For Americans, fighting for Israel is an uphill battle

Written by on September 15, 2021

 Shoham Nicolet (credit: IAC) Shoham Nicolet (credit: IAC)

As a mother of twins in middle school, Israeli-American Council (IAC) Boston regional director Lital Carmel was dismayed but not surprised when one of their peers approached them and told them about perceived atrocities the IDF allegedly committed against the Palestinians. 

Armed by their mother with the knowledge to counter such remarks, the twins responded by describing how Israel acts in self-defense and its civilians are often targets of rockets fired from Gaza.

“You’re feeding off biased information,” the tween answered back. 

“And you are, too,” the twins responded.

 Lital Carmel (credit: IAC) Lital Carmel (credit: IAC)

While it might seem shocking to hear of fifth graders delving into geopolitical debates during recess, these kinds of encounters are all too common, and the average age when these conversations occur is decreasing.

“This is our new reality,” Carmel said. “Kids growing up in Israel get this education, but when you live in America, if the parents don’t take the time to really do the work and go through the process, then their kids will get information from other sources that they don’t have control over.” 

As a nonpartisan pro-Israel organization, IAC strives to provide Israeli-Americans and Jewish-Americans with tools so that when they find themselves in the midst of such a dialogue, they can speak openly and confidently. 

Through grassroots efforts, IAC reaches out to community lay leaders so those who support Israel can have a safe space in the classroom, boardroom and beyond.

“We believe in the notion of force multipliers. We start from a very young age – middle school, high school, and college students – and our approach is that there is no one single organization that can address everyone’s unique needs. So what makes the IAC special… is that we work through and empower the community,” Shoham Nicolet, the organization’s co-founder and CEO, told The Jerusalem Post.

That message of unification has become all too relevant these days in the wake of increasing antisemitism in the United States. Just last month, the FBI revealed that 57.5% of religious-based hate crimes are targeted toward Jews. But one does not need to look to statistics to see the cold hard truth that was laid bare during Israel’s most recent operation in Gaza.

From anti-Israel protests to thugs physically attacking Jews on the streets of New York, LA and Boston, anti-Jewish sentiment felt like the rule and not the exception.

IAC is seeing the ramifications of this development on an individual level within certain communities. 

“I think what we’ve been seeing in the last two years is a normalization of antisemitism. We were used to seeing it on the radical Right and Left, and suddenly, especially in the past two years, we’ve been seeing more in the mainstream,” Nicolet said.

“In the context of what’s going on, we see more parents moving their kids from private schools to public ones. Jews are feeling less secure on a physical level. I just spoke to teenagers asking them how they feel, and they said it was the first time they felt their non-Jewish friends have been hostile to them,” he added.

This shift is especially jarring for IAC members who are Israeli and are used to living as a majority and not a protected minority. 

IAC helps them bridge this gap through a variety of programs and behind-the-scenes activism work. An example of its programming is School Watch and Connectivism, which address anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist sentiment. Connectivism is an interactive study session series where teens and adults can learn how to become pro-Israel activists through understanding the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, biased teaching about Israel in US curricula, and creating an Israel-positive space on college campuses.

Meanwhile, School Watch gives parents and kids a platform to file a complaint if they experience something they deem to be antisemitic in classrooms.

But, of course, there’s a fine line between what’s hateful and what’s ignorant, and Carmel – who helped launch both initiatives – is well-aware of the tightrope IAC must walk when advocating for their participants.

“We actually come across this dilemma on a weekly basis,” she said. “I would say there’s a very fine line.

“For example, we had a school where a student wrote an essay about the legitimacy of a Palestinian state, and the parents felt uncomfortable with that.

“We said, ‘Listen, this is exactly what schools are for. This is freedom of speech. So let’s give your kid the tools to form their own opinion about what was brought to them.’

“There’s a very fine line between the kids and the teachers. So if a teacher writes on the board, ‘End colonization – Free Palestine,’ then this is not okay. If a kid writes it, we address it differently.” 

WHILE THESE initiatives are effective on a person-to-person level, IAC also operates on a larger scale and utilizes extensive partnerships to do so. 

Along with dozens of New York area Jewish community organizations, IAC held a massive rally at Ground Zero in May, in light of the wave of antisemitic attacks. The rally was followed by similar events in major cities across the country.

Ground Zero, a sacred spot for any New Yorker, was chosen as it is a reminder of when America was directly threatened. 

“I think that the choice to do it in a location where the nation’s freedom was under attack was a proper decision,” Nicolet asserted. “The World Trade Center site is a powerful symbol of America’s resilience and resolve against hatred and terrorism, just as the people of Israel stand strong in the face of terrorism and hate,” said Nicolet. 

Carmel encourages the community to learn from the success of that rally and how working together is the path toward not only surviving in the Diaspora but thriving.

Yom Kippur this year happens to fall only a few days after the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

“As a community, we need to take this time to think about how we can create more partnerships and coalitions so we speak with one voice, a voice that’s unapologetic and proud of our Jewish heritage and the Jewish state – however imperfect it is,” she said. “Yom Kippur is a very personal day and we all think about it differently. [But I encourage people to understand that] the challenges are much bigger and will only get bigger.”

“Antisemites were always here. They were here when they said they wanted to send us to the ovens, and they’re here now drawing swastikas on synagogues. Now [antisemitism] is greater maybe because of social media, but we should be focused on finding the right solutions and understanding that the IAC can’t do it alone,” Nicolet added. “Let’s focus on fighting them instead of fighting each other.” 

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