Constructive Engagement

Jewish Light Editorial

There are lots of ways to combat anti-Israel campaigns like BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions).  Here in St. Louis, we’re part and parcel of one of the more productive lines of advocacy.

One way, the most common one, is to talk about the political struggle between Israel and its territorial neighbors. For instance, you can start by telling the story of how Israel turned over the Gaza Strip a decade ago to Palestinian leadership — how Ariel Sharon spent the entirety of his political capital in displacing Gazan Israelis and conceding the whole strip to Hamas, the “democratically elected” leaders of the territory.

We know the rest; Israel has been pretty much inundated with terror from Gaza. From rocket fire to terror tunnels to kidnappings, Hamas’ leadership of Gaza has comprised one assault after another, with not a single credible effort to negotiate peace or engage in security cooperation.

Or you can talk about the many terrorist attacks, via bombings and otherwise, emanating from the West Bank, before the security barrier was erected. Or how that anarchy has boiled over to street attacks with knives and guns in Jerusalem, and how the ineffectual and two-faced Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, has mostly looked the other way, or even worse, has venerated the families of suicidal fanatics by rewarding them as heroes in the wake of their children’s lethal attacks.

Sadly, this first way, while accurate, often doesn’t work.  Those captivated by a social justice and political narrative will often paint Israel into the Goliath corner against the  Palestinian cause. BDSers will make it appear that everything the Jewish State does is loathsome and counterproductive to peace, while everything Palestinian leadership does is justified in the name of liberation.


You can see how this particular narrative gets stalled awfully quickly.

But there’s another narrative, one that seems less enthralling or less helpful but actually plays a bit better.  

You can instead of (or in addition to) the political narratives, tell the story of how Israeli ingenuity puts the nation at the forefront of innovation worldwide. How Israeli scientists and entrepreneurs work with nations across the globe to advance technology, medicine, agriculture and all sorts of other ways of improving the lives of world citizenry.

This is the narrative exemplified by the recent State of Missouri mission to Israel, led by Gov. Jay Nixon and accompanied by representatives of our local Jewish community, notably from the Jewish Federation and Jewish Community Relations Council.

This narrative says that Israel is working hard to build bridges to establish commonality of economic development interests. For businesses, for the health of local communities here, there and everywhere, for constructive well being.

This is the narrative that talks about how support from St. Louis and Atlanta has helped build the Yokneam-Megiddo region of Israel into a bastion of new tech, bio and other businesses. And how dignitaries and entrepreneurs from Israel have visited the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and leaders of St. Louis groups such as BioSTL to nurture supportive ties for future growth (including the newest Israeli business to locate here — see page 1).

This is the narrative that looks beyond the gore and violence that typically occupies the front page of the national dailies and the nightly television news and sees that the ties that ultimately bind are those of job growth and personal opportunity.

Look, we would never suggest that every policy adopted by the Israeli government is helpful in resolving the ongoing struggle of the Palestinian people. There are too many hard-liners in the Knesset, some of whom are simply jaded by the reality of today and events of the past, others of whom are unwilling in any instance to consider a compromise resolution of the vast issues involved. 

Nor do we mean to suggest that there aren’t real issues that must be solved, or at least can be aided, by a more compassionate and caring approach by all. Yes, when we say all, we mean all — there’s no immunity for Israeli leadership from our insistence and expectations. 

But while we’re waiting for more enlightened Palestinian leadership to acknowledge there’s another way, and hoping for confident Israeli leadership to use the nation’s collective brilliance and resources to work toward effective solutions, there’s more we can do.

We can continue to encourage ties between Israel and the world (including, of course, Missouri), ties that lead to solving issues of poverty, hunger, healthcare and yes, sometimes just better tools for better living.

We can let people see that while nations battle, Israelis still create, and innovate, and seek connections and partners beyond politics.

Some will still call this a distraction from the social and political ills that seem to largely define the ongoing conflicts. We, however, call it relevant and meaningful progress toward a more hopeful tomorrow.