Local Israel Action Network to fight delegitimization efforts

Members of the Weintraub Israel Center and the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona have formed an Israel Action Network to counter efforts to delegitimize Israel.

The network is “part of a national trend among Jewish communities,” says Dan Karsch, chair of the network and co-chair of the Israel Center. “It’s a grassroots movement of a group of people approaching Israel issues from a reactive and proactive standpoint.”

The local network is connected to a joint initiative launched by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs in October 2010. The JFNA and the rest of the federation system agreed to invest $6 million over three years for Israel Action Network efforts across North America, JTA reported.

“Israel’s enemies,” says Karsch, “have been trying to defeat Israel militarily but were unable to do it. They’ve switched strategies,” which now include boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns. “The underlying message is that Israel doesn’t have a right to exist, whether the issue is about the West Bank or about water treatment.”

The new network involves “people in our community who care about Israel and want to promote proper and positive engagement with Israel,” says Guy Gelbart, director of the Israel Center and community shaliach, or emissary. The Israel Center is a joint project of the JFSA and the Tucson Jewish Community Center.

“Our goal is to involve our community, both Jewish and non-Jewish, in what’s going on in Israel,” says Karsch. “The media gives an incomplete picture, sound bites without context.” Karsch cites the example of the May 2010 flotilla interception, when nine people were killed after Israeli naval commandos boarded aid ships trying to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. “All people saw was the shooting,” he says, although the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs reported that people on board the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara attacked Israeli troops with knives, clubs and other weapons, including a gun taken from an Israeli soldier.

Network members will respond to local attempts to delegitimize Israel by writing letters to the editor and speaking at churches or other community organizations “to present a fuller background” of issues in the Middle East, says Karsch, adding that “our proactive stance will be to educate our own Jewish community.”

The Israel Action Network will present a series of parlor sessions in January with Ethan Felson, JCPA vice president and general counsel.

“We want to show the move to delegitimize Israel is an illegitimate stance,” says Karsch, “and it’s dangerous for the survival of Israel.”