How to be supportive of Palestinians, and a Zionist

This article first appeared in The Times of Israel on July 19, 2013 and is posted with permission.

Launched this week, The Third Narrative is aimed at countering anti-Israel activity by the progressive far left, from the progressive far left

 

As the president of the progressive Zionist Ameinu, Kenneth Bob often speaks to synagogue groups, bringing the message that support for Israel is not at odds with support for Palestinians and that criticism of Israeli policies is automatically anti-Israel. And he’s often told, “You need to be at every dining room table when Jewish students come home from college” where they’ve been subject to anti-Israel messages.

Since that’s an impossibility, Bob and other Ameinu lay leaders instead developed The Third Narrative, an initiative launched this week and aimed at countering anti-Israel activity by the progressive far left. The initiative includes a Third Narrative website and a booklet, “The Third Narrative: Progressive Answers To The Far Left’s Critiques of Israel,” penned by Dan Fleshler, a media and publish affairs strategist. Fleshler wrote the book “Transforming America’s Israel lobby – The Limits of Its Power and the Potential for Change.”

“It’s pretty clear that most of the attacks” on Israel, “but not all, come from the left,” says Bob. “We felt that the way to deal with these attacks is to be viewed as a legitimate voice on the progressive side, which means in some cases agreeing with the criticism of Israel.”

In discussing Israel as an “apartheid” state, for example, the booklet, which is available as a download or in hard copy, calls discrimination against Arabs “appalling,” but says charges of apartheid distort reality and do not meet the international definition of the term.

The booklet calls discrimination against Arabs ‘appalling,’ but says charges of apartheid distort reality

In discussing the global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, the booklet states that BDS “undermines progressive forces in Israel who are working for social justice and human rights” and plays into the hands of right wingers in Israel who cultivate an “us against them, Israel vs. the world” mentality. “They gain more, not less political influence, when they can lump all leftists into the same ‘anti-Israel’ category.”

The project is aimed at progressives, union members, students and Jews seeking ways to counter anti-Israel arguments. The website includes both reprinted and original articles, including one titled “Young Jews Need to Learn: Ending Occupation, Creating Palestinian State Is Win-Win” and another by the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart, “Why Do People Keep Calling Israel an Apartheid State When It’s Not?”

The initiative takes its title, The Third Narrative, from the notion that there are two narratives, one Zionist and one Palestinian, Bob says. The third narrative is not a zero-sum game, he says, but rather both a Zionist and a Palestinian one that recognizes “that Israel has made policy mistakes and the Palestinians have yet to engage.”

Kenneth Bob, force behind The Third Initiative (photo credit: via Facebook)

Ameinu officials say that the organization’s history of acknowledging Israel’s flaws and criticizing its policies and of labor support give it credibility among the progressive left. “We can help Jews argue in the language that the left will understand,” says new CEO Gideon Aronoff.

Ameinu, formerly called the Labor Zionist Alliance, is one of a number of organizations providing information to counter anti-Israel messages. Among them is the Israel Action Network, a project of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. Geri Palast, IAN’s managing director, said she considers Ameinu’s work “complementary to ours.”

“There need to be multiple messengers to speak to people in a language, and from people, they’re willing to listen to,” she says.

Ameinu thus far has spent $50,000 on the initiative, according to Bob, who calls it a “living project” that also will include outreach to Jewish organizations and Jewish campus groups.

The Third Narrative’s launch comes just days after Aronoff joined the organization as chief executive officer. Until he quit last year, citing personal reasons, Aronoff had been executive director of HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society for more than a dozen years.

‘There need to be multiple messengers to speak to people in a language, and from people, they’re willing to listen to’

At HIAS, he was instrumental in focusing the organization on non-Jewish immigration; at Ameinu, he’s working to develop a domestic advocacy program. He said he sees a lot of similarities between HIAS and Ameinu in that “both are trying to build a holistic agenda where we combine our concern for Jews — in HIAS’ case Jewish immigrants, in Ameinu’s concern for Israel — and our concern for humanity.”

By having a domestic agenda, we will be working arm in arm with progressive organizations to address labor, civil rights and other issues of concern,” he says. “We will have a place at the table with them where we can share our progressive Zionist perspective on Israel.”

About Debra Rubin

Debra Rubin is an writer for The Times of Israel
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13 Responses to How to be supportive of Palestinians, and a Zionist

  1. ethan says:

    Dear Mr. Bob
    Dear Ameinu members
    As a liberal (not progressive) I find it hard to comprehend what your new third narrative is trying to accomplish.
    What Ameinu is basically doing is trying to present Israel to the more extreme left in some nuanced shade of grey, not pitch black. Statements like “undermines progressive forces in Israel who are working for social justice and human rights” and plays into the hands of right wingers in Israel who cultivate an “us against them, Israel vs. the world” Help antagonize the left against Israel where the left you imply to support is but a fraction od the political arena and the population.
    From where I stand, your efforts are an apologetic and half hearted attempt to calm your conscience.
    You have been to Israel, you know first hand it is not an apartheid state, you know that it’s citizens are by and large law abiding, peaceful people that long for peace and stability. It seems that you are living a fractured existence where your loyalty to the left trumps your loyalty to the truth and to your people at the same time and instead of standing your ground you have chosen to become a “melits Yosher”, an advocate for the middle ground who will encourage his client to plead a lesser charge rather than fight for his innocence.

  2. Gideon Aronoff says:

    Dear Ethan,

    Thanks for commenting on Ameinu’s Third Narrative and the story in Israel Times. You say that you cannot comprehend what we are trying to accomplish so I wanted to underscore our basic points. Ameinu sees the Third Narrative as an open search for an approach to Israel and her neighbors based on the facts on the ground and the necessity of breaking the current bloody and hopeless stalemate.

    You are right regarding Israel and Apartheid, as well as the desire for peace of the vast proportion of Israelis. Check out the Third Narrative website and guide (www.thirdnarrative.org) to see.

    However, the corrosive nature of the Occupation for Israeli society and democracy is also a fact. Ameinu’s view of this dangerous reality was validated by the directors of the Israeli Shin Bet security service in the 2012 Oscar nominated film The Gatekeepers (www.thegatekeepersfilm.com).

    So yes. As progressive Zionists we are committed to Israel and to promoting democracy and justice. By fighting to preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state we also serve to advocate for a just solution for the Palestinian people. This third way seems to us to be the path of hope and wholeness, not the fractured existence that you describe.

    Thanks again for your thoughts.

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