Panelists mull responses to critics
Jews of various political leanings and denominations need to show a unified front on Israel to the world or “risk playing into the hands of our enemies.”
That assessment was made by Shlomi Kofman, Israeli deputy consul general in New York, during a panel discussion May 15 during Southern New Jersey Hadassah’s conference in Monroe.
“We can debate whatever we want in this room, but when we walk out we need to be unified,” he said during the discussion, which followed a keynote address by Sen. Robert Menendez (see related article).
Other panelists were Jacob Toporek, executive director of the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations; Mark Levenson, chair of the NJ-Israel Commission; and Jacob Binstein, a student activist with Rutgers Hillel. It was moderated by region secretary Leslie Posnock.
Addressing the conference theme, “Why Israel Matters,” the panelists highlighted its role as the historical Jewish homeland and the Middle East’s only democracy.
“Israel does matter and continues to matter because of what we stand for,” said Kofman.
Toporek said critics of Israel prefer the community remain silent because “the idea of Israel annoys our enemies” who wish Israel didn’t exist. “We need to make certain Israel matters,” he added.
Levenson called Israel “a beacon for democracy” and said if it had existed during the Holocaust there may have been double the number of Jews alive today.
However, he said, too many Jews are disconnected from Israel and ways to develop an appreciation of the country must be cultivated.
Binstein outlined problems encountered by students at Rutgers, where pro-Palestinian groups have held events deeply critical of Israeli policy. “We have definitely seen a number of anti-Semitic events,” said the Metuchen resident.
He said that Hillel and other campus Jewish organizations have been staging counter-programming for students and that Hillel will present pro-Israel events in the coming year so advocates “will be on the offensive rather than the defensive.”
Calling Israel “an economic miracle,” Levenson added that supporters should tout the country’s technological accomplishments, which have prompted New Jersey and other governments, including a number of Arab countries, to do business with the Jewish state.
Kofman said the roles of Arabs in Israeli government, its legal system, human rights record, and other aspects of Israeli life should be highlighted by Jewish community members when confronted by critics.
“We have to look at each other as hasbara [public relations] multipliers,” he said.