For the past three weeks, the Rotunda at the University of Pennsylvania has been hosting a 100-photograph exhibit purporting to show "Israeli human-rights abuses in the Occupied Territories."
The exhibit included a reception, gallery tours and speakers. Organized by an outfit called "Breaking the Silence," an Israel-based group that collects testimonies from soldiers who shared their "horrific experiences" while serving in the Israel Defense Force during the second intifada, the work fuels the image of Israel as the worst abuser of human rights, and, of course, as an occupying force.
If this sounds vaguely familiar, it is because this exactly the visual Palestinians sell to the Western media outlets. The difficulty here is that these myths are now being perpetuated by former Israeli soldiers.
The exhibit is completely one-sided and portrays Israel unfairly. The presentation lacks any context or proportionality whatsoever. It does not present — or even attempt to present — the complexity of the political and military situation in the West Bank and Gaza. Rather, the exhibit seeks to present a distorted image of Israel, its people and its defense forces. In short, it is nothing more than anti-Israel propaganda under the guise of art/social criticism.
The fact that "Breaking the Silence" includes Israelis is of no matter; they represent a fringe within Israeli society that have come to the United States with a misguided message in order to gain publicity and funding not available to them in Israel. In reality, they do not care or understand the damage that the exhibition will do to Israel.
Moreover, the exhibit and its people illustrate the very core of the problem between the two major Jewish centers in the world today: America and Israel.
In a nutshell, that problem is the sheer lack of understanding when it comes to the obstacles and challenges that American Jews face when they are looking to make a case for Israel.
When we talk about the environment found at many North American colleges today regarding Israel and the growing pervasiveness of anti-American/Israel sentiment, we refer to the "new anti-Semitism," where Israel acts as a proxy for the hatred coming from the anti-Israel camps.
It is there — predominately on the college campuses — that Israel's "mere" existence as a Jewish state is debated.
Looking for Recognition
The demonization of Israel has transformed itself into an integral part of the Palestinian zeitgeist. Holocaust rhetoric is a standard vehicle to describe the Palestinian al naqba ("the catastrophe"); Israelis are accused of doing to Palestinians what was done to them by the Nazis during World War II.
In contrast, Israelis who live and breathe in Israel, even in far left circles, believe that Israel has the right to exist as a state in some capacity, whether it be the 1949 or post-1967 borders. You can understand why Israelis do not fully understand what is happening in the Diaspora with regard to these matters, as they have never faced the challenge of debating Israel's legitimacy.
In their naivété, they have no grasp of how they fuel the anti-Israel groups on the college campuses, like Jews for Justice in Palestine, the Muslim Studies Association and others who use this message to validate their own agendas. What is even more problematic are those groups within the Jewish community who believe that dialogue via this kind of discussion will further peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Making a case for Israel becomes increasingly more difficult when Israelis and Jews decide to adopt a Palestinian agenda that detracts from the real issue behind the conflict: mutual recognition of one another.
Asaf Romirowsky is the manager of Israel & Middle East Affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.