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Antisemitism envoy calls for Jewish community to face tough questions



She’s an actress, an author, producer, keynote speaker, and mother who has just added one more role to her resume: special envoy for combating antisemitism and the delegitimisation of Israel. Noa Tishby is certainly a force to be reckoned with, and she’s bringing her knowledge, wisdom, and expertise to the social-media platforms where the debate about Israel is its most intense.

Speaking to the SA Jewish Report from California, she says it’s vital for Jewish communities to address the tough questions. If discussion of Israel’s complex history and politics isn’t explored in-depth in safe communal spaces, then young people will be confronted with these questions in emotional, inflammatory moments on campus or other environments, where misinformation is often spread.

Meanwhile, she’s taking on this task in an accessible, relaxed manner that’s clearly gaining attention. She has 258 477 followers on Instagram, and 133 937 followers on Twitter, and counting.

In a recent Instagram reel, she explored the double standards after the tragic death of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh: “Here are some facts you may not know. The international federation of journalists, the IFJ, conducted a report on the number of deaths of journalists in war zones between 1990 and 2020. According to the report, 2 658 journalists have been killed in that period of time. Three hundred and forty were killed in Iraq, 178 were killed in Mexico, 160 in the Philippines, 138 in Pakistan, and 116 in India. Twelve of those cases were Al Jazeera journalists. Seven of them were killed in Syria, one in Yemen, one in Libya, and the case from last week. Each one of these deaths is horrific, but you can’t name the other 2 657 journalists, you can name only the one which was killed in clashes between Palestinian terrorists and the Israeli army.

“In any of the other deaths, we didn’t see such vitriolic, hateful, horrific reactions and rhetoric as we’ve seen shown by the international community, social media, celebrities, and the United Nations towards Israel. This is what we call a double standard. It’s rooted purely in sometimes subconscious antisemitism – anti-Jewish racism. So please, just think about that for a minute as well, okay. And rest in peace, Shireen.”

Born and raised in Israel, she divides her time between Los Angeles and Tel Aviv. Asked why she took on this role, she says, “This is the first time Israel has had a special envoy for combating antisemitism and delegitimisation. The new Israeli government and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid have realised the importance of a position to fight antisemitism which, as we know, is growing by the minute.

“So I couldn’t say no, even though it’s an overwhelming proposition. I joke that I’m destined to fail, in some sense, because antisemitism has been around for thousands of years. It’s the oldest form of discrimination and hate and is still practised today, and there’s no world in which I – or anybody else – is going to end it. Our job is to be the bearer of knowledge, to fight this hate, and make sure that the next generation deals with less of it. Obviously, it’s a huge undertaking, but I still want to make a difference.”

The most uplifting aspects have been “seeing the amount of work being done to fight antisemitism throughout Jewish and non-Jewish communities all around the world. I’ve been finding a lot of new allies and people – Jews and non-Jews – who are fighting the fight, and I’m honoured to be in the trenches with them.”

Her ultimate vision for Israel is for it to “keep thriving, and to be accepted as a nation among nations, which is what the founders of Zionism hoped for. This means stop with the double standards, stop with the bias. That’s my hope.”

She emphasises that antisemitism is ever evolving. “It’s not purely an ‘old school’ type of hate,” she says. “The thing about antisemitism is that unlike a lot of other forms of discrimination, it’s not necessarily a ‘looking down’, it’s also sometimes ‘looking up’. So, the Jews can be perceived as ‘the worst of humanity’ but also as ‘the best of humanity’ and ‘therefore we’re going to hate them’. It can also take the form of conspiracy theories. In every generation, it evolves into something different.

“My friend, the author Yossi Klein Halevi, identified this. He identified that ‘the Jew’ has been used throughout society and in every generation to describe whatever it is that’s loathsome in society at that moment in time. So, in the days of Communism, the Jew was the ‘capitalist pig’; in Nazism, the Jew was the ultimate race polluter; in early Christianity, the Jew was the ‘Christ killer’. Today, what’s the worst of humanity in polite society? It’s racism, colonialism, and apartheid. And lo and behold, who’s blamed for these loathsome qualities? It’s the Jewish State. This is how antisemitism has evolved and how it manifests today.”

On top of her other ventures, Tishby is an accomplished writer and author. In 2021, she published her first book, titled Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth. United States Congressman Ritchie Torres says the book is “a powerful antidote to the widespread misunderstanding and wilful misrepresentation that often obscures the truth about Israel. Much like the book itself, Noa is a fearless truth teller in an age of fashionable lies.”

“Heartfelt, funny, and genuine – for anyone confused by the furious debates about Israel, time spent with Noa’s book feels less like a college class than like drinks with a smart and passionate friend,” writes New York Times contributor and author Matti Friedman.

“I wrote my book to provide what I feel is the first fun, simple guide to understanding Israel, its history, and its people,” says Tishby. “It gives a clear, concise, easy-to-digest explanation of what Israel is. I know a lot of people have benefitted from it, whether they are Israel experts or not at all. People who know nothing about Israel enjoy it, and people who know a lot still enjoy it. I encourage everybody to read it and learn to answer the tough questions.

“The BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] movement isn’t about peace and justice. It will pretend it is, but it’s cloaking its dagger. BDS is about dismantling the state of Israel. We need to ask it how many more countries it would like to dismantle. That puts it on the spot, because it’s targeting the Jewish State and no other. We need to expose it for what it is: an antisemitic hate movement.”

Finally, she says, “I’ve heard incredible things about the South African Jewish community and look forward to visiting one day.”

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