Fall 2011

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MERCAZ USA Newsletter — Fall 2011

Mercaz Assumes Israel Advocacy Efforts

Usually, when people talk about the "dog days of summer", they refer in the Northern Hemisphere to the months of July and August. But with the plans currently being prepared by the Arab League to request full membership for "Palestine" at the United Nations at the opening of the fall session, friends and supporters of Israel know that, politically, September and the rest of the fall are going to be very "hot" months too.

Jeff Cymet
Rabbi Jeff Cymet of Tel Aviv preparing to return this fall as the MERCAZ "Lech Lecha" speaker in the Seaboard Region

And it is in recognition of the impending diplomatic struggle that will be facing Israel that has impelled MERCAZ USA, with the blessing of the Leadership Council of Conservative Judaism, to expand its agenda from simply concentrating on "advocacy IN Israel", i.e., advocating for increasing the opportunities of religious pluralism in Israel, to include also "advocacy FOR Israel", advocacy in defense of Israel's right to exist.

Fortunately, MERCAZ has not been alone in sensing that the time had arrived for Israel Advocacy to take center stage. Earlier this year, the World Zionist Organization, together with the Israeli Foreign Ministry, convened a seminar in Jerusalem for rabbis from the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Movements to develop the skills to more effectively engage their communities with Israel. And at the same time, a group of lay leaders from the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs had also been thinking the same thing and had even begun planning an Israel Advocacy training session, with the help of a West Coast-based organization Advocates for Israel.

Now, these three separate initiatives have come together in a new MERCAZ-Conservative Movement committee for Israel Advocacy whose immediate goal is to organize a 2-day training session December 18-19 aiming to prepare congregational Israel Advocates. The Conservative rabbis who participated in the WZO seminar and the representatives of Advocates for Israel will be serving as facilitators and trainers.

Israel Advocacy refers to the ongoing effort to defend Israel against an increasingly vocal campaign to deny Israel's international standing as a legitimate country. This campaign of delegitimacy argues that, unlike the 190+ nations that belong to the United Nations, Israel has lost its credentials and justification to continue its existence.

This purported loss of legitimacy is based on a re-imagining of 19th and 20th century history. Rather than see the State of Israel as the fulfillment of Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, Israel's detractors characterize the Jewish state as a colonial occupying power implanted by the Europeans in the Middle East, which is suppressing an indigenous population (Palestinians), holding by excessive force their territory (West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem) and building an "apartheid" state that gives special status to Jews and Judaism (Law of Return, "HaTikva", Shabbat as day of rest) and denies equal rights to other religions and ethnic groups.

Jeff Cymet
Members of the MERCAZ USA delegation to the recent WZO meetings in Jerusalem

The irony is that more than 90 years ago the legitimacy of Zionism and its call for the right of the Jewish People to their own homeland was publicly embraced by the international powers, starting with the Balfour Letter of November 1917. The affirmation of a Jewish national home in Palestine was later ratified by the League of Nations, becoming a basic condition of the British mandate over Palestine, and it underlay the United Nations' Partition Plan decision of November 1947.

Modeling itself on the successful anti-apartheid campaign that targeted South Africa in the 1980's and 1990's and isolated the whites-only regime from all international activities through boycotts, divestments and sanctions, the new delegitimizers – a coalition of Islamic regimes, on the one hand, and liberal Western intellectuals – have joined together to apply the same successful framework against Israel.

The goal here is not to criticize or change a particular decision or set of decisions of a given Israeli government – itself a wholly appropriate form of political involvement – but rather to remove all legitimacy from the State of Israel as a vehicle to eliminate it from the world scene.

Among the tools of delegitimization are "BDS" – boycotts ("primary" against trade with Israel and "secondary" against companies that trade with and do business in Israel), divestment (forcing union pension funds, universities and others to stop investing in Israeli-related refrain investments) and sanctions (excluding Israel from participating in regular bi- and multi- national programs such as university student and professor exchanges).

Another tool in the new anti-Israel arsenal is "lawfare". This activity, analogous to "warfare", seeks to use the legal system as a vehicle for attacking and undermining another country. One example of lawfare is the threat to arrest Israeli political and military leaders traveling abroad for crimes against humanity on the grounds of "universal jurisdiction", a principle in public international law whereby states can claim criminal jurisdiction over persons whose alleged crimes were committed outside the boundaries of the prosecuting state.

As Janet Tobin, President of MERCAZ USA, notes, "The time is now right for MERCAZ to enlarge its agenda to add "Advocacy For Israel" – for Israel's right to exist – to its traditional objective of "Advocacy In Israel" – for an expansion of the opportunities for religious pluralism in the Jewish State. As the Zionist voice of Conservative Judaism, we strive to strengthen Israel in all ways possible, both internally and externally. Adding Advocacy for Israel to the MERCAZ agenda enables this organization to more effectively and successfully fulfill our goals."



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