Tuesday, May 24th | 23 Iyyar 5782

June 6, 2017 11:52 am

Israel’s Sights, Sounds and Tastes Are a Recipe for Fighting BDS

avatar by Bridget Johnson / JNS.org


A protest in support of the BDS movement. Photo: FOA / Facebook.

JNS.org – When it comes to winning the argument against the BDS movement, the best strategy might be as simple as a dish of shakshuka, an Israeli music album, or a real or virtual tour through Jerusalem.

To be sure, a celebration of Israeli culture may not be enough to win over the hardcore anti-Zionist proponents of BDS — since their convictions are rooted in the belief that the Jewish people aren’t entitled to a state, or self-protection. In their view, Jews are mere occupiers in David’s kingdom, and Fatah and Hamas are entitled to destroy the Jewish state.

But a campaign that extols the beauty, diversity and goodness of Israel can be a more persuasive voice for those who haven’t decided where they fall on the issue of boycotting the Jewish homeland.

The strength of such a strategy to counter the BDS movement was illuminated on Jerusalem Day at Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Maryland, last month, where moving testimonials about the Six-Day War, homemade Israeli treats and choruses of “Jerusalem of Gold,” “Haktivah” and other songs drew the crowd together in pro-Israel pride and passion.

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Heidi Krizer Daroff — the North American director of the Israel Forever Foundation, one of the evening’s sponsors — told me that her organization’s mission is to bring people from all walks of life closer to the textures, tastes and timelessness of Israel, and to rise above politics. Through books, music, film and cuisine, people are “finding Israel through something they already care about,” Daroff said.

Whether through the Munich Memory Project — which keeps alive the memories of the Israeli athletes murdered at the 1972 Olympics — or through live cooking webinars hosted by Israeli chefs, the foundation produces interactive materials for pre-schoolers, seniors, students, young professionals and families that build and enhance personal connections to Israel. The organization’s website also features blog posts from those who have been to Israel and fallen in love with it, which helps influence curious minds around the globe who search about the Jewish state.

Daroff noted that this outreach helps open eyes and builds a connection with those who “are teetering on [the edge] of [supporting] BDS.”

“Israel may have some flaws” like any country, she added, “but strives every day to be a better society.”

As emphasized during the Maryland synagogue’s program, Jerusalem speaks a universal language that draws all cultures and faiths to the Old City, and its 21st-century vibrancy. That’s not to say that politics doesn’t creep into a unified anti-BDS message, but like few things in this political climate, support for Israel enjoys a very bipartisan base on Capitol Hill.

Representative Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, drew rousing applause at the event when he addressed the Trump administration’s recent reticence to properly name the location of one of Judaism’s holiest sites: “In case any of you had any doubt, the Western Wall, the Kotel, is in Israel,” he said.

“Jerusalem will always be, and should always be, the undivided capital of Israel,” Engel said, invoking another highly bipartisan maxim.

“Jerusalem is the symbol of the Jewish people,” and the US embassy should be moved to Israel’s capital of Jerusalem, the lawmaker said, earning more appreciation from the audience. “I don’t think we’d be happy if other countries opened their embassy in Chicago,” he noted.

One shouldn’t expect those who are unsure about a boycott of Israel to immediately convert to the policies of Engel. First comes fostering respect for the existence of Israel, and then extolling the virtues of Israeli society. Through the sights, sounds and tastes of Israel, onetime doubters might soon find themselves deep in love with the Jewish state.

Bridget Johnson is a senior fellow with the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center, and the D.C. bureau chief for PJ Media.

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