By Mitchell Bard
I applaud Jack Gottlieb’s call to do more to promote American Jewish Heritage Month; however, I would rather see our resources devoted to promoting Israel monthly. It is certainly worth celebrating the history of Jews in America, but the need for such self-promotion and celebration is secondary to the importance of fighting the delegitimization of Israel by highlighting the American Jewish connection to Israel and the values exemplified by the Jewish State.
BDS advocates and the media present a steady drumbeat of negative attention to Israel that needs to be countered by an even stronger drumbeat of positive information about Israel. Instead of the reactive mode too many organizations have used to address the delegitimization threat, we need to be proactive.
By creating a calendar that focuses on a different aspect of Israeli history, society or culture, it will be possible for communities and campuses around the world to plan ahead, as Jack suggests, and create programming and unified messages that illustrate the virtues of Israel that have been obscured by the relentless attacks on its legitimacy.
Programming need not be restricted to the month’s theme, but if students, federations, synagogues and JCCS, for example, knew that every January was Israel Diversity Month they could prepare programs that highlight the various communities in Israel. They would do so knowing that Jews around the country are doing the same thing at the same time. If international organizations join in, the focus on Israel could be global. Students at Berkeley, Cambridge and Heidelberg could all be presenting programs on the same theme of the month.
The calendar would have multiple benefits. First, it gives the pro-Israel community a clear area of focus each month and lead time to plan for future celebrations. It will create opportunities for cooperation and collaboration across campuses, communities and countries. Each month’s theme will be rooted in a positive aspect of Israeli life. This does not mean all programming and material must be uncritical, but it would allow Israel’s supporters to set the agenda.
By choosing a range of aspects of Israeli society for the calendar it will be possible to show Israel as a multifaceted nation and counter negative media images and the tendency to see Israel solely through the prism of conflict.
Ideally, everyone can agree on 12 general themes related to Israel. They need not be static, however, if it seems that a particular month’s theme does not resonate or some better idea is proposed. AICE has created a calendar with related videos and suggestions for ways to highlight each month’s theme at IsraelCalendar.org. These are the themes we have adopted:
January – Israel Diversity Month: Focus is on various communities in Israel and the role minorities play in the state.
February – Israel-American Friendship Month: A month highlighting the history, depth and breadth of the U.S.-Israel relationship. Jews in other countries can substitute their nation’s history.
March – Israel Women’s History Month: Celebrating the role of women in Israel.
April – Israel Environment Month: Earth Day is celebrated in April and this would be a good month to discuss various environmental issues in Israel, such as drip irrigation, desalination, and solar energy as well as the environmental challenges Israel faces.
May – Israel Peace and Democracy Month: This month celebrates Israel’s independence and highlights the history of Israel’s efforts to achieve peace.
June – Israel Tourism Month: As schools let it out, many people will plan vacations. What better place to visit than Israel? This month highlights Israel as a tourist destination.
July – Israel Sports Month: Summer is a time for baseball, water sports and other outdoor activities. Israel is not only a sports mecca, but a place with outstanding athletes.
August – Israel Heroes Month: Many people have engaged in heroic actions on behalf of the state, from politicians, such as Golda Meir; to soldiers who sacrificed their lives for their country, such as American-born Michael Levin; to astronaut Ilan Ramon.
September – Israel Social Justice Month: Israel is not a perfect society and it suffers from the same social challenges as other countries, including poverty, crime and discrimination. In addition to discussing the problems, programs can focus on innovative ways Israel is trying to solve them.
October – Israel Innovation Month: Israel is a leader in medical, computer, military and other forms of technology that benefit not only Israelis but the entire world. This month will celebrate the “Startup Nation.”
November – Israel Arts and Culture Month: November is typically Jewish book month so why not focus on Israeli literature? This would also be a good time to celebrate Israeli art, music, film and dance.
December – Israel Religious Freedom Month: December is a month of religious holidays and a good opportunity to focus on the freedom to worship in Israel, the different faith communities, and the diversity among Jews in Israel.
If the Israeli government, federations, JCCs, synagogues, Hillels and youth groups get behind the calendar, we can create a 12-month drumbeat that will drown out the delegitimizers. It is a chance for all of us to unite and share our knowledge with others about the Israel we know and love.
Dr. Mitchell Bard is the Executive Director of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, director of the Jewish Virtual Library and author/editor of 24 books including the 2017 edition of Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict, The Arab Lobby, and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.