Yom Ha’atzmaut – a time for supporters of Israel to congregate and celebrate the achievement is the state of Israel. One can be from right or left, religious or secular, black or white but we can all find something to rejoice in when we look at the continued existence of the Jewish state. At least that’s what I thought.
In my university’s synagogue, and indeed in several places in the UK, things are going to be a little different. An organisation called Yachad is organising Israel Independence day events in which the theme is, of course, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It hardly needs to be said how inappropriate this is. After 66 years of a state, we are reducing Israel’s existence to a conflict with Palestinians.
This is a hi-jacking: Yom Ha’atzmaut was never about saying Israel is perfect. We all have things we’d improve about Israel – from government corruption to pointless bureaucracy, from social divisions to bad driving. That said, I’ve never been to an Israel independence party in which the theme was remedying political misdemeanours of Israelis. This may soon change.
Yachad will be bringing Breaking the Silence, an organisation who’s stated purpose is to denounce the IDF for war crimes, and who are widely viewed as having a fairly clear political agenda on top of that. Breaking the Silence is funded in large part by EU countries, so perhaps it’s only appropriate that they defame Israel abroad as well as at home. Of course, it is doubtful that any funding would be forthcoming should BtS stop telling stories, a fact which in the eyes of some would make their whole operation suspect.
For Yachad, the British organisation which models itself on J-street, this is nothing new. While they ape J-Street’s endless refrain that they are both “pro-Israel and pro-peace”, they have reached out to such unabashed bastions of the BDS and delegitimisation campaigns as Ben White. It has confounded Yachad’s detractors, who do not know how to respond to an organisation that is self-avowedly pro-Israel. Yet as Alan Dershowitz excellently posited, the J-Street (and by extension Yachad) claim to be pro-Israel has as much legitimacy as the Jews for Jesus claim to be a Jewish organisation. Perhaps less, as the halachically Jewish status of converts to Christianity is not in doubt – I can’t see Zionism functioning along similarly matrilineal lines.
Let’s stop pretending. If Yachad withheld its name from the events it ran, it would be assumed that they were events of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Americans for Peace Now or any other of myriad apologists for terror and demonisers of the State of Israel. Hosting Avner Gvaryahu, the man who denounced Israel for war crimes to the UN, is not a way of marking Yom Ha’atzmaut. Perhaps Nakba day would be a more appropriate occasion.
With this in mind, it is hard to see how Yachad have gained any traction at all, and yet it is clear that they have. On university campuses, Zionists fight an increasingly isolated battle to get their views heard, and more and more it is Jews who are their primary opponents. ‘Israel-fatigued’ Jewish students don’t want to deal with the fact that Israel can be central to the religious identities of others. Yachad provide a tempting out – to be the “good Jew” while still remaining part of the mainstream community. But the double standard is horrifying – Cambridge Jewish Society wouldn’t denounce Israel Apartheid Week but it will provide the space, in the synagogue of all places, and the publicity for not only the slander of the State of Israel – after all, this could be portrayed as an acceptable discussion – but for it to take place on Yom Ha’atzmaut!
Yachad, J-Street and Breaking the Silence are not educating about the complex realities that shape policy and action in the West Bank – these are apparently not relevant in a discussion about IDF policy and actions in the West Bank. Complexity is not interesting, and it does not garner funding from those who wish to exert political pressure on Israel to achieve political goals.
The debate about Israel’s presence in the West Bank – the debate that is the real object of these organisations – is a legitimate one. It is one that is had constantly and vociferously both within Israel and the diaspora, and it is had both in and outside of these NGOs. What sets these groups apart is that when the whole community unites to celebrate Israel, however flawed it may be, they’re the ones who can’t bring themselves to join in.