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Israel has demonstrated the ability and desire to expand its relationships around the world, so why should pro-Israel activists be any different?

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Pro-Israel advocates should follow the lead of Israel in extending its engagement with with wider non-Jewish world in order to gain allies for multiple causes | Photo: Unsplash

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One of the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the pro-Israel advocacy world today is engagement with the wider non-Jewish world. And I don’t mean our friends in the Christian pro-Israel community, who in Canada we sometimes unintentionally take for granted, but rather the vast swaths of non-Jews of all faiths — and no faith — who do not yet support Israel, at least in their minds, but who are open-minded and may well become critical allies of the pro-Israel movement. 

After all, with the announcement that Israel was establishing full diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and rumours suggesting that other Arab countries may soon follow, Israel has demonstrated the ability and desire to expand its relationships around the world. Why should pro-Israel activists in Canada be any different?

When I served as the executive director of Hasbara Fellowships Canada, building coalitions was a major priority for our team. The potential was obvious: Jews represent but one per cent of Canada’s population, and even if there was no anti-Israel or BDS movement, our work would be cut out for us. But, of course, there is no vacuum at all: campuses are teeming with student organizations and clubs dedicated to the demonization of Israel, so the need to identify and engage large numbers of otherwise disengaged non-Jewish peers is not a luxury, but a critical need.

And although the Jewish and wider pro-Israel community has in recent years understood and recognized the need to engage non-Jewish students, we have only scratched the surface of success. A primary reason for our lack of widespread success thus far is, in part, because our opponents in the BDS camp have been able to pigeonhole Israel as a wedge issue, particularly for post-secondary students, and we have allowed ourselves to fall into their trap.

As an illustrative example: If you were to wade into a typical anti-racism rally in any Canadian city, you are very likely to see anti-Israel signs or posters, or at the very least a crowd that is less than receptive to Zionist views. In the summer of 2017, right after the Charlottesville protests in the United States, when alt-right crowds chanted “The Jews will not replace us” and marched, guns brandished, past a synagogue, anti-racism rallies began to sprout up across Canada.

I was in Ottawa during one such rally, and I decided to check out the rally, curious as to what it would look like. Unsurprisingly, I noticed Palestinian flags, some pro-BDS literature being distributed, but not a single sign that specifically condemned antisemitism, despite the fact that Jews were specifically targeted in Charlottesville.

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If you walked into a Black Lives Matter rally, you may come across the same messaging — common anti-Israel tropes are widespread, spurred on in part by anti-Israel and antisemitic comments by Louis Farrakhan and entertainers Nick Cannon and Ice Cube

This strange and bothersome phenomenon where a movement — not necessarily any specific organization — dedicated to combating racism has become ensnared in anti-Jewish views did not happen overnight. This pairing of progressive and anti-Israel causes is due to the long-term progress made by pro-BDS activists in infiltrating these progressive causes, including many LGBT causes, and drawing a parallel between their struggles and the anti-Israel movement.

The irony of this reality is all the more bothersome when we recall Israel’s record when it comes to airlifting Ethiopian Jews, LGBTQ rights, and so on. But those arguments often fall on deaf ears. Why? Because reasoned and logical arguments mean little when we do not have credibility in the first place.

If we refuse to let Farrakhan and the extremist elements in the anti-racism movement define us, and rather than backing away, we find Black community leaders — the vast majority of whom are not antisemitic — and publicly and loudly stand with them, writes Walker.

When the Black Lives Matter movement began in earnest in 2014, many Jews and pro-Israel allies, rightfully aghast at the antisemitism among many of the nascent movement’s leaders, distanced themselves. This meant that when a movement began, looking for allies and supporters, the pro-Israel community as a whole was nowhere to be found, and if it was there, its support was qualified. But the pro-BDS cause was there with bells on. 

More recently, in early June, when anti-racism and anti-police brutality rallies in the United States spread to Canada, the pro-Israel movement found itself in a quandary: how do we respond to a movement where anti-Jewish and anti-Israel messages are widespread?

The answer, as I see it, is to claim the moral argument back. Hatemongers like Louis Farrakhan and his ilk are able to stir anti-Jewish and anti-Israel hatred, in part, by portraying Jews and Israel as the oppressor of Blacks, and therefore as part of the enemy. And when Jews hear such words, we naturally recoil. But what if we refuse to let Farrakhan and the extremist elements in the anti-racism movement define us, and rather than backing away, we find Black community leaders — the vast majority of whom are not antisemitic — and publicly and loudly stand with them.

Not every member of the pro-Israel community supports the causes and aims of the anti-racism movement regarding police brutality, but there are many who do. As individuals, they have been speaking out, but they need organizational support. Supporting the cause of the anti-racism movement does not equate to supporting its most extreme elements, and if we paint with a wide brush, it allows our enemies to define us.

We have a track record of success with the Muslim community that can and should be emulated.

The pro-Israel community has done a tremendous job in recent years in identifying and promoting powerful voices of allies in the Muslim community. Canadian Muslims like Raheel and Sohail Raza, Tarek Fatah, Aboud Dandachi, Salim Mansur, Tahir Gora and others, have been stalwart allies to our cause, important ambassadors in their respective communities and have shown that being Muslim and Zionist is not mutually exclusive. 

When anti-Israel organizations are well funded, well armed and out for the jugular, the pro-Israel community needs to work overtime in winning over allies. We’ve done it before, and we can do it now.

Robert Walker is a Jewish communal professional and non-profit consultant. He has worked in the pro-Israel space for more than 5 years in leadership roles.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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