We’ve Got It Backward: Israel Education Should Come First, Then Advocacy

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

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The evidence is growing that we may be fighting the wrong battle in the struggle to support Israel these days.

The situation is grim, if not alarming: Jerusalem is increasingly on the defensive diplomatically, faced with a United Nations vote for a Palestinian state in September, and a range of outside efforts aimed at undermining the legitimacy of the Jewish State, from boycotts to flotillas. What’s more, there is concern that the circle-the-wagon response in Jerusalem to these threats can lead to more problems; witness the recent passage of anti-boycott resolution in the Knesset that has been widely criticized as undemocratic, even among mainstream Jewish organizations.

True, Israel advocacy groups are proliferating, offering programs, websites and curriculum, many of them first-rate in presenting Jerusalem’s case and countering critics. But at the same time the number of Americans who care about the Jewish State in a more than superficial way is decreasing.

Polls continue to indicate that Americans favor Israel over the Palestinians by wide margins. But the findings also suggest that most Americans would not be willing to have the U.S. involved with either side in the event of a Mideast war. Other surveys find increasing indifference on the topic.

There is a growing recognition among some American Jewish leaders that Israel advocacy is not enough because it provides answers to questions that most people aren’t asking. We need a fresh and creative approach.

First, let me be clear. I am a believer in Israel advocacy and have seen its positive impact, particularly through Write On For Israel, the program sponsored by The Jewish Week with funding from the Avi Chai Foundation. Now in its ninth year, it continues to provide a select group of high school juniors and seniors with the Mideast facts and moral confidence to be effective supporters of Israel on campus. The program has a proven track record of success as our graduates have taken on leadership roles as freshmen and sophomores at colleges around the country.

But the foundation for effective advocacy is education, and there is far too little Modern Israel education in our community. Even top day schools spend far more time focusing on ancient Jewish history than on the complex Mideast events of the 20th century that frame the current conflict.

Could it be that because of our long history as a people, the curriculum never quite makes it to modern times?…READ MORE

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