If you ask who is the most important person in Jewish history you’re likely to get the following answers:
- King David;
- King Solomon;
- Rashii; or maybe
- David Ben Gurion.
I submit that all of these are wrong. The most important person in Jewish history was a rabbi named Yohanan Ben Zakkai.
Ben Zakkai lived at the time of the Great Revolt against the Romans in 66-70 AD. Prior to the Holocaust, this was the greatest calamity that ever afflicted the Jewish people.
Following the sacking of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, it was Ben Zakkai who most shaped the reconstitution of the Jewish religion from one based on sacrifice and the Temple to one based on prayer and centered on the home. The ancient world was filled with people who disappeared without a trace (Phoenicians, Edomites, Philistines etc.), but 2000 years after the Great Revolt Jews are still here.
2023 brought the greatest disaster since the Holocaust. Notwithstanding the massacre of October 7, the outpouring of antisemitism that followed shocked even the most cynical of Jews. More than ever, it showed how we need a radical rethink of how Israel, and Jews, are presented to the world. Any world in which even the “Me Too” movement will find a reason not to believe Jewish women who were gang raped is a world that has lost its moral compass. Any world in which those who proclaim themselves to be “Progressives” take the side of a genocidal terrorist group that live-streamed mass murder and gang rape of civilians is one in which Israel will need to adjust its strategy to cope.
To that end, I propose we institute “Operation Ben Zakkai,” which will be a reimagining of Israel’s communication with the outside world. Like it or not, the younger generation does not respond the way its predecessors did. We can complain about how immoral this is (and it is) or we can start doing something about it.
What follows are some introductory proposals. This is a beginning and not an end, so all should feel free to comment and propose additions, subtractions or changes:
- Make full use of Israel’s “people of color.” – Most of us know that Israel is over 50% “people of color” who trace their roots not to Europe but to North Africa or the Arab countries, but few others know this. Israel also has a sizable Black population, some of whom were murdered on October 7. They should be much more in the forefront of Israel’s “hasbarah” (public relations) to the outside world. How effective would it have been to counteract Black Lives Matter Chicago Chapter’s obscene response to the October 7 slaughter to have a black Jewish Israeli soldier live on the air on Western television making Israel’s case and standing up to BLM – Chicago?
- Keep up enormous pressure on the United Nations – Each year there are numerous anti-Israel Resolutions that get passed by the UN as a matter of course. All Israeli and Jewish organizations should call out all countries, especially those who want to call themselves Israel’s friends, that vote in favor of these resolutions. While we tend to discount the immense anti-Israel bias of the UN as so much noise, it provides cover for all of those closet antisemites who take comfort in the fact that Israel is by far the most condemned country in the world and use it as justification for their views.
- Use every opportunity to demand the end of UNRWA and the placing of all issues relating to the Palestinians under the auspices of the UNHCR, as it is with everyone else in the world. Consistent with this, demand that Palestinians, like all other people, be governed by the same standard regarding what constitutes a “refugee”. To this end we should call out at any time the loaded language like calling Jubalja a “Refugee Camp” when it is no such thing. Also there is no reason conceptually that only one people, the Palestinians, has a special UN organization dedicated to them, and practically given how at best the UNRWA has just looked the other way as Hamas and other Palestinian rejectionist organizations indoctrinate their children on Jew hate and build munitions factories, tunnels and arsenals literally in UNRWA facilities.
- Make full use of those Jewish celebrities who have become active since October 7 on behalf of Israel. – Prior to the Hamas pogrom one rarely saw people like Jason Alexander or Julianna Margolies taking such an active role defending Israel. We must encourage them to continue to do so. All Jewish female celebrities (e.g. Barbara Streisand, Susan Silverman, Scarlett Johansson) should be out front blasting all the women’s organizations who suddenly went silent when it was Israeli women who weee gang raped en masse. At the next large meeting of these organizations they should be as vocal and disruptive as possible, letting the world know that we will not just sit by and let the world say that every woman or child counts, except Israeli ones. There should be maximum pressure put on people like Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Garner (to say nothing of Rose McGowan) who portray themselves as humanists yet suddenly are tongue tied when it’s Jewish women or children who have been abused. Nobody can get a pass on this.
- In any joint appearance with a Palestinian or Arab representative, demand from that person their outline for what peace would look like. – the BBC, CBC and other news outlets that always blame Israel have done a good job in excusing the October 7 mass murder and providing moral equivalence, so the Israeli/Jewish representative must demand what the Palestinian’s end game is. This needs to happen in every media appearance.
- Develop a task force to monitor and be very vocal about Tik Tok and other social media platforms who use algorithms that prioritize Israel-hate. As the younger generation spends so much time on social media and has so many of its opinions shaped by these platforms, this element is critical. The task force should be comprised of very young members who understand social media works, which has the advantage of acting as a feeder for these young people as they get older and take over larger positions in the Jewish world.
I’m sure there are many other ideas that need to be thought out and implemented. This is just a start but I submit it needs to be done.