According to Pew Research, millennials are much less likely to sympathize with Israel and are more likely to sympathize with the Palestinians than older Americans.
According to former Israeli consul general in Chicago, former Israeli consul general in Miami and former deputy mayor of Netanya Yitzchak Ben-Gad,
“The Balfour Declaration declares all of the area from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea as the Jewish national homeland. It is included in the Mandate Charter. Only the UN Partition Plan by the UN General Assembly changed this, but it is a recommendation and is not mandatory. In 1967, Israel captured these territories in a war of self-defense. Initially, Gaza was captured by Egypt illegally. Judea and Samaria were also captured by Jordan in a war of aggression and the Jordanians captured these territories illegally. Only two states recognized Jordan’s occupation of the area, Pakistan and Great Britain. When the 1967 war started and the areas were taken from Jordan and Egypt, none of them was the legal owner of the territories.
These territories are disputed and the Palestinians living there have civil rights. Therefore, this territory is not occupied but disputed.”
Jeff Daube, the director of ZOA Israel, explained that according to the international legal principle of uti possidetis juris, which proclaims,
“If you create a new state that was cut out of something like Macedonia, Bosnia, South Sudan, Ukraine, Georgia, etc., any of those states are created with the boundaries of their former entity. When South Sudan was a province of greater Sudan, its border of South Sudan, the province, determines the border of South Sudan, the state. Israel’s borders are thus based upon the Mandate of Palestine and Article 25, where Transjordan was taken off from the Palestine Mandate. The Jewish national homeland is defined by the borders that run down the Jordan River and the Arava."
That is based on uti possidetis uri.
In the world of pro-Israel advocacy, Israel’s legal rights to the land are well known. But if one attends a university classroom these days in the US or Canada and the State of Israel is discussed, none of these basic legal facts are taught. Furthermore, one is very likely to hear a lot of propaganda voiced against the State of Israel. Accusations in academia that Israel is an apartheid, colonial state that oppresses the poor Palestinians has become the norm.
Students who dare to stand up to this propaganda and declare Israel’s legal rights often are discriminated against.
To what extent has this propaganda in academia affected how Americans view the State of Israel? According to Pew Research, millennials are much less likely to sympathize with Israel and are more likely to sympathize with the Palestinians than older Americans. Only 43% of American millennials sympathize more with Israel while 27% sympathize more with the Palestinians. In contrast, over 50% of non-millennial adults sympathize more with Israel in the US.
This divide between millennials and older Americans is also reflected in the American Jewish community. According to the Jerusalem Post, a Pew Study found that 40% of Jewish Americans between ages 18 to 29 feel no attachment to Israel and almost 75% feel that Israel is not making a sincere effort in order to make peace. In contrast, according to a poll conducted by the American Jewish Committee, 47% of the general Jewish American public feels that caring about Israel is a very important part of being Jewish, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Daube blames the Jewish American educational system for this failure.
“Our history in Israel, Jerusalem, and Judea and Samaria just have not been taught or are not taught effectively. The students then enter universities where they confront a faux narrative and then they simply do not have the tools necessary to counter those fake narratives. The real reason why this has happened is because we dropped the Israel/Zionist education programs. When I grew up, I was a counselor in Bnei Akiva. I got a lot of the information that I needed to combat this false narrative. Those programs now are either not there or lacking.”
“Hillel has also not been helpful in educating today’s youth about Israel’s legal rights,” Daube added.
“Neither have the day schools and Hebrew schools. Therefore, we need to do this in an informal setting. We cannot speak highly enough of Bnei Akiva when I was growing up. Its raison d’être was to bring people to Israel and they succeeded. But what are they left with back in North America if you bring your good people here? It was meaningful that we were able to bring these young people over to Israel. But then, you are left with a lack of leadership back in North America. If you do the ZOA two-week summer mission and then do something ongoing on campus, like StandWithUs, Hasbara Fellowships, etc., then things can improve. My ZOA campus group comes three times a year and has a workshop on our legal rights. They are knowledgeable.”
But Daube noted that most students today are not knowledgeable like his ZOA campus group.
“I encountered students who went on Birthright,” Daube noted. “They are made to feel good about Israel, which is a good thing.
But you put them against the ZOA Campus missions and it does not hold a candle to them.
We give them a good time, too, but we give them a strong education. We give them fun and much more. We give them information and tools so that they have what they need to have in order to fight. Our young people today lack an understanding of the legal principles and that is why when they hit the university lecture hall and have a professor who holds a position of power and authority, the positions the professor takes are validated simply by the authority he holds as a professor. A student is likely to accept those positions. At Columbia when I was young, they taught us how to think critically. Now they do not teach how to think but what to think. You have a professor up there who is teaching propaganda and ideology and the students are captive audiences. They know if they take pro-Israel positions, they could be downgraded.”
Goldi Steiner, founder and chair of Canadians for Israel’s Legal Rights, concurred that the situation on North American campuses is horrible for the State of Israel.
“We have attended many lectures and rallies at local universities where Jewish students stood with their adversaries, defending the poor Palestinians. Yes, the poor Palestinians. Sadly, even the Israeli curriculum hardly incorporates our legal rights.”
Dr. Dana Barnett, the head of the Israel Academia Monitor, stated that in Israel,
“People are being taught whatever the perception of their lecturer is. If their lecturer thinks Israel is a colonial state, he will give assignments to write about how Israel does not have legal rights to the land. In the social sciences, there are many Marxists and post-modernists. They subscribe to the notion that Israel is a colonial state and does not have a right to the land. They compare us to other colonial states.”
Steiner noted that this reality even affects what young Israelis think about Israel’s legal rights.
“I have addressed many young students of high school and university age in Israel, as well as young people about to enter into the IDF and also serving in the IDF. More often than not, their chins fell when I asked them what they know about Israel’s legal rights.”
In order to change this reality, Canadians for Israel’s Legal Rights together with Im Tirtzu launched a campaign in order to raise awareness about Israel’s legal rights among Jewish youth today, both in Israel and North America.
They are distributing thousands of copies of “The Jewish People's Rights to the Land of Israel” by Salomon Benzimra (Click here to purchase the book: Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, or Amazon.co.uk). Im Tirtzu is even running a quiz on the facts in the Hebrew version of the book and students who grasp an understanding of Israel’s legal rights can enter into a raffle contest. Canadians for Israel’s Legal Rights is presently working on the English version of the book. According to Steiner, “The power of education will prevail over the myths, whose lies will crumble like the Tower of Babel.”
Eytan Meir of Im Tirtzu added,
“There are a lot of uninformed students and adults who do not know the simple fact that Israel was established based upon legal principles from the Balfour Declaration to San Remo. Over the last couple of decades, we have seen these rights undermined by the UN. All of the resolutions that the UN passes go against their own charter. Simple people do not know and we want them to know, for knowledge is power; if you do conflict resolution from a premise that is not correct, how can you have a just solution to the conflict?”
Indeed, it is quite appalling that both non-Jewish and Jewish youth today, both in North America and Israel, are unaware of Israel’s legal rights. However, the Israeli government is largely to blame for the present situation because the State of Israel is always on the defensive and is never on the offensive with regard to its public relations. Furthermore, while Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region devote considerable resources to enhancing their public image among foreign youth, Israel does not view the propaganda war as a priority and this greatly affects how youth today view the State of Israel.
Allow me to give an example. When I was a junior at Walter Johnson High School in 2003, I was president of my high school’s Near East Club. I invited representatives from the Israeli, Egyptian, Saudi and Turkish embassies to speak at my high school. The Saudis gave an excellent presentation. They had chauffeurs drive a lovely female diplomat accompanied by an American public relations adviser to our high school, and she had us try on traditional Bedouin dresses and gave an excellent presentation assisted by the best technology. They then invited our entire high school class to spend a day at the Saudi Embassy, where we dined on amazing Arabian cuisine.
The Egyptians were also pretty good. When the Egyptian representatives came, they had two male diplomats arrive in suits in a nice car and they had an excellent video presentation.
They also donated a book on the Sinai Peninsula to our high school library. When the Turkish representatives came, they were more modest but they at least were dressed in suits and had a nice car. They also invited our whole high school class to spend a day at the Turkish Embassy.
But when the Israeli representative came, it was only one lady and she arrived in an old casual coat that looked like she had owned it since her college years. She was also 20 minutes late because she took public transportation and she was very low-tech in her presentation. And nobody in our high school class was invited to spend a day at the Israeli Embassy.
I am afraid that nothing much has changed with regard to the world of Israel’s public relations since I was in high school. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and even Iran invest heavily in their public image among America’s university students by investing in programs and chairs. While the creation of Israel Studies Programs seeks to counter some of this influence on campus, it still has not been effective enough in changing the atmosphere largely because they have not received enough financial support. As the world-renowned antisemitism expert Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld proclaimed,
“If Israel gets a cyber or other attack, Israel devotes many resources to fighting back. If Israel is attacked by propaganda, Israel does very little and is largely negligent. That is why Israel’s legal rights are so poorly known abroad. That is why the legal rights of Israel are not widely disseminated because the Israeli government is at fault when dealing with many of the propaganda attacks in the field of law.”
It is time for the Israeli government to start investing in promoting its public image, both in Israel and in North America.
Rachel Avraham is a senior media research analyst at the Center for Near East Policy Research and a correspondent for the Israel Resource News Agency. She is the author of "Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in American, Israeli and Arab Media"
This article was published on the Jerusalem Post website on July 25, 2018, and can be viewed on their site by clicking here.