Two North American-born professors living in Jerusalem agreed, sadly, that anti-Semitism is still a major factor in the wildly disproportionate and negative actions and attitudes toward the Jewish state on the international scene.
Gerald Steinberg, professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, and Gil Troy, a professor of history at McGill University in Montreal, took part in a discussion on “How Israel Can Win the PR War” last week at Park Avenue Synagogue.
The May 28 program, moderated by Linda Scherzer, director of The Jewish Week’s Write On For Israel program for high school students, was sponsored by American Friends of Bar-Ilan University and The Jewish Week.
Steinberg asserted at the outset that the phrase “PR war” trivializes the extent of what he calls a “political war” since it goes beyond media coverage. He said the attacks come from a broad range of critics who insist that Israel does not have a right to exist.
Israel, once the darling of the international community, and the underdog that defeated several Arab states in the 1967 Six-Day War, has been perceived since the 1982 Lebanon War as abusing its superior military powers, Steinberg said. He cited satirist Ephraim Kishon’s comment to Israel’s critics after the ’67 war: “Excuse us for winning.”
Troy, who is a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Engaging Israel program in Jerusalem, said it is fair game to ask whether government policies like occupation and settlement building account for most of the anti-Israel sentiment. He noted that Prime Minister Netanyahu has endorsed a two-state solution, cooperated with Palestinian security forces and taken down a number of checkpoints. “But we haven’t changed the narrative” of blaming Israel, he said, in part because the prime minister has not sufficiently promoted such efforts publicly.
“If he would stand up and say ‘I’m doing this’ and not be the Chicago ward healer but [act as a] statesman,” attitudes toward Israel might soften.
“Let Bibi own his own statements,” Troy said. He later credited Netanyahu for “understanding delegitimization as a strategic threat” and responding more rapidly to it than in the past.
Steinberg and Troy agreed that more intensive and earlier education on Zionist history is needed to counter the lack of knowledge of Modern Israeli history among young people. “We have to be more nimble and less rigid in our approach,” Troy asserted.