(December 30, 2015 / JNS)
The overriding imperative of the Maccabee Task Force is to build a united front in the fight against BDS (the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement). We who would defend Israel must stop fighting and competing with one another. We must overlook our differences, lock arms and work together. We must all remember that painful lesson of Jewish history: when we let baseless hatred divide us, we lose.
It was thus with great sadness that I read an article by Rabbi Eric Yoffie attacking the Maccabee Task Force. This article is no argument for the sake of heaven. This is mistake-riddled and oddly ad-hominem mischaracterization of everything we intend to do.
For starters, Yoffie repeatedly attributes quotes to me that I never said. The actual source of these quotes is our communications consultant, Bill Knapp. Among his many impressive accomplishments, Knapp was communications director for Clinton/Gore ’96. Thus the words that Rabbi Yoffie seeks to dismiss as “blather” from an out-of-touch conservative (i.e. me) were actually insights from one of the top Democratic communications specialists in Washington. Ironic, don’t you think? [In response to our complaint, Haaretz updated Yoffie’s article to correct this error.]
After getting his sources wrong, Yoffie goes on to get his facts wrong. We have repeatedly written and stated – including in the very article that Yoffie sites – that the Maccabee Task Force intends to tell truths about Israel that will resonate with students. Far from insisting that Israel is perfect, we intend to stress that Israel’s conflict with her neighbors is complex, and therefore it’s terribly wrong to blame Israel and Israel alone. But Yoffie ignores all evidence of our real plans to write an article lecturing us that we must do …. exactly what we’ve already said we’re going to do.
Yes, Yoffie should have checked his facts. But more importantly, he should have checked his soul. His baseless attack is a troubling sign of the baseless hatred we must shun.
Both Yoffie and I love Israel. We both believe that the Jewish state has a right to exist and a right to defend itself. We both understand that BDS is a slander that must be fought. So why exactly are we fighting each other? Why are we exaggerating the small things that divide us instead of focusing on the urgent things that must unite us?
I can assure you that every unit in the Israeli army contains soldiers who passionately disagree about Israeli politics. And I’m certain that when they’re off duty these soldiers have some animated policy debates. But I am equally certain that when the chips are down, they have each other’s backs. That is how responsible adults behave.
We in the pro-Israel community are in a public relations battle. And we need to do better. We need to build and demonstrate unity. We need to show each other a little love and a whole lot of grace. The students we seek to lead are watching us, and they are not fools. If we prove to be dedicated to a cause greater than ourselves they will be inspired to join us. But if all we exhibit are large egos, pointy elbows and the need to always be right, they will be repulsed. There is no greater way to alienate our young people than to show the pro-Israel camp to be the refuge of the angry and the obsessed.
Dear Rabbi, I have a humble suggestion. If you have advice you would like to give us, then pick up a phone. You might just find that we are not the caricature you have imagined. And you will definitely find a listening ear on the other end.
David Brog is the executive director of the Maccabee Task Force.