Time to Banish the “A-Word”
The annual campus hate fests that attempt to tar Israel with a comparison to the discriminatory policies of the old South African regime have come and gone. On most U.S. campuses, they didn’t cause a ripple. They’ve become as predictable and ineffective as the forecasts of Punxsutawney Phil. Events attracted members of the anti-Israel choir and few others and most were eclipsed by “peace weeks” sponsored by pro-Israel groups. Much time and energy, however, was devoted to responding to the canard linking Israel and South Africa and too often Israel’s defenders played into the delegitimizers’ hands by repeating their language. It is time that pro-Israel activists banish the A- word from their vocabulary.
To the extent the delegitimizers have had any success it has been in putting Israel on the defensive. Israelis are essentially being accused of beating their spouses and we respond that Israelis don’t beat their spouses. Besides being put on the spot, this type of reaction repeats the libel and may stick in the mind of the listener. The anti-Semites want Israel to be linked with the A-word and every time we say Israel is not an A state, we remind people that Israel and the A-word are somehow associated.
A good example is a series of posters that I initially loved, which show pictures of Israelis from diverse backgrounds with tiny text explaining who they are and beneath it in large letters the A-word with a question mark. The message of diversity is a great one, but I fear that what sticks most in the mind is the word in large type, which, again, links that word to Israel.
Students did a great job this year writing op-eds in school papers addressing the issue and making clear the distinctions between Israel and South Africa. The problem is that they were almost always defensive and repeated the A-word.
The anti-Israel festivals also allowed Israel’s detractors to set the agenda on some campuses. Israel peace weeks were cast by some as a reaction to these events rather than as programs designed to promote dialogue, tolerance and peace. In the future, perhaps it will be better if the pro-Israel events are held at a totally different time so it is clearer that they are not counters to hate weeks.
More important, the pro-Israel students need to do more to set the agenda by having sustained programming throughout the year. They should not be submitting their first op-eds to defend Israel against the A-word; rather, students should write positive articles throughout the year. They should use the monthly themes in The Israel Calendar (israelcalendar.org) as guides for planning events throughout the year that create a positive, pro-Israel atmosphere on campus. Students should have a table in the main area of campus with an Israeli flag every day to stake out their claim that the campus is a place where supporters of Israel are proud, unafraid and asserting their right to present their peers with an accurate picture of the Jewish State and the people who live there.
If a steady drumbeat of positive and accurate information is dispensed throughout the year by pro-Israel students, there will be little danger that a week’s worth of hate speech directed at Israel will influence the campus. In fact, their negativity and vitriol will most likely backfire and expose the sponsors as extremists who have no interest in peace, tolerance or human rights.
Israel’s detractors have persistently used Big Lies to try to tarnish Israel’s image. The South Africa analogy is one of the worst of these lies and we need to be more careful that our responses do not inadvertently reinforce the liars’ message. Let’s resolve to restrict our use of the A-word to its proper historical context and never use it in any discussion related to Israel.