By Paula Libes Chester, Special to The Jewish Sound
The Seattle Jewish community came together Wednesday night, May 28, at a packed Temple De Hirsch Sinai to hear Ari Shavit, author of “My Promised Land,” and the Reverend Kenneth Flowers, of Greater New Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit, talk about the evil of boycotts, divestment and sanctions — BDS — against Israel. Participants appreciated the opportunity to celebrate the recent triumph of University of Washington students who prevented the university from divesting from companies who do business with Israel. The Seattle community, unlike Olympia’s, has little or no truck with the BDS movement.
We united “against” instead of “for” an agenda, but Ari Shavit gave us plenty of food for thought about the imperative to be unified to save our imperiled Jewish state. Both Shavit and Reverend Flowers exposed BDS as a thinly disguised hate organization whose true agenda is the destruction of Israel. Shavit: “Zionism is not colonialism. The mission of the Zionists was to save the Jewish people from the wrath of Europe. Tragically, it came too late.” However, the celebrated Israeli author made it clear that while BDS is certainly bad for our promised land, there are other, equally destructive forces.
Shavit focused his writer’s lens on an existential problem just as critical as Iran’s nuclear capability: “We have lost our narrative.” He linked Jewish survival to our “holding the high ground” amidst the most heinous historical circumstances. While many find it difficult to reconcile current Israeli policies with our Jewish values, Shavit shared the broadest possible understanding of this cognitive dissonance: “Our tribe is universal.”
Shavit reminded us that the Jewish people are enjoined to practice tikkun olam. The world will be repaired as Jewish values are modeled and spread within Israel and beyond. The writer tasked us to find a new way to tell our story that will allow American and Israeli Jews to love and respect ourselves, and then to act boldly and with courage to ensure Israel’s survival.
On his book tour, Mr. Shavit held countless conversations with Jewish students on college campuses across the United States. In his words: “Israel has become radioactive,” an “embarrassing relative” with the effect that young Jews avoid talking about Israel. Apathy makes them vulnerable to extreme movements like BDS.
“American campuses are the new battleground for the Jewish people,” he said.
Viewing American Jewry from an Israeli perspective, Mr. Shavit expressed with astounding clarity the dysfunctional relationship we have with our homeland. As he sees it: The left has ignored the “dark forces.” The unfortunate reality is that anti-Semitism still thrives. At the same time, progressives have forgotten the miracle and wonder of Israel. Problems with the right: Many were seduced into an alliance with the Tea Party, the reactionary American political movement that hasn’t served Israel well. The greatest fault of so-called “hawks” has been to overprotect Israel. In Shavit’s words, “one cannot love a marble statue.” Genuine love of Israel is to recognize her flaws. We must open up a broad, inclusive and nuanced conversation with each other, and especially with our youth to preserve Israel as a vibrant homeland for our children and our children’s children.