The campaign to delegitimize Israel, the only sovereign Jewish state on earth, takes many forms. Those that sting the most are the ones that have enlisted the support of many young North American Jews.
Chief among them is IfNotNow, a self-styled lobbying group made up of media-savvy young Americans who are now attempting to discredit Birthright Israel, the philanthropic program that brings young Jews to Israel for a 10-day visit.
According to the vast majority of the more than 700,000 young people who have participated in the program since its inception in 1999, Birthright is an inspiring, transformative experience. It has been very effective at helping young Jews define and foster their Jewish identity.
CJN columnist and McGill University Prof. Gil Troy has written a brilliant response to the most recent histrionics of IfNotNow-sponsored critics of Birthright. (See: The Real Birthright: Inheriting our Jewish Story, Jerusalem Post, June 19.) He has effectively debunked the group’s sly duplicities.
IfNotNow’s deceptive tactics begin with the appropriation of its name from a celebrated pillar of Jewish thought. Many people will recognize the phrase from the concluding line in the famous aphorism by our sage, Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”
Indeed, IfNotNow prominently displays the entire maxim on its website, to create the impression that its exertion on behalf of the Palestinians is selfless and in conformity with Jewish values.
But like magicians entertaining an audience, IfNotNow deftly misdirects the world’s attention away from the many-faceted positive truths about Israel, especially those that relate to the portion of Hillel’s aphorism that calls upon us to care for the other: “If I am only for myself, what am I?”
IfNotNow never utters a positive word, let alone issues a laudatory press release about Israel’s well-documented efforts on behalf of the suffering and needy throughout the world. Yet, since the early years of the country’s existence, when Golda Meir was the country’s foreign minister, “If I am only for myself, what am I?” has been a guiding principle for the Jewish state and its many altruistic, non-governmental agencies and citizens.
The examples of Israel’s assistance to other peoples and other nations are numerous and recurring. During the very week last month when IfNotNow activists complained to the New York Times about Birthright, Israel’s concern for, and concrete action on behalf of, the less fortunate also made the news – but not the New York Times.
Israel21c reported on the generous assistance that IsraAID provided to Puerto Rico, in the wake of the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria, which rocked the island in 2017.
An Israeli humanitarian aid group arrived in Puerto Rico mere days after the hurricane tore through the U.S. territory. As reported by Israel21c, “IsraAID worked alongside volunteers from the local Jewish community to distribute food and water filters to around 6,000 people in six remote communities. They operated mobile health clinics and treated hundreds of people in the country’s poorest communities. They also provided mental-health support in six shelters, and trained local staff in two hospitals techniques to treat trauma.
“However, unlike most other aid organizations that left the island once the initial emergency response was over, the Israeli NGO remained. It began building two long-term projects designed to create resiliency in the local population, at Aspira, a community-based educational organization, and in the mountain village of El Real in Patillas, a village so small it doesn’t appear on maps.”
This is just one example of IsraAID’s benevolent activities around the world.
It’s sad that well-intended, idealistic young Jews condemn Israel based on biases and distortions. They feel they have an obligation to act. But instead of acting in a manner that promotes healthy relationships and acknowledges the positive things that come out of Israel, their actions are wholly negative and destructive.