Israel can win the battle of ideas. And it can do so despite media bias and double standards. The only thing that can undermine Israel’s winning argument is a media that utterly detaches itself from reality.
Unfortunately, we see such detachment more and more. In October 2015, for example, the Los Angeles Times ran the following headline “6 Palestinian Teens Die Amid Mideast Unrest.” This headline ignored a series of critical facts, including that two of the dead were killed in the act of stabbing innocent Israelis.
The Los Angeles Times also exhibits its detachment from reality when it comes to events much closer to home. On August 21, the newspaper published a story by Teresa Watanabe highlighting a controversial campaign conducted on a number of California campuses. Someone had put up posters calling out BDS activists by name and accusing them of “Jew hatred.”
Anyone who read the article’s headline and lead would have concluded that the Maccabee Task Force (MTF) and its chairman, Sheldon Adelson, had conducted this campaign. Only those who bothered reading further would have learned that another organization, the David Horowitz Freedom Center, was actually behind this effort.
The Maccabee Task Force had zero connection to this poster campaign. We did not request it. We did not authorize it. We didn’t even like it. And the David Horowitz Freedom Center has since confirmed that our funds were not used to pay for it. Yet in the Los Angeles Times’ alternate reality, this was a Maccabee project through and through.
My best guess is that Watanabe got excited when she learned that the MTF had given a modest grant to the David Horowitz Freedom Center. She thought she had a smoking gun with which to tarnish a pro-Israel organization and its high-profile backer. But a grant to the Horowitz Center doesn’t mean that the MTF funds or even approves of all that they do.
But this error wasn’t even the article’s most glaring flaw. In describing the general atmosphere on campus, Watanabe once again slipped the bonds of reality. She created the distinct impression that pro-Israel groups are the aggressors and that anti-Israel groups are the innocent victims of that aggression.
The fact is that America’s college campuses are becoming increasingly hostile places for Jewish students in general and those who support Israel in particular. Anti-Israel activists disrupt pro-Israel events, shout down pro-Israel speakers, and chase away the students who came to listen. They pound their fists on the windows of the rooms in which these events take place while shouting hate filled epithets. Candidates for student government are asked about their Jewishness as if it is some sort of criminal offense.
A 2016 study by the AMCHA Initiative found that acts of anti-Semitism on America’s college campuses increased 45 percent during the first half of 2016. AMCHA also found a direct connection between this increased anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activism. According to the study, schools with a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) or similar anti-Israel organizations were seven times more likely to experience incidents where Jewish students were targeted for harm.
The correlation makes perfect sense. As the Department of State has recognized, the demonization and delegitimization of Israel are forms of anti-Semitism. And SJP and other anti-Israel groups constantly cross the line from the legitimate criticism of Israel into such delegitimization and demonization. Should any of us be surprised when anti-Semitic speech generates anti-Semitic actions?
Yet in this day of safe spaces and trigger warnings, the anti-Semitic speech continues unabated and often unchallenged. And a reporter for the Los Angeles Times can write an entire article about SJP members without even mentioning it.
We in the pro-Israel camp must take the high road. We must never allow ourselves to sink to the level of those who attack Israel. They can shout. They can disrupt. They can seek to intimidate. And they can engage in ad hominem attacks. We have to do better. Ultimately, we must exemplify Israel’s virtues as we make Israel’s case. Let’s leave it to Israel’s detractors to manifest the vices of Israel’s enemies.
As we make the case for Israel, we know that the media won’t be friendly or even fair. But we can and must demand certain minimum standards. This includes telling the truth about Israel and the organizations that support her here in the U.S. And this includes telling the truth about the anti-Israel groups on campus and the rising campus anti-Semitism to which they are connected.
David Brog is the Executive Director of the Maccabee Task Force.