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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Report on the AZM panel Monday night

On Monday night, I participated in a panel discussion on Israel advocacy sponsored by the American Zionist Movement in New York.

My co-panelists were Bari Weiss, senior editor at Tablet Magazine, and Noah Pollak, writer and one of the founders of the Emergency Committee for Israel.

I had met Noah before, and he is always fun to talk to. He knows a lot of important people and when he says things like "Bill Kristol reads your blog and wonders 'Who is this Elder of Ziyon?'"  it blows me away.

Bari is super nice, and she was surprised that I wouldn't tell her my real name even in person.I think she is taking that as a challenge.

I'm such a dork; I put on my badge and walked around with "Elder of Ziyon" on my lapel until I realized at the beginning of the panel that the other panelists weren't wearing theirs. I discreetly removed it during the introductions. What do I know about panel speaker badge etiquette?

I enjoyed myself. I feel a bit guilty because ShalomTV wanted to cover it and I insisted I remain anonymous; since they couldn't guarantee that my face wouldn't end up on the video they chose not to come. It is a shame because events like this need to be covered so that it is not limited to the audience of 50 or so that showed up. (AZM made a video, when it is available I'll link to it.They promised to keep my face out of it.)

Noah talked about what American Jews need to do from a political perspective to help Israel, and he pointed out that Jews tend to like to discuss things but politics requires going on the offensive and taking the battle to the other side. That's what the other side is doing and it is what we need to be doing as well to defend Israel. And, he pointed out, making fun of BDSers is pretty easy - they parody themselves.

Bari talked about how she became galvanized to become a journalist after seeing the documentary Columbia Unbecoming, which showed how pro-Israel students at Columbia University were intimidated and singled out by professors and students alike.

I spoke about my experiences from the blog and pointed out that videos I've posted have had ten times the audience of my posts. I talked about how effective hasbara must be experiential and visceral, and not merely words. I pointed out that the reason Birthright and Israel semester programs in Jewish high schools are the best way to get people to be pro-Israel because it is not only a logical issue but an emotional one, one that has to reach people on a gut level, and blog posts rarely rise to that standard.

Everything was quite cordial. The only slightly discordant note came from, well, me.

An Israeli pointed out that as much as BDS is a joke in the US, as Noah mentioned, it is regarded as even more of a joke in Israel, so what is the real danger to Israel's existence? How could he convince his fellow Israelis that they should be concerned about any existential threat?

Noah answered that the danger was more in the attempts that BDS and similar initiatives to split the American Jewish community, not in any direct damage they do to Israel.

My answer was that Arabs have a long term strategy to destroy Israel, bit by bit; that they think in terms of centuries and not election cycles and that they will use any combination of military, political and social means to accomplish that. I pointed out that the "right to return" is being downplayed by Westerners but it is an integral part of Arab strategy and while it is not a danger now, it might be in a decade or two as the argument gets strengthened by repetition (legal aspects end up becoming just politics after a while; no international court is going to rule that the "right" of return is invalid even though it has no legal basis.)

The moderator then pointed out that while it might be my opinion that all Arabs want to destroy Israel, not everyone thinks so.

I then quickly said that as soon as I see a single Arabic article that disagrees, I would publicize it far and wide; so far I haven't seen it.

It didn't bother me too much but that small incident shows how far we still have to go. The idea that Arabs still want to see the Jewish state fall should not be considered controversial; it is not a right-vs.-left opinion - it is explicitly said in the Arabic media every day without any dissent at all. (The latest example, from the Western-funded "moderate" PA, can be seen here.) If you want to disagree, fine, but at least show me a single counter-example! Just one!

Althogether, though, I had a lot of fun and it was very nice meeting some of you in person, including  Barbara Mazor who led the fight against the BDSers at the Park Slope Co-op and who was on The Daily Show as a result.

Afterwards I was kicking myself that I didn't even think of doing a quick video interview with Bari and Noah for the blog. D'oh!