Rabbi Haim (Howard) Jachter is rabbi of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck.