There’s much more to Israel than Middle East conflict

  • Avi
For Diaspora Jewry, identifying with Israel has today largely become a matter of showing solidarity in times of trouble and defending it against its multiple detractors. The flipside of this is that Israel’s many extraordinary achievements and the sheer richness and excitement of living in a thriving, multicultural Jewish state, tends to be overshadowed.
by DAVID SAKS | Feb 03, 2016

At Beyachad last week, world-renowned social media activist and Jewish Agency International spokesman, Avi Mayer, pointed to some of the very positive aspects of modern-day Israel, and why Israelis remain largely optimistic despite the current difficulties facing the country.   

In her introduction, SAJBD National Director Wendy Kahn lauded Mayer’s success in presenting a perspective of Israel that went beyond the conflict, one that also showed the vibrancy and innovation in all facets of daily life.

She further commended him for the pivotal role he had played, through Twitter and other social media platforms, in giving the Israeli Defence Forces a voice that it had never had before.

Mayer began his talk by quoting the opening paragraphs of A Tale of Two Cities, whose famous opening line reads, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times”. He went on to identify some of the problems that Israel was currently grappling with, most obviously the ongoing knife and vehicle attacks and the damaging impact this was having both on public morale and the economy.

Internationally, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) and related efforts to delegitimise Israel continue apace and in mounting instances, these were manifesting in the violent disruption of Israel-related events.

In the midst of all this, however, there are “signs of hope and brightness”. Amazingly enough, according to a new study published in US News & World Report, Israel is now ranked as the world’s eighth most powerful country.

“Power”, for purposes of the study, was defined as “a leader, economically influential, politically influential, strong international alliances, strong military”. Another plus factor is that Israel is experiencing a major wave of aliyah from France, with 7 800 - amounting to 1,5 per cent of the community - having arrived in the past year alone. Escalating anti-Semitism levels are the main reason for the influx.

Domestically, the Israeli government is investing massively in the Arab-Israeli sector to foster social and economic upliftment and it is hoped that this will help to normalise Jewish-Arab relations over time.

Mayer also pointed to an “interesting counter-trend” with regard to BDS campaigns abroad. As the West and the US are drawing closer to Iran, so are a number of Arab states leaving the Iranian orbit and drawing closer to Israel.

There is already close co-operation in the field of water conservation and recycling, with Israel in this field an undisputed world leader.

Meanwhile, economic giants like China, India and Japan are all “clamouring for involvement in Israel’s start-up economy”. Nor did Mayer see the increasing tendency of BDS activists to resort to violent disruptions and intimidation to prevent alternative views on the Israel-Palestine issue from being heard, as being altogether a bad thing.

For him, what these showed is a de facto concession by the BDS movement that it could not win the war of ideas and that it therefore had to silence the other side rather than engage with and refute its arguments.

Mayer urged his audience to educate themselves about Israel and follow what was happening there. The tools for doing so today are readily to hand in the form of social media and other online platforms.

Ultimately, though, there is no substitute for visiting Israel and experiencing what it was about for oneself in order to better speak on its behalf. It is, he said, a country that “defied expectations in every way”. 

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