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Expanding Israel's Allies
Cultivating political support from the ground up.
Supporters of Israel at the University of
Pennsylvania in February
ow can we confront antipathy toward Israel
Take the experience of Boyanna
Grubeshich at Baruch College in New York. One of
thousands of Israel Fellows sent by the Jewish Agency
for Israel to communities and college campuses
around the country, Boyanna realized that
what Israel needed wasn't fewer enemies but
more allies. And allies come from engage-
ment, not confrontation. When she invited
a black student group to take part in a
program around the holiday of Sukkot, she
was not challenging any of the students, but
rather creating ties. When the time came
to counter anti-Israel activity on campus,
many of those black students were eager to
stand with their Jewish friends.
Engaging new student groups creates
friendships and common understandings.
This is community relations, the heart of
the work of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, our
network of 125 Jewish Community Relations Councils,
and the Israel Action Network (IAN), an initiative
in partnership with the Jewish Federations of North
America. When IAN was announced with the mission
of addressing the growing movement to delegitimize
Israel, building alliances with sympathetic non-Jewish
allies was one of the primary tools laid out.
In addition to traditional top-down Israel advo-
cacy, the JCRC and community relations model cul-
tivates political support from the bottom up through
joint efforts on other common priorities. When the
Jewish community needs to stand up for Israel, they
have friendly organizations ready to stand with us —
many of whom have never focused on Israel before.
Boyanna's success is what the CRCs have been
doing for years with churches, schools, other faith
groups, labor unions and the like. The result has
been a diverse set of Israel advocates. At a session
at the annual JCPA Plenum last March to remember
the lessons of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, AFL-CIO
President Rich Trumka noted the long and consistent
support for Israel from the labor community.
April 26 0 2012
That "town & gown" approach of working with
universities and communities has led to some great
successes in the past year. Focusing on the local level
means having networks of individuals and groups
ready to respond to a delegitimizing campaign where
and when one arises.
For instance, IAN partnered with the Philadelphia
Federation and Hillel among others when Boycott,
Divestment and Sanctions proponents planned a con-
ference at the University of Pennsylvania in February.
Rather than respond directly to BDS activists, the cam-
pus-community coalition countered their content with
positive programming aimed at deepening ties between
Jewish and non-Jewish students, including events that
encouraged Israel dialogue and advocacy. In doing so,
the Philadelphia community, aided by IAN, ultimately
shifted the conversation about Israel, which prevented
Penn's Jewish students from feeling any negative impact.
Perhaps the best example of the strength of rela-
tionships was the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s
General Assembly in 2009. The church was prepar-
ing to vote on a report on the Middle East that was
scathing in its narrative on Israel, troubling in its
understanding of Jews and Judaism, and replete with
imbalanced policy positions.
Hundreds of church leaders had
endorsed the report, including most of
the past national leaders of the denomi-
nation. Also up for adoption were reso-
lutions including one equating Israel's
policies with those of an apartheid state
and another calling for divestment from
a company that sells to Israel. Had the
report and these measures passed, the
result would have been devastating — for
Israel, for Jews and our relationships. But
our system was able to engage instead.
Working with allies from across the
theological and political spectrum at the
national and grassroots level, a corner was turned.
While concerns remain about some of the report, the
most troubling elements were addressed, and those
distressing resolutions were overwhelmingly rejected.
This year, the PCUSA will be meeting again and
detractors of Israel will try to advance similar propo-
sitions once more. And just as community partner-
ships were the key to our successes three years ago, so
they will be again.
As American Jews, the network of JCRCs is one of our
best means of reaching as many supporters as possible
— engaging them in their work and their lives. From
May 6-8, this network is coming to Detroit for the 2012
JCPA Plenum, where Jewish community leaders will
meet with U.S. and Israeli officials as well as interfaith
and policy experts to discuss the continuing role for
community relations in building a stronger nation.
For more information about the Plenum, visit
detroitjcrc.org and click on the "JCPA Plenum Detroit
Rabbi Steve Gutow is president of the Jewish Council for
Public Affairs in New York City.
Not Singing Hatikvah
Not A Grievous Move
anthem, it's understand-
able why Israeli Arabs,
even an Israeli Arab
Supreme Court justice,
would choose to stand
silent instead of joining in the singing of Hatikvah at a
public ceremony. The fuss made over that silence by some
conservative Israeli leaders was much ado about nothing.
Salim Joubran, the first Israeli Arab with a permanent
appointment to Israel's Supreme Court, stood silent,
but was respectful as the tender, uplifting melody was
sung at the end of a Feb. 28 ceremony swearing in new
Supreme Court President Asher Grunis.
Israel is a Jewish state, but also a democracy where
such a decision, even by a public official, should not be
subject to political attack.
The anthem, whose title means "The Hope" in English,
refers to a 2,000-year longing to return to Eretz Yisrael,
the biblical Land of Israel. It includes lines such as "A
Jewish soul still yearns" for "Zion."
Israeli Arab public officials certainly know Israel is
the ancestral state of the Jewish people. But democra-
cies aren't always ruled by absolutes, especially when it
comes to embracing the political timbers of that form of
Chances are many citizens in many sovereign states
don't agree with every line in their national anthems,
which stir national pride if not literal acceptance. In this
context, Israeli Arabs should be thankful for the freedom
and prosperity they live under in the Jewish state, unique
in a region torn by terrorism, dictatorships and poverty.
Yisrael Beiteinu party member David Rotem, who
chairs the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice
Committee, said he would seek to remove Joubran from
his court seat. That's a very undemocratic response.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud party
defended Joubran's right to stay quiet, as a non-Jew,
at anthem time. Fellow Supreme Court Justice Elyakim
Rubinstein also supported Joubran's right to abstain.
Ghaleb Majadale of the Labor Party – in 2007, the first
Muslim ever appointed to the Israeli Cabinet – also was
criticized after saying in a newspaper interview he would
not sing the national anthem because it was written for
Jews only. He said he honors the anthem by rising.
The New York-based Forward reported that even in
the Israeli military, "where discipline during ceremonies
reigns supreme, officers accept principled silence from
Druze and Bedouin soldiers when the anthem is sung."
Haredi Jews in Israel, who aren't proponents of
Zionism, also tend to be silent during the singing of
Hatikvah. The lyrics come from part of a longer 1878
poem by Galician Naftali Herz Imber, who was not neces-
sarily a supporter of religious law.
Israel is home to 7.8 million people; about 20 percent
are Arab. War continues to be a threat with Hamas,
Hezbollah or Iran. So today – Yom HaAtzmaut, Israeli
Independence Day, 5772 – Israel has more important
matters to worry about and tackle than respectful
silence to the singing of Hatikvah. ❑