President Obama wants to…

a) Do his job
b) Eat a cookie
c) Give you a hug
d) Ignore the truth, forget history, and destroy Jerusalem

(the answer is D…)

At least it is, according to B’nai Brith Canada (yes… Canada), who has taken the time to inform us that President Obama (whose President? Oh right… a different country’s) has “plans to divide the Jewish capital of Israel.”

Here we go again with B’nai Brith. They always seem to pop up at the most interesting times to add an element of confusion to whatever is going on.

Just in time for Tisha b’Av, this ominous email, titled “President Obama wants to…” arrived in my inbox yesterday morning:

In response to U.S. President Obama’s plans to divide the Jewish capital of Israel, B’nai Brith Canada launched a national ad campaign that reveals the truth about Jerusalem.

B’nai Brith Canada, a self-funded advocacy organization, requires your help in the fight for truth.

Written in the tone of a conspiracy theorist, the email suggests that there are secret machinations afoot to subvert the so-called “truths about Jerusalem,” in an attempt to cut off Jews from the city. You can see the full advertisement here. I’m not even sure where to start on this one, so how about the following simple points:

1. Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has proposed the notion that there are neighbourhoods in Jerusalem that will not be part of Israel as part of a final border agreement. Most Israelis accept this, and talk about it openly as if it is just a matter of time until the details are ironed out. So why is B’nai Brith making it look like this is an evil, liberal American agenda? The conservative government of Israel is on the same page…

2. Why is a self-proclaimed Canadian “Jewish human rights organization” running a national campaign in Canada to oppose the American president’s viewpoint which happens to be relatively in line with the Israeli government’s viewpoint? I’m having trouble connecting the dots here…

3. Take a look at the full ad. B’nai Brith has framed this all within the context of Tisha b’Av, as if to suggest that President Obama is bringing calamity upon the Jewish people on par with the destruction of the Temples. This is a misappropriation of our religious tradition to further one organization’s own political agenda, and is wholly inappropriate.

4. The ad argues that “only under Israel’s jurisdiction, did all faiths regain the right to worship” in Jerusalem. B’nai Brith seems to forget that even under Israeli jurisdiction, not everyone has the right to worship in Jerusalem. Perhaps as a Jewish human rights organization, they should spend some time focusing on the rights of Jews to pray in Jerusalem…

While the historical facts B’nai Brith uses in their ad are indeed true, there’s just one problem: they’re just that… historical. B’nai Brith conveniently ignores present facts and present truths. This ad is divorced from current realities. It doesn’t recognize the widely accepted reality that any viable two-state solution will include negotiations regarding Jerusalem (again – something that Netanyahu himself speaks of).

As a human rights organization that is supposedly concerned with Jerusalem, perhaps B’nai Brith should focus on some real human rights issues, and confront some of the current truths and realities about Jerusalem instead of trying to advance a weak political agenda. Here are two simple suggestions:

1. Poverty in Jerusalem. Most of Jerusalem’s non-Jewish children live below the poverty line, and the city’s poverty rate is twice the national average.

2. Religious Pluralism. As the New Israel Fund eloquently notes, “one would think that, having finally achieved a Jewish homeland in Israel, Jews could practice their religion – or not – untroubled by government interference.” Of course, anyone with their eye on Israeli news knows this isn’t the case.

So what’s up, B’nai Brith? Will you continue to languish in the ashes of the destroyed Temples, or will you rise up and acknowledge the realities of 21st century Israel?

Is this really necessary?

MYTH: ‘The Palestinians are descendants of the Canaanites and were in Palestine long before the Jews

That’s the headline on a recent Jewish Tribune feature, which goes on to “prove” that the Palestinians have no ancestral heritage via the Canaanites. Whew! Glad we were finally able to get this myth out of the way. I’ve been worrying about it for so long, I’ve been thinking of sending it to the Mythbusters.

With slightly less sarcasm and incredulity… what can including this feature in a “news”paper possibly accomplish? There’s no academic legitimacy here, and whether it’s true or false is ultimately irrelevant at this point in history. All it does is serve to “other” the Palestinians and paint them en masse as an opposing group. It’s part of the “me first, ME first, ME FIRST!” line of arguing.

It’s simplistic, reductionist, xenophobic, and dumb.

Moreover, it appears that a regular “Myth” feature isn’t even a part of the Tribune. What on earth is this doing here?

On Jewish Activism. Part II: Uncertainty and Chaos

This is part two in a three-part series on activism within the Jewish/Pro-Israel world. I should say that I do not attempt to conflate these two terms or the groups represented therein, but I do acknowledge a significant overlap between the two, and that informs part of the discussion here.

Read part one here

* * *

“We choose the order and certainty of petty despots over the uncertainty and chaos of developing democracy…”

When Martin Sheen uttered those scripted words as President Josiah Bartlett on the West Wing, he was referring directly to a fictional plotline involving the assassination of a foreign terrorist cum diplomat, and the not so fictional tendency of the United States to prop up otherwise hostile governments when it suits them politically or militarily (read or watch Charlie Wilson’s War and then you might begin to understand the current war in Afghanistan).

Bartlett’s words (thank you Aaron Sorkin) are the stories of governments, of organizations, and of basic human propensity. In many ways they are more of a sociological critique than a political one. It’s always easier to yell back to your enemy than it is to stand up, put yourself on the line, and shout out your own beliefs. We’re human, and we’re scared of uncertainty and chaos.

In the past year, and again this past week, I’ve commented numerous times on a troubling narrative within the Jewish pro-Israel community, drawing attention to a noticeable pattern of largely reactionary responses when dealing with issues related to Israel. Aaron Sorkin’s words are particularly useful here, as they highlight some of the dangers of this reactionary position.

The Canada Israel Committee, B’nai Brith, UJA Federation of Toronto, the WZO and Hagshama, and others who I’ve criticized of late for resorting to a largely reactionary stance when it comes to advocacy, are not the petty despots Bartlett speaks of. But they are the ones who choose the “order and certainty” of the despots. As I noted in my previous post, I try to believe that the CIC and Federation have a vested interest in the economic stability of Israel. But the content of their Buycott – devoid of any proactive, didactic, sustainable content – indicates a greater interest in silencing their enemies than in strengthening their allies. It indicates a greater interest in the order and stability of the despots (here, the boycott) than in the uncertainty and chaos of democracy (here, a proactive agenda on a Canadian partnership with Israel’s economy).

One must acknowledge that the Buycott is entirely dependent on there being a boycott to react to. If and when the attempts at a boycott end (which surely the CIC and Federation must want), then the buycott ends as well, and along with it the accompanying (though short-lived) economic benefits. This is the danger of being reactionary. This is the danger of choosing order and certainty. This is the danger of letting the despots define your mission.

We can always count on Israel’s detractors to do and say things that we can react to. But if we count on them, we’re letting them define our mission. This is what the CIC and Federation are doing now with the Buycott. If the CIC and Federation want the benefits of the Buycott to be sustained, they need to adopt an ethos of proactivity. They need to provide opportunities for people to remain continually engaged with their issues of concern. It might not be a bad idea to start with the questions I proposed in my previous post.

It takes guts and koyach to dive into the uncertainty and chaos involved in developing a proactive agenda. Are the CIC and Federation willing to embrace this? Are they willing to make the change from a reactionary agenda to a proactive one? Are the willing to do what is necessary to maintain a sustainable engagement with Israel when most current research indicates connections, particularly among youth, are dwindling?

* * *
In part three of this series, I’ll introduce the (not so new) paradigm that I mentioned yesterday, illuminating a model I believe should be adopted by all organizations (Jewish, pro-Israel, or otherwise) with an activist element.

On Jewish Activism. Part I: Backburner Zionism

This was originally going to be one long post, but I’ve decided to split it in two for sake of ease. Today, in part one, I’ll identify a specific issue of great importance to Jewish activism, parse it out, and propose a few solutions. Tomorrow, in part two, I’ll take a look at the theoretical underpinnings of this issue and propose a new (though not that new) paradigm for Jewish activism of all kinds.

12.05.2009 UPDATE:I’ve changed the title of this post to reflect the direction my thoughts are moving in. It now looks like this will be a three-part series. You can read part two here.

* * *

About a year ago, in a series of posts, I commented on the trend for pro-Israel (what does that mean, anyways?) rallies to go around masquerading as a form political/social activism, while ultimately being nothing more than glorified (and in some cases, undignified) cheer-leading.

The gist of my argument was that while 10,000 people at a rally or boycott makes a nice, loud statement for the press, the trade-off is that you lose the ability to ensure that those 10,000 people stay intimately invested and active with the cause; most of them will go home with a false sense of accomplishment. The flip-side is that a small, grassroots political or social movement may maintain more personal involvement, but it can lack the punch of a 10,000 strong rally.

Case in point: recent attempts by anti-Israel folks to boycott Canadian companies that deal directly with Israel (specifically Mountain Equipment Co-Op and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario) have prompted the Canada-Israel-Committee and UJA Federation of Greater Toronto to launch – a campaign to get people to purchase the Israeli goods in question. A nice idea. Israel’s economy could certainly use help.

But if the overarching issue at hand as viewed by the CIC is that Israel’s economy does not deserve to be boycotted and that it should be supported by those in the international community, then why is there not a continually active “Buy Israel” movement sponsored by the CIC and Federation? (During the height of the intifada when tourism waned and Israel’s economy took a serious hit, there was such a movement in cities with large Jewish populations, though that has fizzled out as the intifada ended and there’s been less for people to react to). Why be reactive when you can be proactive?

I’m led to believe that the issue is less about an ingrained belief in the importance of economic support for Israel and more that the CIC and Federation don’t like it when other people speak out or organize against Israel. It’s easier to react to others than it is to stand up and maintain a proactive stance for something you believe in. Which is not to say that the boycott shouldn’t be responded to. It should. I don’t believe that Israel’s economy deserves to be singled out in this way, but that’s a separate topic of discussion. Do I believe that the CIC, Federation, and those who went out to buy underwear from Mountain Equipment Co-Op truly care about Israel and it’s financial stability? Absolutely. But do they care enough to make these actions a part of their ethos? Aye, there’s the rub.

If the goal of the counter-boycott was just to raise money for Israel and Israeli companies, then it was a success. But if there’s a greater goal, as one might assume from reading the Canada Israel Committee’s mission statement, then it is not entirely a success. The CIC’s mission seeks “the promotion of increased understanding between the peoples of Canada and Israel,” and seeks to “enhance Canada-Israel friendship.” Noble goals. Does the BUYcott lead to the achievement of these goals? Not so much.

This counter-boycott just balances the equation set in motion by the boycott, it doesn’t rise above it. It’s reactionary, and worst of all – like rallies – promotes a false sense of activism. Unless buying Israeli products is part of a larger movement by the purchaser to be actively and intimately involved in strengthening the Israeli economy, or in carrying on substantial discussions with the anti-Israel group, it remains a passive project wearing the mask of activism.

Yes, a tangible result is attained from the counter-boycott: Israel’s economy is supported (good) and the boycott is counteracted (which it turns out didn’t enjoy that much public support to begin with). And none of this is bad on its own. But it’s a closed project, it ends when people bring their clothes home from Mountain Equipment Co-Op. It’s just a step above chequebook Zionism.

To meet the stated goals of the CIC and Federation, and to take this BUYcott from a passive display to a proactive, sustainable, educational, and meaningful initiative, I propose the CIC and Federation use these questions as a guide:

– Where are the educational materials on Israel’s economy?

– Where is the list of Canadian vendors that carry Israel products?

– Where are the talking points for productive discussions with the boycotters?

– Where are the resources on Canadian economic and business partnerships with Israeli companies and organizations?

– Where are the resources on ethical sourcing?

– Where are the calls for further and sustained action?

– And most importantly, where are the communication tools and resources to form a peer-to-peer network? That would truly promote understanding between people and increase friendship. (To be fair, there are facebook and twitter links on the website, but they are in the footer, and aren’t framed as an integral part of the campaign).

If organizations – both Jewish and non-Jewish – want to enjoy popular support that is sustainable, lasting, and intimate, they need to foster that attachment. It must be a central part of the framing of all messaging. It won’t come from just reacting every time a person or group says something they don’t like.

Rallies (or group shopping trips) are exciting and they create noise and attention, but at the end of the day, the day ends. What comes afterwards? Keep a pot of water on the back-burner, and it will just simmer there until the water boils off. Want that pot to be a smorgasbord of activism? You’ve got to keep it in the front and stir it up, and keep feeding it ingredients.

Tomorrow, in Part 2, I’ll look at moving the pot from the backburner to the front.

Power, Money, & Privilege

A dangerous cocktail.

The Tories used their MP’s free-mail privileges to send flyers to households in communities with large Jewish populations in Montreal, Toronto, and Winnipeg. These flyers (see one here) were an attempt to convince voters (is there an election brewing?) that the Conservative Party is more committed to Israel – and thus, by extension, the Jewish population of Canada – than the other political parties. This is astonishing. On many levels:

1. This is an abuse of taxpayer funding. These flyers were sent for free, under postal rules allowing MPs to send mail to their constituents in the interest of public information. But this is not information being sent, it is narrow-casting propaganda that in fact misinforms (see my third point) the populous. These are essentially attack-ads being funded by public dollars. Would this be acceptable during an election?

2. This is also a fiscally unsound abuse of taxpayer funding. Could the Tories at least be economically frugal with their propaganda? A report issued this week by the Globe and Mail notes that, while MPs of every party make use of free mail privileges, the Conservatives spent $6.3-million on the mailers last year, while opposition MPs spent $3.8-million. What happened to the Tories’ self-professed “fiscal accountability”?

3. In a strange world, this might all be acceptable were the information included in the flyers in fact true. One might excuse Tory MPs for spending millions of dollars on informing the Canadian public that the Toronto Maple Leafs are having a terrible season and there should be an appropriate public response. But the accusations leveled here are just incredible. Quite literally, they are not credible. The ad argues that:

A) Canada’s presence at the Durban Conference in 2001, under the leadership of the Liberals, was an indicator that the Grits are complicit in foreign anti-semitism. In reality, the Israeli government at the time specifically asked the Canadian delegation to remain to “make its voice felt and bear witness to what was happening,” noted Liberal MP (and former Minister of Justice and current Jewish luminary) Irwin Cotler.

B) The Liberals are soft on fight terrorism, and they “opposed defunding Hamas,” and “asked that Hezbollah be delisted as a terrorist organization.” In reality, it was the Liberal party in 2002 that had Hamas and Hezbollah classified as terrorist organizations. Moreover, it was the personal musing of a Liberal MP who wondered if Hezbollah might be delisted. While reprehensible, that personal musing cannot be taken to be a party stance of the Liberals, as MP Joe Volpe argues.

C) The Liberals do not support Israel, as Michael Ignatieff accused Israel of committing war crimes in 2006. While Iggy did indeed did make this accusation once during the war against Hezbollah, he later publicly apologized. So accuse him of flip-flopping if you want, but don’t make this false corollary. Even if Israel committed war crimes, that doesn’t mean saying so lessens support of the country, it’s just an analysis of military strategy. This is just misleading and playing to people’s emotions.

At the end of the day, I’m floored that this abuse of power, money, and privilege took place. MP Cotler, eloquent in his shock, noted that “this goes beyond the pale of politics, this is an abuse of privilege and … I will call I what it is, it’s a lie … this stuff is scurrilous.”

An end to Cardboard Ideology

My body is back in New York. This afternoon, it will be in Toronto. My mind (and my internal body clock) are still in Israel. Along those lines, some thoughts for 5770, courtesy of my favourite journalist-cum-theologian, Bradley Burston:

Perhaps the time has come to ask, as the Talmud asks, “Who is a true hero?” The sage Ben Zoma responds that the true hero is the person who succeeds in conquering the basest of impulses, the worst of human instincts.

In an age of quietly tyrannical political correctness and instant-messaging, the complex heroism of individual Israelis may have no place. Israelis themselves have by and large learned to hide it, to dismiss it, to denigrate it…

…the secret heroism of Israelis is by no means confined to the military. Large numbers of Israelis work tirelessly, heroically, to help pave the way to a common future with the Palestinians. Many Israelis have opened their hearts to helping refugees from foreign genocides. Their stories go largely unnoticed abroad, in no small part because it takes work to make a people long marketed as villains, into flesh and blood fellow humans.

This is the truth. It is politically incorrect in the extreme. It muddies the colors of cardboard ideology and blanket support for one angelic side over the diabolical.

May 5770 be a year of truth, politically incorrectness, and an end to cardboard ideology.

See you next week, when I fire up Billboard Judaism.

Shana Tovah!

Israel vs. The Rest, Part Three

A review of my experiences at yesterday’s pro-peace Rally, this is Part 3 in a series of posts on rallies related to what’s going on the Mideast. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Today, as I think about yesterday’s rallies, I am certain of three things:

1. The frequency of people tagging blogs with “Gaza,” “Israel,” and “Palestine,” has shot through the roof. Needless to say, not everything is newsworthy or even cogent, but at the very least, it does indicate an increased awareness.

2. In my next post, where I focus on what a rally really is, and what it really needs to entail, I’ll argue that the vast majority of the 10,000 people at the pro-Israel “rally” don’t know much about what they are supposedly rallying for. For now, I’ll throw this out there in support of why our protest was a real rally, and the other wasn’t:

No dialogue resulted from the other “rally.” It was just a bunch of guys on a podium shouting platitudes, with a bunch of people cheering. There was no working to bring about change. It was monolithic. Everyone even looked alike, as all were given “tzeva adom” (red alert) hats to wear. The organizer informed the multitudes that these hats were “a symbol that the missiles would stop falling, and the alerts would end.” Right. Hats. Why not take the money that was spent on the hats, and donate it to assist those lives in peril in southern Israel? That’s really advocacy. That’s real activism.

At our rally, there was dialogue (albeit hostile at times), that had the express intent of bringing about a change to the status quo in the Jewish community. We may not have changed people’s point of view, but we made it undeniably clear that this is not a black and white issue. We got attention from a wide variety of media and press, including Radio-Canada, who interviewed me in French when they heard I was Canadian. They all seemed mildly surprised that there could possibly be supporters of a “middle-way.” No surprise, given that much of the media was focused on the giant stage on 42nd Street.

3. Here’s a run-down of the colourful remarks hurled – by Jews – at me and others yesterday:

“You’re leading the way back to Auschwitz!”
“You’ll bring about another 9/11”
“You’re not Jewish! Take off your kippas! You’re not a real Jew!”
“There are no innocent civilians in Gaza!”
“Shame, shame shame!” (Repeat, ad nausea…)

Deeply hurt, I didn’t take any of these slurs personally. They hurt because they’re a stewing indicator of the inability of people to see beyond their own point of view. If there is a solution to the shit, it lies in people who are able to see beyond their limited horizons and outside of their borders.

While I’m not so sure I want to remember everything, I’ll have photos and video posted soon.

Next up, Part Four: Rallying the way to Victory

Identity Politics

Where was the Toronto Star three months ago, when I needed them to back me up? Now, after facing a small amount of backlash for my repeated arguments that the Conservative Party of Canada was able to win in my riding of Thornhill by attracting the votes of Jews who would vote for whichever party looked like they supported Israel more, Thomas Walkom – National Affairs Collumnist – has penned an article on ethnic voting and identity politics that backs up the very arguments I postited. Here’s an excerpt:

…In a world where no single party can command a majority of MPs, individual ridings become even more significant. And among some voters in some ridings, support for Israel is a make-or-break issue… Identity politics predates Confederation… In ridings where there is a significant Jewish population, this matters. Kent, for instance, may back Israel as a matter of deeply held principle. But if he did not, this might well hurt him in Thornhill, a riding that he narrowly won last year…

While this is pretty much a closed issue that I hadn’t intended on revisiting, the situation in the Israel and Gaza has brought it to light again. So thanks, Thomas. I couldn’t agree with you more!

Israel vs. the Rest, Part Two: Facebooking the way to Victory

This is part 2 in a series of posts on rallies related to what’s going on the Mideast. Part 1 is here.

I had originally intended my second post in this series to be a look at some organizations and people who actually have the guts to get dirty and actively involved in the causes they are supposedly rallying for. I’ll get to that later this weekend. Instead, I need to comment on another “rally” that is taking place right now, as we speak. I received an email yesterday from the World Zionist Organization – a group that I have been an active member of in the past – notifying me of a 24 hour “virtual rally” on Facebook for the citizens of southern Israel. I almost laughed a little. I though to myself “this is either going to be a forum for some pretty harsh vitriol, or it’s going to be a poorly ‘attended,’ with no discernible positive outcome.”

sderot-facebook1So I checked in on the “rally” a few minutes ago. There are about 4,000 people “attending,” and about 100 people have posted comments on the wall. I’d say that by Facebook standards, those numbers really aren’t much to be proud of; Zoolander and Hogwarts seem to be more pressing causes. I’m not surprised. What did surprise me was the breakdown of wall posts: about 70% were one line platitudes of Israel’s actions, 5% were anti-Arab rants, and one girl had the courage to post that she was leaving the “rally” because it didn’t offer any constructive purpose, aside from providing a forum for Anti-Arab bashing. And what about the other 25%? Well they thought that they were RSVPing to an actual rally, and posted comments regretting their absence. They didn’t even know it wasn’t a really rally. Sad.

The Facebook “rally” isn’t an ultimately terrible thing. It’s not evil, and if residents of Israel take emotional support from it, then I’m not entirely opposed. But let’s be clear: it’s not a good thing either, and it does have one pretty sinister aspect to it. A “rally” like this lives in the realm of fence-sitting, as it allows people to give vocal (or textual) expression to something they support, but doesn’t channel that support into an active cause. It’s apathy masquerading as passive activism. Like this week’s rally at the Israeli Consulate, the Facebook “rally” doesn’t accomplish much. But at least at the New York rally, people got up on their feet and went somewhere. Here, all people did was click a button online.

To be sure, this was part of the marketing of the “rally” as well. My email informed me that “all you have to do is log in and click ‘attending,'” and that that would be a show of my support and sympathy. Wow! Maybe the WZO and Facebook should partner and create a line of virtual bereavement sympathy cards. They could give Hallmark a run for their money.

What’s saddest of all about the Facebook “rally” is that it was being held on Facebook — arguably the greatest social networking tool humanity currently has at its disposal. Had there been any critical and constructive thinking on the part of the planners, this “event” could have channeled people to get out of their offices, and do something. It could have provided educational resources. It could have been a forum for true dialogue. It could have brought together pragmatists, progressives, and true activists from not only the Jewish, Zionist, and Israeli world, but also the Arab, Palestinian, and “other” world! Instead, a “rally” like this one only furthers the notion that the conflict in the Mideast can be viewed through black and white lenses, or through “Attending” or “Not Attending” mouse clicks. It’s all a virtual folly.

Shabbat Shalom.

Next up:
Part Three – A look at the dictionary definitions of the word “rally” and how that should be your first clue as to how these are not real rallies.

Part Four – A look at some organizations and people who actually have the guts to get dirty and actively involved in the causes they are supposedly rallying for.

Part Five – A review of how I got dirty and active.

Israel vs. the Rest, Part One: Cheerleading the way to Victory

york16 years ago, during my first year at York University, it was the height of the second intifada. Both in Israel and on my campus, tensions flared, screaming matches in public places were common, and a war was waged by both sides to win over the compassion of the media. And on some days in Vari Hall, the central court on campus, if you squinted your eyes just enough, you might have actually thought you were in the West Bank. After all, they had bombed out buses, and we had bombed out buses. They had a separation fence wall, and we had a separation fence wall. They had checkpoints, and we had checkpoints. They had screaming Jews and Arabs, and we had screaming Jews and Arabs. Really, the only difference between the two locales was the lack of terrorists killing people and an armed response. Aside from that, it was war on all fronts.

As an impressionable freshman, fresh out of high school and youth group, I was only too eager to join in the protests and become an activist. I donned my IDF uniform, draped myself in an Israeli flag, and held up posters of victims of terrorism, shouting my support for Israel and feeling ever so proud. Yes, I was an activist. I didn’t tell people that at that point, I had never been to Israel or the West Bank, because it didn’t matter. I read Israel newspapers, and I watched international news. But not CNN.

04protestxlarge1This is the story of far too many members of the Jewish community in North America. Switch sides, and it’s the story of far too many members of the Muslim/Arab community in North America. The details really are the same on both sides. People – many of whom have never been to the land they are yelling about – engaged in screaming matches, fueled mostly by pent-up emotions and an unhealthy dose of propaganda from whatever news outlet is telling the story in the way they want to hear it.

Thankfully, I got tired, grew weary, and mellowed out. I saw the bigger picture. I tried to broaden my horizons. I saw through the vitriol and realized that these rallies, protests, and screaming matches really didn’t accomplish anything. For the most part, they were nothing more than a giant way to get to catharsis for each party. Whoever screamed the loudest, pushed the hardest, showed the most gruesome photos, and attracted the largest group of unimpressed observers won. There was nothing activist about these rallies, nothing influential, and nothing lasting. Sure, they made the newspapers the next day, and spawned a screaming match of words in the letters-to-the-editor section. But that was it. These rallies didn’t influence any change in policy, they didn’t win over larger groups of fence-sitters, and they didn’t raise any knowledgeable awareness among the “activists”. They were and always will be a small blip on the time-line of the conflict.

Which is why I surprised myself yesterday, as with trepidation I joined Hanan – one of our shlichim – and walked down to the Israeli consulate in New York yesterday to watch a pro-Israel/anti-Hamas rally. Not to take part. Just to watch. I wanted to see what a rally looked like after the supposed end of the second intifada. I wanted to see what a rally looked like here in New York.

nyp_m1And here, in the centre of the Jewish world outside Israel, I saw more of the same. Yelling and shouting; some of it filled with hatred, some of it filled with passion, but none of it filled with activism. If anybody there thought that their speeches, chanting, and anthem-singing would actually stop Hamas from raining down rockets on Israel, they were sorely misguided. If anybody there thought that their speeches, chanting, and anthem-singing would actually change US policy on Israel, they were sorely misguided. Maybe in a country or city where support for Israel wasn’t natural, a rally such as this could have had a substantive purpose. But this is New York City! The thousands of people crowding Second Avenue weren’t there to accomplish anything other than a giant feat of cheerleading. And unimpressive cheerleading at that – nobody was tossed into the air, there was no marching band, and there were no pompoms.

At the rally, Malcolm Hoenlein, the Chairperson of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations had an interesting statement to share with the crowd:

“We tell the United Nations today: Stay out. Let Israel do what it has to do.”

Mr. Hoenlein sure is a great cheerleader. He pretty much sums up my entire argument. Thanks, Mr. Hoenlein. What these cheerleaders and rallyers want most of all – more than dialogue, more than constructive discussion, more than engaging activism on the part of North American Jews – is for their side to win. They view Mideast politics as a football game, where North American Jews are cheerleaders jumping around wildly on the sidelines. They don’t want anyone else to get involved, they don’t want to hear the commentary from the pundits (people who actually know something about what’s going on), they just want to see their side pummel the other side without any interference. The UN may have many issues, including a woefully poor track record on being balanced when it comes to Israel, but at least it tries to be a representative voice of moderation. Much more than we can say for Mr. Hoenlein – a man who is supposed to represent the major Jewish organizations, and thus supposedly, the majority of organized Jews.

cheerleaderAnd unfortunately, this isn’t just a Jewish problem. It’s the same on both “sides.” Most of the Western World is content with viewing the conflict in Israel as a football match, because it means they don’t have to get hurt and dirty. They can just dance wildly from the sidelines, cheering and screaming, holding up signs and feeling as though they’re contributing to the welfare of their team.

But cheerleaders don’t get to win the Super Bowl.

Tomorrow — Israel vs. The Rest, Part Two: Those who have the Guts to get Dirty