By Bridget Johnson/JNS.org
When it comes to winning the argument against the BDS movement, the strategy may be as simple as a pan of shakshuka, a Mizrahi album, and a real or virtual tour through Jerusalem.
A celebration of culture and a walk through the history of Israel may not be enough to win over the hardcore anti-Zionist proponents of BDS, as their convictions are rooted in the belief that the Jewish people aren’t entitled to their state or protection. In their view, Jews are mere occupiers in David’s kingdom, and Fatah and Hamas are entitled to sweep from the river to the sea.
But a campaign that extols the beauty, diversity and goodness of Israel can be a more persuasive voice than the pro-BDS arguments whispered in the ears of those who haven’t decided where they fall on the issue.
The strength of such a strategy was illuminated on Jerusalem Day this week at Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Md., through moving testimonials of the Six-Day War, homemade Israeli treats, and choruses of “Jerusalem of Gold,” “Haktivah” and other songs that drew the crowd together in pride and passion.
Heidi Krizer Daroff, North America director of the Israel Forever Foundation, one of the evening’s sponsors, told me her organization’s mission of bringing people from all walks of life closer to the texture, tastes and timelessness of Israel rises above politics, bringing people who may have fond memories of Be’er Sheva or Haifa — or those who have never stepped foot in the Holy Land — closer to the Jewish state. Via books, music, film or cuisine, people are “finding Israel through something they already care about,” Daroff said.
Whether through the Munich Memory Project, which keeps alive the 11 Israeli athletes murdered at the 1972 Olympics for no reason other than representing the Jewish state, or through live cooking webinars hosted by Israeli chefs, the foundation produces interactive materials for preschoolers, seniors, students, young professionals and families to build and enhance their personal connection to Israel. Blog posts from those who have been to Israel and fallen in love share the experience with curious minds around the globe.
Daroff noted this outreach helps open eyes and build a connection with those who “are teetering on BDS — maybe they think that’s a good idea.”
“Israel may have some flaws” like any country, she added, “but strives every day to be a better society.”
As emphasized during the evening’s program, Jerusalem speaks a universal language that draws all cultures and faiths to the Old City and its 21st-century vibrancy.
That’s not to say politics doesn’t creep into a unified anti-BDS message, but like few things in this political climate, support for Israel enjoys a very bipartisan base on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, drew rousing applause when he addressed the Trump administration’s recent reticence to properly name the location of one of Judaism’s holiest sites: “In case any of you had any doubt, the Western Wall, the Kotel, is in Israel.”
“Jerusalem will always be and should always be the undivided capital Israel,” Engel said, invoking another highly bipartisan maxim.
“Jerusalem is the symbol of the Jewish people,” and the U.S. embassy should be moved to Israel’s capital of Jerusalem, the lawmaker said, earning more appreciation from the audience. “I don’t think we’d be happy if other countries opened their embassy in Chicago,” he said.
One shouldn’t expect those considering whether boycotting Israel is a good idea to immediately convert to the same level of policy agreement shared by Congress. First comes fostering respect for the existence of Israel, then introducing the uninitiated to the rich tapestry of the country. Through the sights, sounds and tastes of Israel, onetime doubters can find themselves deep in love with the Jewish state.
Bridget Johnson is a senior fellow with the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center and D.C. bureau chief for PJ Media.