Cantor Michael Smolash, Rabbi Marla Hornsten and Noa Tishby
Cantor Michael Smolash, Rabbi Marla Hornsten and Noa Tishby. (Alec Cohen)

Noa Tishby urged Temple Israel members and American Jews to “wake up and learn history and facts about Israel and use them to counter the way Israel is being distorted and portrayed and lied about around the world.” 

Few experiences are more disheartening for a newly minted Jewish college student or young professional than an encounter with anti-Jewish bigotry, which is spreading and becoming more vicious and prominent on campuses and in media, especially social media.

As part of a year-long effort to confront antisemitism — often masquerading as anti-Zionism or opposition to Israel or social activism on behalf of the Palestinian cause — the leadership of Temple Israel of West Bloomfield concluded the issue had become so urgent it deserved a bold response. 

An initial salvo was unleashed on May 16 at an outdoor presentation by Noa Tishby, a strident and engaging Israeli-born actor, producer, writer and passionate defender of her homeland.

Tishby, author of A Simple Guide To The Most Misunderstood Country On Earth, urged Temple Israel members and American Jews to “wake up and learn history and facts about Israel and use them to counter the way Israel is being distorted and portrayed and lied about around the world.”   

The synagogue has purchased nearly 200 of Tishby’s books for religious school and college students.

Without understanding who we are and where we came from, Tishby has written, the Jewish people have no hope of one day resolving the Middle East’s troubles. All the while, Israel’s existence and Jewish identity are being delegitimized and undermined in the court of public opinion.

Jewish college students are particularly vulnerable to anti-Zionist propaganda because many see themselves as sympathetic to causes that benefit the forgotten and mistreated. To hear from pro-Palestinian groups that Israel, a country Jewish youngsters are taught to love and revere, supposedly oppresses Palestinians is demoralizing.

Randi Sakwa, Joe Bigelman and Noa Tishby
Randi Sakwa, Joe Bigelman and Noa Tishby Alec Cohen

For the moment, she asserts, American Jews — especially the young — aren’t aware how Israel is being successfully demonized by opponents who inaccurately (not to mention, scurrilously) accuse the country of ethnic cleansing, apartheid, human rights violations, war crimes and other egregious misbehavior. Her book, she says, is an effort to awaken Jews and supporters of Israel and to inspire them to fight against hatred and lies with facts, knowledge and insight.

“Why aren’t we pointing out that Israeli Arabs enjoy all the same rights as Jews, that they have a political party which is part of the government, that two Supreme Court justices are Arabs?” she asks rhetorically. “Are we telling people that most of the Palestinians of the West Bank rule themselves, that 89% of Israel’s Arabs say they don’t want to live in a Palestinian state?”

Tishby, 44, harbors special contempt for the “Boycott, Divestment, Sanction” (BDS) movement, a global effort to penalize and cripple Israel’s business and economy toward the seemingly virtuous goal of “justice” for the Palestinian people. BDS has been promoted and approved by numerous individuals and groups in the U.S., including the Harvard Crimson newspaper and U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-13th District), who is up for re-election this fall.

“BDS represents itself only as a movement for justice,” she says. “It never talks about radical Islam, terrorism or the UN-granted right of the Jews to inhabit their land. Mentioning this would turn off the young liberal Americans the movement is trying to recruit.”

Tishby’s book, written in the popular argot of the millennial (and even younger generation) — filled with “F-bombs,” by her own description — offers a skeletal history of Zionism, including the complex politics, militarism, immigration, ethnic displacement and upheaval that reshaped the modern Middle East. 

Growing up in Israel, she had her existence shaped by the reality of war and survival, her understanding and identity derived from schooling, daily life and the first-person stories she heard from relatives. She knew very little of her country’s grotesque depiction by its detractors in Western countries.

After serving in an Israel Defense Forces entertainment troupe, she landed a role in a popular Israeli soap opera, Ramat Aviv Gimel. Moving to Los Angeles, she found her top professional achievement was executive producer of HBO’s In Treatment, a version of B’tipul, the first Israeli show to be adapted for an American audience. Life on the West Coast introduced her to what she calls “progressive” opinions about Israel and Zionism, wildly at odds with her firsthand knowledge and experience.

“I came here to work in the entertainment field. Increasingly, I found myself drawn to advocacy,” Tishby explained. 

Her book, published in 2001, plus her celebrity in the entertainment field, drew the attention of the Israeli government. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in April appointed her Israel’s first special envoy for fighting antisemitism and delegitimization. She will attend global forums representing Israel’s foreign ministry and continue engagement with Jewish communities such as Detroit’s. 

“If we, as a Jewish people, can get educated on the history of our people, the State of Israel and conflicts in the region, we can have an educated conversation with those who don’t understand,” said Joe Bigelman, president of the congregation. “We can stand up to those who try to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist. We have a chance to change the narrative with one strong voice together as a congregation and community.” 

The Miriam and Dr. Isaac Barr Israel Education Fund sponsored the event. The late Miriam (Miri) Barr survived the Holocaust, and had a lifelong passion for Israel. Dr. Barr has supported a yearlong pro-Israel educational initiative at Temple Israel in her memory.

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