Advocacy Update: ‘Israel: Where sometimes good stuff happens too.’
18 June 2013
By Gabsy Debinski
It is no secret that Israel is facing a precarious threat as the crisis in Syria continues to deteriorate.
At the same time, however, there are many positive things coming out of Israel at the moment, and it is important for us to share these ‘good’ things if we are to paint an accurate picture of what’s really going on in the country.s threat as the crisis in Syria continues to deteriorate.
This week Israel will host the Fifth Annual President’s Conference, under the headline ‘Facing Tomorrow.’ Taking place in Jerusalem from 19-21 June, the conference will cover a broad range of issues including geopolitics, economics, society, environment and culture, and will engage them “not only by identifying the challenges, but also by seeking “to suggest solutions that may lead to a better tomorrow for Israel, the Jewish people and for all humanity.”
The conference, under the auspice of Shimon Peres, will host over 4,000 of the world’s most influential Jewish community leaders, entrepreneurs, celebrities, politicians, and academics, as well as representatives of the next generation of leaders.
Tuesday night’s opening will kick off with a ‘bang’ like only Barbra Streisand can set-off. The renowned singer will open the conference by singing ‘happy birthday’ to President Shimon Peres, imitating Marilyn Monroe’s famous risqué rendition of the song to JFK in 1962.
It is a huge honour that Zionist Federation of Australia President, Philip Chester, has been asked to present at this year’s conference, alongside world leaders such as Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Shimon Peres and Mikhail Gorbachev.
Philip is one of five community leaders who will be on a panel titled “The Tomorrow of the 20%: Jewish Communities outside Israel and the United States.” The other panelists, with a range of community, academic and business experience, hail from France, Mexico, the former Soviet Union and Israel.
In other news, once again the insidious BDS movement has gained traction. The latest anti-Israel call splashed across the international press has come from American author and Pulitzer-prize winner, Alice Walker. Walker, most famous for her novel “The Colour Purple,” made headlines last year after refusing to authorize a Hebrew translation of her prize-winning book. Recently, Walker issued an open letter to American musician Alicia Keys, urging the singer to cancel her July concert in Israel. She said Keys would be putting her “soul in danger” if she performed in “an apartheid state.”
Yet in a bold move on Friday, Keys’ distanced herself from Walker’s statements. She said to the New York Times “I look forward to my first visit to Israel. Music is a universal language that is meant to unify audiences in peace and love, and that is the spirit of our show.”
One of the key strategies used by the BDS movement is to get famous figures on side as a way of ‘spreading the word’ of Israeli injustice. Over the last few years we have seen many key people and groups such as Stephen Hawking, Pink Floyd and Elvis Costello cancel tours to Israel, whilst singer Macy Gray came back from her concert and tweeted that she “regretted the whole thing.” For many these are the images that come to mind when we talk about Israel hosting celebrities. It is for this reason that the significance of Key’s comments of support cannot be overemphasized.
I recommend you read a fun and informative article published in the Tablet Magazine, which shows why many performers love performing in Israel, and Israel in turn loves them back.
Another huge event currently taking place in Israel is the UEFA under-21 soccer championships, the most prestigious sports event ever to be held in Israel. Teams from 53 countries flocked to participate in the event. First, Israel beat England at Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium 1-0, then going on to draw with Norway in a 2-2 blockbuster, only to be defeated by Italy and bowing out at the group stage.
Initially, the excitement of Israel hosting the games was marred by calls for boycott. In an open letter to Britain’s Guardian newspaper, Nobel peace prize laureate and former archbishop, Desmond Tutu, accused the UEFA of showing “total insensitivity to the blatant and entrenched discrimination inflicted on Palestinian sportsmen and women by Israel.” Signatories of the letter called on UEFA “to reverse the choice of Israel as a venue.”
Despite this spread of hatred and prejudice, the event has thrived, with European nations joining together in an atmosphere of tolerance, respect and sportsmanship.
Players from both the England and Israeli under-21 teams joined together on Sunday to encourage the “Football for All” campaign and declare their support to kick racism and violence out of the sport. Football Association Chairman David Bernstein said “the various projects include joint Jewish-Arab initiatives, activities in the Ethiopian-Israeli community and programs in isolated Israeli communities.”
Increasingly, some musicians and academics we once admired are joining the ranks of the BDS movement, committed to delegitimizing Israel on all fronts. Our immediate reaction is often defensive. Consequently, we find ourselves constantly behind the eight ball, trying to prove to people like Alice Walker, that Israel is ‘not an apartheid state.’ But as the events mentioned above show us, sometimes the best defence is a good offence. Tell people about the contributions Israel is making culturally, socially and politically, and let the facts speak for themselves.