Editor’s Note: Last week, the JN ran a story “Standing With Israel” (page 17, May 3) about a protest the group IfNotNow held at Hillel Day School on April 19. We asked two community members to share their thoughts on this relatively new group.
We believe this topic is relevant to our readers and the interests of our community; however, the views and opinions expressed on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the Detroit Jewish News.
In my line of work, I spend a lot of time debating the perspectives of various Israel organizations. Regardless of their agenda, which I may or may not agree with, for an organization to be considered pro-Israel, it must first express the right of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel.
This may seem obvious, but the recently established organization IfNotNow states that it does not take a position on whether a Jewish State in Israel should exist. In addition, IfNotNow refuses to denounce Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), a movement that aims to destroy the Jewish state through economic strangulation.
During my last visit to New York, I had the chance to observe one of IfNotNow’s demonstrations firsthand. Participants held signs that read, “BDS is not the problem; the occupation is!” and “Israel is an apartheid state.” They were demanding that American Jewish organizations and the American government end their support of Israel.
I was approached by one of the demonstrators who tried to hand me a sign to hold against Israeli aggression. He wore a kippah and a shirt that said, “Occupy Wall Street, not Palestine.” I asked him if he realized that the Occupy Wall Street movement aligns itself with the BDS movement against Israel, and he replied that he was a proud BDS supporter as well. Moreover, when I asked him about Jewish statehood, he maintained that many of IfNotNow members believe that by definition, a Jewish state is a racist concept and that one state comprised of Palestinians, Jews and other residents should be formed in its stead.
IfNotNow claims that Israel is violating Palestinians’ human rights, calling Israel’s behavior a “moral disaster” that should be taught in every Jewish school, camp and youth movement. But, as is the case with all anti-Israel organizations, it’s only one-sided. If IfNotNow actually cared about human rights and exposing the truth, why haven’t they openly opposed the fact that Palestinian children in government-funded schools are taught to kill Jews? Palestinians decorate their classrooms with pictures of terrorists and the Palestinian government actually pays lifetime salaries to the families of Jewish murderers? Yet, on these crimes, IfNotNow remains silent.
IfNotNow presents a greater problem within American Jewry. Young American Jews are increasingly enticed to turn away from Israel. A study by the Brand Israel Group showed that support for Israel among Jewish college students in the U.S. had dropped 32 percent between 2010 and 2016. The problem lies in the fact that most young Jews are only learning about Israel in depth for the first time when they arrive on their university campus — a notoriously hostile environment for the Jewish state. Students need to come into college educated on Israel advocacy and ready to defend the existence of the Jewish state. It’s the entire Jewish community’s responsibility to educate our children on the importance of the Jewish nation and its ties to the land of Israel.
To meet this need, ZOA-MI created an Israel Advocacy Workshop and Israel travel scholarship for high schoolers to give them tools to defend Israel on college campuses and to be proud of their Jewish homeland and heritage. Our hope is that more programs like this will be established in communities around the country.
Travel to Israel is one of the key components to connecting young adults to the Jewish state and to their Judaism. Research suggests that young Jews who participate in trips to Israel like Birthright, ZOA or Teen Mission sponsored trips are more connected to their Judaism, their Jewish community and to Israel.
Kobi Erez is the executive director for the Zionist Organization of America – Michigan Region.