Today, I went to my first Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly, full of hope and wonder. My first panel was pretty much what I expected. It was on crowdfunding and crowdsourcing, and I was introduced to the concepts of mindsharing and dreamsharing during a talk by Lior Zoref, who had given the first crowdsourced TED talk. After the crowdsourcing panel is when things started getting dicey. As an important media personality, I wanted advice on how to use my reach to sway public opinion on Israel. I mean, they say that five people all working together can really make a difference. So, I attended the panel on “How to Effectively Speak out for Israel in a Changing World”. The opening speaker, Mark Mellman, from the polling firm The Mellman Group, began with a summary of everybody who likes Israel. Americans, generally speaking, like Israel. Conservatives like Israel. The religious like Israel. You know who doesn’t like Israel? Europeans and hardcore Progressives.
Now, at this point, I was feeling pretty good about Israel’s public relations future. I mean, if everybody likes Israel except the people we already KNOW hate Israel, then why not call it a day and go home? Sadly, that was not to be. The next 45 minutes was spent focusing on how to get Progressives to like Israel, or at least not to hate it quite so much. We learned that Progressives don’t like to hear certain phrases, like when we talk about Arab villages and roads, versus Jewish ones. So I will make sure not to tell them about the sign that forbids me, as a Jew, to go into Jericho because it is an Arab city, or how I might sometimes be kicked off of the Temple Mount by the Jewish Police at the behest of the Arab administrators.
Progressives don’t like militant language, so I will refrain from telling the story of how I was running late for my bus one day, and by the time I got to the bus station, we had learned that the bus I had wanted to take had been attacked by a bulldozer. It was covered that we need to stop speaking in one sided terms. Okay, I’ll bite: I am sorry that you can’t come into my country without authorization because so many of your people have tried to kill Israeli citizens. And you are sorry that Israel exists.
We must also be sensitive to suffering. We need to feel compassion for those left to live in refugee camps because they were not taken in by the other Arab nations over the course of more than 45 years, even though this is hard to relate to, since when Jews were expelled from those same countries, Israel took them in immediately. Maybe we could practice feeling compassionate by pondering the fate of the people of Sderot, who live in land that is not even contested, but who have to be prepared to run to a bomb shelter within 20 seconds because Hamas and other radical groups within Gaza keep shooting rockets at them.
Finally, we need to admit that the situation is complex. For example, Israel is one small country in the midst of several neighboring states which either have an antipathy for us under the surface, or open hostility towards us which they refer to continuously, but we are still considered the bad guys for performing entrance inspections at crossings that are tamer than anything I was subjected to when the Canadian Customs authorities thought I might be smuggling groceries across the US-Canada border.
After Mark Mellman, the mic was turned over to Einat Wilf, a former MK for Israel’s Labor Party. Einat began her speech by saying that Progressives like her were a dying breed. My heart sank. And I slowly realized that the assumption was that the people attending this session, and perhaps, for all I knew, the entire conference, were liberal. And probably militantly (except you can’t actually use the term militant, of course, even when they’re throwing mace or rocks or capitalist pelts) so. The speeches by Ari Shavit and Arthur Koll, from Haaretz and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, respectively, cemented this opinion.
I decided to follow up during the Q & A period. I rarely pull the “Black” card (just kidding, I use it all the time) but I figured that, as a Black woman, if I raised my hand I would probably get called on, and I was right. I asked what advice the panel had for people who did not identify as Progressive, and Dr. Wilf said that, “We were asked to gear our comments to Progressives.” Really… I wonder who made THAT decision. Nice going, JFNA! To her credit, Dr. Wilf did say in her answer to me that this fight is multifaceted, and that there was a place for me, as a Conservative (although I am now adopting the term “Proactive”, because I feel that CONservative just starts everything off on a negative foot) living in the Shomron, as there was for a tattooed and pierce teenager living in Jaffo. She gave me her card, and asked me to be in touch. I hope she means it. I want to be part of this fight. I’ve been told I’ve got a mean right hook.