David Brog, a Harvard-educated lawyer who two years ago became head of the Maccabee Task Force, a campus-based Israel advocacy organization formed by philanthropists Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban, is the author of “Reclaiming Israel’s History” (Regnery Publishing), a new pro-Israel book aimed at college students and “everyone who’s interested in Israel.”
Brog formerly served as executive director of Christians United for Israel and chief of staff of Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). The Jewish Week reached Brog by email.
There is no lack of books that plead Israel’s case. What new facts or perspective does your book offer?
My students kept asking me to recommend a book that would give them the facts they need to be effective advocates for Israel. The standard works bounce from topic to topic and era to era in a way that makes it difficult to follow. I spent years going back over the primary sources in an effort to “reclaim” this forgotten history and introduce it to a new generation.
We in the pro-Israel camp need to revisit our narrow pro-Israel narrative and expand it to include the compelling episodes and facts we’ve left out. We need to reclaim Israel’s history from those who are constantly trying to hijack it. For too many people — including Jewish students — this false narrative is all they know about Israel.
Emotional appeals only go so far. Most students are not so easily distracted from the moral questions that have been raised, far too idealistic to be bribed with hipster baubles. They are asking serious questions about the Jewish state. We need to answer their questions. When we do, Israel wins.
In my work with both CUFI and the Maccabee Task Force, we go to campuses where there’s great hostility to Israel and we’re able to turn things around.
You are surprisingly honest about Israel’s faults, discussing atrocities and killings and other unpleasant things that were committed for the sake of Israel’s survival. Does that weaken your pro-Israel case?
Absolutely not. Far from weakening our case, admitting Israel’s faults is actually the most effective way to get students to listen. If you insist that Israel is perfect, always right, never mistaken, then no one will believe you. Students are turned off by black-and-white narratives. When Students for Justice in Palestine and others insist upon demonizing Israel in the most extreme terms, they’re actually doing us a big favor. Their simplicity and their anger limit their audience and their impact.
Does most of the opposition to Israel on college campuses stem from anti-Semitism or ignorance?
Most of the leaders of the BDS movement are anti-Semitic. When Israel is the only country they ever criticize, they’re exhibiting clear-cut anti-Semitism. But most of the allies the BDSers enlist from the ranks of the social justice movement tend to be merely ignorant. We’re never going to be able to reach the anti-Semites. But the rest of them — these uninformed allies — are our opportunity.
How has the atmosphere on campus, in terms of support for or opposition to, Israel changed since your days at Princeton and Harvard?
The atmosphere has changed far less than people think. When I arrived at Princeton, I found that Arab students were teaming up with left-wing activists to spread an anti-Israel narrative. Today, SJP and others are working with progressive student groups to share a surprisingly similar anti-Israel narrative. The only real change is that the anti-Israel groups have benefitted from years of sustained effort and are both better funded and more ambitious than they used to be.
You had a successful career as a corporate attorney in the U.S. and Israel. Why did you give it up for pro-Israel advocacy?
I returned to the U.S. to work on a presidential campaign and then on Capitol Hill. Once in politics, I gravitated to those issues about which I was most passionate. There’s something about Israel’s story that captivated me as a young man, and it continues to fascinate me today.