Today Israel faces a relentless assault on its legitimacy as a Jewish and democratic state. But this threat also provides an important opportunity for world Jewry to strengthen its connection with Israel – especially as we enter the upcoming High Holidays and seek to renew ourselves and our community.

In this new year, the Israel Action Network (IAN) — a project of The Jewish Federations of North America in partnership with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs — is joining with top rabbinical associations to do exactly that. The IAN, in collaboration with groups such as the JFNA Rabbinic Cabinet, The Association of Reform Zionists of America, the Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism, among others, will reach out to more than 5,000 rabbis as part of continuing efforts to educate and mobilize the Jewish community to provide materials for sermons, congregant education, and a connection for continued work toward peace for Israel and its neighbors.

The campaign to impugn Israel’s legitimacy has its roots in the Durban Conference, a 2001 UN gathering of international NGOs, in which a network within that gathering sought to paint Israel as a pariah, apartheid state deserving of political and economic isolation. The Reut Institute, an Israel-based think tank, has identified the source of this global network as the red/green alliance of radical elements of both the Middle East resistance movement, i.e. Hamas and Hezbollah, and the western European left. As part of this research, Reut concluded that “while Israel’s delegitimizers come from relatively marginal forces… their effectiveness stems from their ability to engage and mobilize others.”

An unholy alliance of radical elements. Muslims march with white supremacists in an anti-Israel protest in Calgary, Canada (photo credit: CC BY-SA thivierr, Flickr)

An unholy alliance of radical elements. Muslims march with white supremacists in an anti-Israel protest in Calgary, Canada (photo credit: CC BY-SA thivierr, Flickr)

It is their intent is to blur the lines between the legitimate criticism (that should occur within all vibrant democracies) and attacks that deny Israel’s existence and legitimacy. It is our intent that, as a people, we create a dialogue of our own, engage Jews and non-Jews alike in this pivotal issue, and advance our core message. We must:

  • Understand the aims, goals and strategies of those seeking to delegitimize Israel and why this differs from criticism of specific government policies
  • Explain why the North American Jewish community should be engaged
  • Provide case studies and best practices for effectively countering delegitimization
  • Link the challenge of delegitimization and High Holidays themes

The High Holidays and Succot are well-placed moments in our calendar to raise these topics, and they provide an opportunity to reach a greater number of potential advocates. After all, there is power in numbers and in mobilizing a stronger collective voice. In one example, the IAN recently generated a “Letter in Hope” — signed by a broad coalition of 1,500 rabbis from across all religious streams, and from all 50 states — which was sent to Methodists and Presbyterians calling on them to reject divestment resolutions in favor of initiatives that invest in peace and reconciliation.

Because of these efforts, 22,000 Jewish community members joined the rabbis and sent a similar message to church members. These resolutions in both churches were defeated. The letter’s 1,500 rabbis are now included in our High Holidays outreach as well.

This is just one example of how rabbis are among our most effective messengers. They form the core of an influential network that can provide moral leadership in both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities. They are also critical in our efforts to both counter delegitimization and organize a broad coalition that supports peace and reconciliation.

Through IAN’s work with rabbis, we can foster an informed and engaged American Jewish community that strengthens support for the democratic Jewish State of Israel, as well as deep empathy for all of those who suffer and wish for peace. This is essential to effectively counter this insidious global network. If we as a community do not stand up for Israel and justice, who will?