Someone who deals heavily with refugee and immigration issues posted an article on Facebook about Sudanese immigrants in Eilat. The article was from Al-Jazeera, and was obviously stilted.
But because that was obvious to me doesn’t mean it’s obvious to everyone. So I replied, with the politeness that comes with benefit of the doubt, saying that the article misrepresented the situation here, and got a response saying that she “wasn’t posting this as an anti-Israel piece.” The quotes are there because those were her words, not to indicate sarcasm. I absolutely believe her that she just saw an article about an issue she cares about, and possibly didn’t even pay attention to the undertones of the secondary political message of the article.
But, even though her intentions were noble, she ended up carrying an ignoble message as well. She’s not at fault here: her message was being hijacked by someone else, and we can’t expect everyone to be knowledgeable enough on every issue to know when someone’s co-opting them into a camp they may or may not agree with.
I think, however, that this highlights an issue that a lot of Israelis have specifically scorned as unnecessary: appealing to the world’s left-wing. We do a very good job of appealing to the right, and we assume A) that that’s enough, B) that trying to appeal to the left will somehow weaken our rightist arguments, and C) that we can’t let international politics dictate our domestic policy.
But international politics dictates our domestic policy whether we acknowledge it or not. And there are certainly left-wing arguments that are compatible with our right-wing arguments. And very obviously, support from the world’s right wing alone has not been enough.
But developing these arguments is a harder task. So we ignore them as unnecessary. Which would be the equivalent of a clothing company canceling every advertisement for their men’s line because the women’s line sells more. Eventually if you keep doing that, you’ll find that you have half the market that you used to.
So what can we do? There’s words. We’re okay with words. Not the state of Israel itself, but there are advocacy organizations out there that do a decent job of talking about the good things Israel does.
But then there are actions. And actions speak louder than words, but they are not the kinds of things where the buck can be passed to an advocacy group. By nature, our government’s actions reinforce right-wing support. The right are sympathetic to the difficulties and necessities of military operations, and generally look positively on those operations we carry out. But we very often have pressing needs to execute military operations. We do them because we must, not because we want to garner favor. So not using the military when needed suddenly equates to trying to garner favor, and any attempt to garner favor in other ways becomes frowned upon.
But we need the world’s favor to survive. So what kinds of actions can we take that don’t negatively affect our military goals, but demonstrate that we are the kind of society that the world’s left wants to see?
We need to work more closely with human rights groups. I don’t know why we don’t: it’s a win-win. We let them take some of our work, we spend less on said work, but insist that everything be done jointly so that we supervise at all times. They get to do something that matches their mission statement, and we get to make sure it’s done to our standards. Take the immigration issue: what if the Israeli government were to partner with Habitat for Humanity in order to create permanent dwellings for the Sudanese refugees at little or no cost to the government? Send teams of milhuimnikim (reserve soldiers) to augment Habitat’s volunteers (I’m sure there’s a unit or two to which the skillsets needed to build housing are complementary exercises to their needs as a unit), make it bureaucratically easy, do everything we can to prioritize this project, and suddenly you not only have help taking in these refugees, you have an organization that is well-respected among the left that is willing to say good things about Israel.
In my wildest fantasies, this scenario culminates in Jimmy Carter giving a speech on the moral fortitude of the Israeli people at the request of Habitat for Humanity.
But instead of reaching out to international humanitarian groups, we persecute our own local ones. Instead of demonstrating our generosity to the world, we hide it. And we let the people who want us gone to dictate the narrative, and push anti-Israel stories as humanitarian stories. Those stories are credible only because people are willing to see Israel as a place that doesn’t prioritize humanitarianism. If we can make that idea seem ridiculous, and it is, those stories won’t gain traction. Instead of the story being “Israel resents its refugee issue,” the story will be “despite Israel’s efforts, refugees are still an issue,” with the endorsement of a well-respected name.
Wouldn’t it be nice?