Despite ongoing efforts by Israel’s enemies to delegitimize the state, and brand it as racist and apartheid, the fact is that one of the most effective tools for the pro-Israel community is to simply bring people to the Jewish state to let them see it for themselves. The great majority of visitors come back impressed with how a tiny democracy can thrive in a hostile region and how robust Israeli life is, from the sophisticated sidewalk cafés of Tel Aviv to the spiritual aura of Jerusalem’s ancient holy sites.
A variety of American Jewish organizations have found over the years that Israel sells itself; there is no better way to counter media bias or misconceptions than to bring government officials, religious leaders, opinion makers and others to experience Israel first-hand.
The newest organization to undertake such a trip provides an additional and poignant message about Israel’s leadership in caring for its war veterans. Heroes To Heroes, founded last year, is dedicated to helping U.S. service-disabled veterans transition more smoothly into civilian life. Though not a Jewish organization, this pro-veterans group recently took 10 American vets of the Iraq and/or Afghanistan wars to Israel, in cooperation with the America-Israel Friendship League.
Judy Schaffer, founder and president of the New Jersey-based group, notes that Heroes to Heroes is finding that the American vets come back enthused experiencing a country where virtually every adult is a veteran. “They felt comfortable there, that people — and especially the doctors working with Israeli veterans — understood their situation,” she said, because many had experienced combat themselves. (See story, page 14.)
Future plans for the group include working to improve conditions for American vets, based on facilities they visited in Israel that provide social and recreational opportunities for disabled soldiers as well as medical treatment and physical rehabilitation.
Another bright spot in countering the barrage of criticism against Israel comes from a small, Atlanta-based group of young African Americans upset at characterizations of Israel as an apartheid state.
The Vanguard Leadership Group (VLG), which offers leadership training to elite students and graduates of historically black colleges, has taken out ads in college newspapers on campuses holding pro-Palestinian conferences where Israel is described as apartheid. The ad notes that “playing the ‘apartheid card’” is “patently false and deeply offensive to all who feel a connection to the state of Israel.”
The leaders of VLG, incidentally, were deeply affected by a visit to Israel for African-American students that was sponsored by AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby.
Students for Justice in Palestine is holding a conference this weekend on the campus of Columbia University here. The Columbia Spectator turned down the VLG ad making Israel’s case, but it appears here (page 21).
It’s inspiring for the pro-Israel community to know that support comes from all segments of American society.