Israel’s Best PR Campaign
One year ago on Shavu’ot I came across a disturbing article describing a violent price tag attack perpetrated by Israeli citizens of Yitshar against their Palestinian neighbors. I was troubled by this event in particular, troubled by the sense that I had been hearing of too many of these price tag attacks lately. Recent news has corroborated this feeling, with a report from the Yerushalayim police department this past March recording fifty-six new price tag attacks perpetrated in the Yerushalayim area this year. More important than the specific number was the finding that the number of this type of attack is increasing, having doubled since last year.[i] I felt that things were going in the wrong direction – violence against Palestinians and foreigners was increasing instead of abating. Not lightly, I made the decision to write publicly about how we, as supporters of Israel, must condemn and distance ourselves from these types of acts if we do not want them to define us.
Never having studied on a secular college campus, I cannot pretend to understand the virulent anti-Israel sentiments you face, the hurtful lies you must combat on campus. I applaud you for standing up to this unfair and exaggerated criticism. And yet, I stand by what I wrote in my article last year that we cannot simply ignore the challenges Israel faces. No matter if a newspaper uses biased or loaded language, no matter if many media sources focus on more negative than positive stories from Israel, at the end of the day, that bias does not cancel out the fact that these attacks do occur. Biased reporting also does not remove our responsibility to address our faults when they occur. It is no excuse to say that we are “better” than our neighbors, that at least we do not kill our own citizens like President Assad of Syria or send hundreds of rockets at civilian areas. Morality is not measured relatively, and we should not aim to simply be better than evil terrorists or ruthless dictators. Searching around for who is deserving of more blame will do no good in fixing true problems that do exist.
Sadly, the town of Yitshar has been back in the news lately. After the recent tragic murder of an Israeli citizen of Yitshar, father of five Eviatar Borovsky, nearby residents responded by throwing rocks at Palestinian cars and a school bus carrying Palestinian girls, burning fields near two Palestinian villages, and wreaking havoc in the Palestinian village of Urif.[ii] It is natural (and important) for us to condemn violence against our brothers and sisters, such as the horrible murder of Eviatar Borovsky, but it takes much more courage to speak up when our fellow Jews attack other innocents. And yes, we must speak up. As religious Jews, we pride ourselves on being a nation of people who are modest, compassionate, and doers of kindness.[iii] When people claiming to be religious, as the town of Yitshar advertises itself to be,[iv] act contrary to these qualities and lash out with inexcusable violence, when this violence begins to increase and become a trend, it is not enough to assume that these people are marginal, radical extremists who are perverting Torah teachings. We have to choose to marginalize them, we have to speak up and remind ourselves and the world that this is not what Judaism and Zionism represents, just as we would hope others would do if their compatriots were attacking Jews or making statements like “Jews are a cancer in our body.”[v] We can fight and condemn human rights abuses by our neighbors, but it is in many ways more important to hold ourselves to a higher standard, to address our own flaws, which, at the end of the day, are the only actions that we can truly control.
The fact that some Israelis are perpetrating these inexcusable acts of violence does not make the whole country “bad” or undeserving of our support. There are many wonderful, miraculous aspects of the State of Israel and many inspiring, loving people who live there. As Kalev and Yehoshua proclaimed, “Tovah ha-arets me’od me’od!” – “the land is very, very good!”[vi] Of course we should refute unfair attacks against Israel and point out positive stories about Israeli culture, charities, advances in healthcare, and international aid. But it also does not do anyone any good when we hide from the challenges Israel faces, when we fear we cannot speak about them without being demoralizing or anti-Israel. In fighting the “media war” for Israel, we could attempt to put the best spin on Israel, minimizing her flaws and emphasizing her amazing positives. Perhaps this method will, in fact, convince our fellow students to support Israel and deflect attacks from anti-Israel groups on campus. Perhaps. Personally, however, I believe a more honest and nuanced approach to be possible. Instead of glossing over true problems we face, would not the best PR campaign to illustrate Israel’s morality and justness in its dealings with Palestinians be to acknowledge openly our flaws and failures and step up efforts to fight them?
This is a conversation that we need to have honestly and openly. Thank you, Elisheva, for continuing it.
Atara Siegel is a junior at SCW majoring in Psychology and is a staff writer for Kol Hamevaser.
[i] Ron Friedman, “Livni on Mission to Stamp Out ‘Price Tag’ Attacks,” The Times of Israel, 29 April, 2013, available at: www.timesofisrael.com.
[ii] Itamar Fleishman, “Settlers Throw Stones, Burn Fields After Terror Attack,” Ynetnews.com, 30 April, 2013, available at: www.ynetnews.com.
[iii] Devarim Rabbah 3:4, s.v. ve-shamar.
[iv] “Yitzhar,” Shomron Liaison Office, available at: www.goshomron.com.
[v] See Ilan Lior and Tomer Zarchin, “Demonstrators Attack African Migrants in South Tel Aviv,” Haaretz, 24 May, 2012, available at: www.haaretz.com. In May 2012, Knesset Member Miri Regev addressed a crowd of anti-immigrant demonstrators and told them “the Sudanese were a cancer in our body.” Regev continues to serve as a member of Knesset and, in a survey of 600 Israeli adults, the Israel Democracy Institute found that fifty-two percent of Israeli Jews agreed with her statement. See, The Israel Democracy Institute, “The Peace Index-May 2012,” available at: www. en.idi.org.il.
[vi] Bamidbar 14:7. Translation is my own.