In yesterday’s America, we all talked about tomorrow’s Israel. It was “Israel beyond the conflict,” or “nation branding.” It was solar, cyber, biotech, and high-tech. In today’s America, with a resurgent boycott movement, that’s not enough.
In today’s “post-fact” America the answer isn’t more facts, better talking points, or longer position papers.
In an America where 87% of Republicans and 59% of Democrats comprise Israel’s base of support, the bulwark of bipartisanship now seems to show a few severe cracks. Something seems to be slipping in the standard paradigm of pro-Israel advocacy.
Those of us who care about Israel’s security and its alliance with the United States should consider a new voice to relate to tomorrow’s America. Perhaps that voice has an accent and may not speak perfect English. But it is ardent, authentic, and rises above partisanship.
What’s missing? The Israeli-American.
Having served for nearly a decade as the political officer to three exceptional Israeli diplomats, I gained insight and perspective on how Israelis in America view power, politics, and public policy. Working shoulder to shoulder with those diplomats helped me in my efforts with a new kind of ambassador for Israel.
It was when I began advocating on behalf of Israeli-American communities in Sacramento, Carson City, and Boston, I realized that Israeli-Americans had the most compelling narrative. Their story, combined with the guidance I had given to Israeli diplomats, enabled these new Israeli-American ambassadors to connect powerfully with both Republicans and Democrats in a way I had never seen before. Here’s why:
Israeli-Americans are Immigrants: Israelis immigrating to America share a common immigrant experience with their neighbors from Latin America, Asia, or elsewhere. There are language barriers, a new American culture, a complicated political system, and a new form of government to which they must understand and adapt. Parents watch their children struggle to speak Spanish, Hebrew, or Tagalog at home. And, with each passing generation, the family’s connection to their heritage begins to fade.
And, like any other immigrant community facing these challenges while building a new life in the United States, Israeli-Americans deserve the right to connect with their heritage, their culture, and their homeland free from discrimination and harassment.
The Israeli-American Voice Matters: While visiting a state capitol and participating in a legislative committee hearing, I saw firsthand the power of the Israeli-American story, as the daughter of a first-generation Israeli immigrant testified, “if you choose to boycott Israel, you choose to boycott me.” Likewise, it was the look on the face of a Democratic Jewish American state legislator who hadn’t realized that Israeli-Americans comprised a high percentage of her constituency. As she listened to their experiences, she began to understand that the boycott Israel movement incited hate and discrimination against her own constituents.
Inequality & A More Perfect Union: Every Israeli-American I meet who experiences advocacy for the first time asks, “we’re a small community without a lot of money, what impact can we possibly have?” I always explain that the United States is governed of the people, by the people, and for the people, that we seek to be a more perfect union, and that inequality of the few is inequality for us all.
While I try to teach Israelis living in America that these are more than just slogans, nothing beats experiencing the democratic process first-hand when they meet with their elected leaders, testify in committee, or stand next to a governor signing a bill they actively supported.
Being an immigrant of Israeli descent is an identity with immutable characteristics deserving of the same civil rights protections in America afforded to every other immigrant community. While organizations like MATI, the Tzofim Israeli Scouts, and the Israeli American Council have been instrumental in bringing the Israeli-American identity into the mainstream through cultural and social programs, a new effort is needed to advocate on behalf of this community.
When fighting for equal treatment on University campuses, educating politicians about Israel, or pushing back against an anti-Israel narrative in the media, Israeli-Americans have unique standing, authority, and authenticity unmatched by any other constituency in the pro-Israel movement.
Whether it’s a blue wave or a red tide, a political tsunami is coming this November, and the pro-Israel agenda could face unprecedented challenges. If we hope for tomorrow’s America to maintain a healthy and meaningful relationship with Israel, then the Israeli-American immigrant community is the strategic asset needed to secure that future.
Let’s commit to ensuring that the Israeli-American community is engaged, mobilized, and ready to advocate for a better America, a more secure Israel, and a stronger U.S. – Israel alliance.