I'll never forget the day I read about public whippings in Israel. I was in England and reading a London newspaper; there was a short article on how people were henceforth going to be whipped in public in Israel for a new offense: smoking.
I didn’t bother to search a correction or retraction in the following days: the damage was done. How many people read that article? A million? Two? I couldn't go up to each of them and explain that the article was a complete fabrication: there are no public whippings in Israel (nor any whippings at all). That smoking is legal in Israel. That it's just not that sort of place. (Unlike some other Middle East regimes where public whippings are the norm.)
This sort of defamation of the Jewish state is increasingly common. Like many people around the world, I've read repeatedly that Israel is an apartheid state. (For the record, it's not: both Jews and non-Jews are citizens, have the vote and equal rights, serve in all branches of government, go to college, live, shop and interact with none of the restrictions that characterize an apartheid system.)
I've also read that Israel is worse than an apartheid state. (What's worse?) I've read that Israel engages in genocide and ethnic cleansing (I guess that's worse.) I've read that Israel is the greatest menace to world peace. (More than North Korea and Pakistan, who have peddled nuclear bombs to the highest bidder?)
After years of slander against Israel I wasn't surprised when a British public opinion poll ranked Israel the world's “ugliest country.”
After years of reading slander after slander against Israel (Including: They shoot little children on the beach!) I wasn't surprised when a British public opinion poll ranked Israel the world's “ugliest country.” After all, if a country is so warped – what with the public whippings and ethnic cleansing and apartheid – its scenery must be rotten too. Once you paint a picture of a country as awful and cruel, it becomes progressively easier to believe it is ever more awful and ever more malicious.
Now a study in Ireland finds that the Irish population has such a poor impression of Israel that over 22% would deny Irish citizenship to Israelis, and less than half of all Irish people would be willing to welcome an individual Israeli into their family.
This bias reflects a climate in which it is becoming possible to say almost anything about the Jewish state. In 2009, a Swedish newspaper accused Israelis of killing people in order to harvest their body parts. That set the stage the following year for the accusation that the life-saving Israeli field hospital in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake was actually a facility for harvesting organs. What begins as a fringe position one year becomes slightly more mainstream the next.
The America-Israel Axis
Through the second half of the 20th century, most Jews around the world felt that their Jewish identity was closely tied up with the fate of Israel. Putting coins in the JNF pushka, to enable the planting of trees in Israel, was a popular Hebrew school activity. When Israel won the 1967 Six Day War, it touched off a massive reawakening of the long-dormant Jewish identity and pride for millions of Soviet Jews. And the raid at Entebbe on July 4, 1976, achieved the nearly-impossible feat of stealing the media spotlight from America’s bicentennial celebration.
But today things are different. Polls show that Jewish American youth are largely apathetic about Israel. On college campuses, anti-Israel activities are met with resistance by only a tiny percentage of Jewish students. And one recent poll of American Jews showed that only 50% of respondents under age 35 would “consider it a personal tragedy” if the State of Israel were to be annihilated.
All this is a tragic mistake. Accusations that are originally targeted against Israelis soon migrate to become views of Jews in general.
Thus, in the Irish survey mentioned above, the negative feelings toward Israel seem to spill over: 11.5% would deny Irish citizenship to all Jews. And 40% of Irish people (the younger demographic was even worse) would refuse to welcome a Jew – any Jew – into their family.
These negative feelings do not derive from personal experience. Out of 4.5 million people in Ireland, there are fewer than 2,000 Jews. Rather, the poisonous atmosphere – in which no allegation against Israel is too outlandish and no accusation too bizarre – is having its logical effect. Hatred toward Israelis is spilling over into hatred against all Jews.
This is born out by studies. One 2009 survey asked Europeans whether their view of Jews was colored by Israel: nearly a quarter said yes. Large majorities (including three quarters of respondents in Spain and two thirds of British respondents) said their views of Jews had become worse because of Israel.
As goes Israel, so goes the Jews.
What can you and I do about it? Here are a few small things, and if we all do it, they add up and make a real difference:
Visit Israel and get your family and friends to visit. Nothing can match seeing Israel firsthand etc…And today with social networks and Twitter, share your trip with the world. Blog about it, capture what you're experiencing and lets friends experience it vicariously. And once you go home, share what you've learned about the amazing people and the land, break down misconceptions and inspire others with the truly amazing story of the Israeli people.
Speak up. Don't let others say misinformation about Israel. Correct them and follow up with an article. If you read something negative in the press, write a letter to the editor, blog about it, don't remain silent.
Imagine someone was spreading lies about your children, disparaging your home with a smear campaign. Would you remain silent? Could you remain silent? Israel is our home, her people are our brothers and sisters. By making the effort to connect to Israel and her people, we will care more and be far more active in standing up for our homeland.