Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New Pro-Israel Group Takes Campuses By Storm (Updated)

There seems to be a radically new approach to battling anti-Israel propaganda on campus--and it seems to be working:
Over the last couple of years, the Zionist Freedom Alliance ( has been slowly taking American college campuses by storm with a message of Jewish rights not heard for many decades. Led by veteran IDF soldiers and activists in Israel, the ZFA presents Zionism to the youth as a revolutionary struggle for national liberation.
It is an approach that is different if for no other reason than that is is unapologetic:
o "Unlike most pro-Israel advocacy organizations that present Israel as a democracy or focus on the Jewish state’s willingness to surrender territory, ZFA speaks of Israel as a Middle Eastern nation with a legitimate moral and historic right to its land."

o "While some mainstream Jewish groups focus on Israel's security needs, [ZFA leader Yehuda] HaKohen's message to campuses is one of Jewish rights. “We must make the world understand that the Jewish nation, like any other nation on the planet, has a right to self-determination in our country. Not in half of our country, but in our whole country."

o "While other pro-Israel organizations attempt to rationalize or depreciate the stridently nationalistic aspects of Zionism in order to court the favor of high-profile skeptics and to make their message palatable to wealthy and influential benefactors, HaKohen says that his group has learned out of necessity to work on a shoestring budget rather than alter their message. ZFA activists take no pains in concealing their belief in the unequivocal right of the Jewish nation to the entire Land of Israel. And the movement puts forward this message in a clear and simple yet powerful language that resonates with young people across North American campuses."
Another difference is that the group does not preach to the Right, but instead addresses the Left--and speaks in terms of their issues:
“there is nothing ‘Right-wing’ or ‘Conservative’ about wanting to keep our homeland free from foreign rule. If we are truly the indigenous natives in the conflict, then our cause should really be championed by liberal students everywhere. Especially since the Bush administration that occupies Iraq and imposes a Patriot Act on the American people is the very same administration pushing to ethnically cleanse the Jewish people from portions of our homeland." [emphasis added]
This is not a rhetorical device or a political ploy to gain the trust of the Left either--the ZFA bears strong opposition to American policies:
While this message has angered many American Jewish groups who tend to see Israel and America as allies in a global war against Islamic terrorism, it has actually earned the ZFA support from students who oppose globalization and America’s War in Iraq. And it has neutralized anti-Israel voices who accuse “Zionists” of pushing America into a war that benefits Israel. In fact, most ZFA leaders oppose the Iraq War and see it as an aggressive act of neo-imperialism. And many of the students joining the ZFA today are young Jews who view themselves on the political Left. HaKohen attributes this support not only to his group’s unique message, but also to their efforts to reach beyond the Jewish community.
For all of the success the ZFA is having, their biggest problem is not that it is not catching on with the students on campus, but rather that is not catching on with the Jewish establishment:
The ZFA’s cutting edge message and methods have proven successful in taking the wind out of anti-Israel sails. But the movement is small and has been unsuccessful at persuading more established Jewish groups to follow their revolutionary lead. Therefore, says HaKohen, the movement works slowly, one campus at a time, to promote the Zionist revolution as a politically correct struggle for social justice.
Read the whole thing.

It has been said that Israel's dependence on the US and on its goodwill weakens it. According to the ZFA, this dependence goes so far as to weaken the idea of Zionism itself.

And who is to say they are wrong.

UPDATE: Compare the ZFA approach with The New York Sun's review of Natan Sharansky's new book, Defending Identity:
Mr. Sharansky writes that although identity can be "used destructively," it is also "a crucial force for good." Strong identities, he says, "are as valuable to a well-functioning society as they are to secure and committed well-functioning individuals. Just as the advance of democracy is critical to securing international peace and stability, so too is cultivating strong identities."
ZFA is proving that cultivating a strong Israeli identity without apologies (or discussing Israeli ties with the US) may provide the strongest defense of Israel on campus.

Further support that ZFA may be onto something comes from a poll back in March:

An article in the Jerusalem Post reports that Israel does not have an image problem in the US, based on a phone poll conducted by The Israel Project:
"Support for Israel has significantly increased" said Laszlo Mizrahi, noting a figure of 60% who declared themselves to be Israel supporters, 27% strong Israel supporters, 31% Palestinian supporters and only 8% neither or undecided.
The odd thing is that US support for Israel was not necessarily dependent on viewing Israel as 'moderate':
Iran was generally regarded as the most extreme, with 84% of respondents categorizing it as extreme, and Hamas was seen as extreme by 72%. Hizbullah was seen as extreme by 64% while 68% thought the Palestinian Authority was an extremist organization.

On the other hand, 40% of respondents said that Israel is extreme, and, even when compared to the others listed above, only 54% said Israel was the most moderate, followed by the Palestinian Authority, 21%, Iran 12% and Hamas and Hizbullah 10% each.[emphasis added]
According to the poll, Israel does not have to go out of its way to appear moderate in order to garner the support of Americans. If accurate, it may indicate that there is some value after all in unashamedly standing up for Israel's right to exist and sticking to the facts--without relying on pictures of half-naked Israeli women in popular men's magazines.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

[Hat tip: Smooth Stone]

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