Steve Freedman

Conundrum With Israel

Santa Barbara ADL Photo

The truth about what has led to the endless cycle of violence in Israel, including this current conflict, falls deeper and deeper behind a dark cloud of distortion, misinformation, and collective amnesia with each passing year.  Our conundrum with Israel is that as history is overrun by revisionism, politics, and hate – exponentially spread and deepened by social media – Israel finds itself more and more isolated in the world, and undeniably, so do Jews.

In our digital age, anyone with a smartphone can say anything, true or not, and people increasingly simply glance at scrolling headlines, or sensational stories, and accept them as fact.  This superficial consumption of misinformation has enabled Israel’s enemies and detractors to literally change the narrative; we see it every day, and it is more dangerous than ever.  No one wants to do the hard work to find the truth and the complexity of the reality that comes with it.

The truth is rarely simple or comfortable, including for Jews. I understand that emotions run deep on both sides and objectivity can be lost, but the truth must never perish. It is beyond distressing to observe much of the media selectively reporting on what is happening in Israel, or choose to blatantly cherry pick the narrative that fits their well-established biases, especially when Jews and innocent Palestinians are being killed.  It is true the optics for Israel are bad.  On the face of it, the average person can conclude that this mighty army is disproportionately bombing and killing helpless and often hopeless people. This accepted narrative completely overlooks the terror innocent Israeli civilians face as thousands of rockets are launched into civilian areas, indiscriminately. This narrative completely overlooks the stated goal of Hamas to “kill as many Jews as possible and to destroy Israel”. This narrative overlooks that it is Hamas that chose to build a terror network and arm itself for the purpose of terrorizing and destroying Israel at the expense of its own people. It is Hamas that victimizes its own people and chose not to build an infrastructure to create a functioning society.  All this is overlooked in the narrative that the uniformed public consumes. Of course none of this diminishes the suffering the Palestinians in Gaza are enduring.

The purpose of this blog, however, is not to rehash the history or all of the biases perpetrated in the media and on social media every single day. Nor is it to bash the Palestinians, as if they have no legitimate claims – they do. I am not here to defend Israel blindly, as if the Jewish State bears no responsibility – it certainly does.

But as a Head of a Jewish day school, I am increasingly concerned that fewer and fewer people, and alarmingly,  Jews themselves are informed about the long history that led to the legitimate establishment of the State of Israel and the years since.  Without knowledge, we are ill-prepared to defend Israel on and offline, and more and more American Jews are drifting further away from an Israel they do not understand. Especially concerning are the young people who are left to believe that Israel is an oppressive occupier, and that the occupation is the root cause of the conflict as portrayed in the media. This is factually not true. As educators, we bear a responsibility for this and must do better!

As Jewish adults, parents, and educators, we have an obligation to learn our history, in all its messiness, and then teach our children. We need to tell the truth, including when it exposes Israel’s short-comings.  Ultimately, it is much easier to support Israel when Israel is presented truthfully. Adolescents, especially, are tuned in to what they perceive as propaganda and “brainwashing,” and that turns off so many young Jews to Israel.

We must champion truth and accuracy. As informed Jews, we should be able to answer questions such as, but not limited, to these, with facts:

  • What are the origins and history of the establishment of the modern state of Israel?
  • What are the origins of the terms Palestine and Palestinian People?
  • What were the Oslo Accords?
  • When did Fatah and Hamas recognize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish State and become a true partner in peace? (Trick question)
  • In 2000 what did Ehud Barak offer the Palestinians in exchange for peace? What happened?
  • In 2005 why did Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdraw completely from the Gaza Strip?
  • How have Israel’s settlement policies impacted the peace process?
  • When Israel captured the Temple Mount what decision did Moshe Dayan make concerning control of the Mount and who could pray there?
  • When Israel recaptured the Old City, in what condition did they find the Jewish Quarter? When Israelis took control of all of the holy sites what rights were granted to all religious groups?
  • What happened on the Temple Mount last week? Were the Palestinians who were there for the end of Ramadan really unarmed and with no intention to incite Israeli security? What role did Hamas have in inciting the violence on the Temple Mount? Did that or the housing dispute in East Jerusalem really prompt Hamas to reign missiles on Israel, or was this also part of a larger strategy, involving Iran, to better analyze the capability of the Iron Dome?

We need to be educated, and use our voices in the pursuit of truth. We cannot be silent, and we cannot turn away. Israel needs us, and Jews ultimately need a strong, free and safe Israel! We should not be so naïve to think Jews no longer need a country, for – as goes Israel, so too go the Jewish people. Seventeen hundred years have taught us that. The virulent remarks and assessments about the war are not aimed narrowly at the Israeli government or “Israelis,” it is against the Jews – the Jewish people.  We as Jews are inextricably linked to the land and the country. And, once again, we have recently seen violence against Jews and Jewish property in Europe and elsewhere as a result of the current conflict.

While we cannot influence the Israeli government itself, or vote for change, if that is what we believe, we can use our voices and our social media to counter the one-sided, hateful narrative that places all blame squarely on Israel. We can provide fact based information that presents a clearer, more objective, history of Israel and the conflict. We can share when Jews are being mistreated, but also be courageous and include the criticisms of Israel and its responsibility in the continued conflict. You can love an imperfect country, the land, and our people at the same time.

I encourage you to have conversations with your (older) children, and help them to understand the conflict and the current crisis. We are doing this at school as well. We must all do our part to recapture the narrative that is framed in truth.

“הָגֵן עָלֶיהָ בְּאֶבְרַת חַסְדֶּךָ, וּפְרֹשׂ עָלֶיהָ סֻכַּת שְׁלוֹמֶךָ”

“May Israel be shielded from harm and established as a place of peace.” – Prayer for the State of Israel

About the Author
Steve is Head of School at a Jewish day school and has served as a Head of School for over 21 years. He also served as a Congregational Education Director. Steve has taught and mentored new educational leaders, has led sessions on leadership and change at Jewish Educational Conferences, and at Independent School Conferences.
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