Many, if not most, engaged American Jews suffer from cognitive dissonance. On the one hand they are committed to human rights and liberalism and on the other they are committed to Zionism and the State of Israel. I do not believe they can be written off as Jews trying to curry favor with BLM or other American progressive movements. This is not about court Jews trying to ingratiate themselves with the goyim (Gentiles). It is genuinely difficult for those who believe in universal values of peace, freedom, social progress, equal rights and human dignity to reconcile these values with the hyper-particularistic manner that Zionism has been applied in Israel over the last five to ten years.
Too often we find Israeli tour guides and Israel education institutions saying American Jewish millenials are stuck in the millieu of their social media bubble (which is liberal), their media outlets (which are liberal, assuming they are not watching Fox News), their college campuses (which are liberal) and their overall Jewish community (which is mainly liberal). They will say “We’re not trying to engage in hasbara (“explaining” or Israel advocacy) but rather simply trying to broaden the understanding and outlook of our students.” But, this is really just code to explain the essential legitimacy of key Israeli policies.
A proper educational approach would at least adopt the idea that the flip-side of the American Jewish millenial bubble argument also holds true for Israeli Jewish millenials who often participate in Israel programs alongside their American peers in the context of a mifgash (encounter). Their social media feeds, their media outlets (unless they read Haaretz), their college campuses (with some organizations even “outing” liberal professors) and their overall Jewish community are all (mainly) conservative. A proper educational approach would try and broaden Israeli students’ outlooks too.
All participants — whether Israeli or American, whether right- or left-wing, whether Zionist or not — should get a sense that their previously held positions regarding Israel, Zionism and government policies have been healthily challenged, in a manner that leads to further growth. Hopefully, participants will even move in both directions along an axis of liberal/conservative political thought and affiliation.
Our task as Israel educators is certainly to present a wide variety of different opinions, and to attempt to be as objective as possible in our presentation of multiple and competing narratives, without sharing our own personal take on political issues. But, a line has to be drawn. The notion that mamlachtiyut (which one might roughly but wholly inadequately translate as “country before party”) should lead Israel educators to present all views as equally legitimate is folly. To present the insane theory that a liberal-controlled deep state is conspiring to foment a coup by unseating Prime Minister Netanyahu as an equally legitimate view to the facts that the (former) Israel Police Commissioner, (former) State Prosecutor and Attorney General (all of whom were appointed by Netanyahu himself), acting as the gate-keepers of Israeli democracy, saw fit to investigate, indict and try Netanyahu for breach of trust, fraud and bribery because they had uncovered evidence to suggest he was guilty, is not objective Israel education. It is immoral education.
One can teach that a lacuna in the law does not require a prime minister charged with these crimes to resign before he has exhausted any appeal, just as one can debate the pros and cons of legislation which would (for future cases) bar the prosecution of prime ministers while they are in office (e.g. a so-called “French Law”). However, to present conspiracy theories as legitimate views is doing a disservice to our students — intellectually and morally, and in terms of supporting their very connection to Israel. Even Fox News cut off White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s press statement in which she alleged election fraud without any evidence.
It is easy to say – as many Israel educators do – that we need to distinguish the State of Israel from the Government of Israel. It is much harder (if not impossible) to do so when this government (led by a prime minister who is a criminal defendant and who has been in power for more than a decade) is, in effect, at war with the State of Israel. Only a general waging war could have delivered Netanyahu’s tirade against an imagined coup by the police, state prosecutor, “the left” and the media, inside the courthouse before his arraignment on May 24. Students who see their Israel educators as not taking a clear stance against corruption and the erosion of Israeli democracy, will come to see us as apologists for Netanyahu’s misdeeds. And this will alienate them from Israel.