We can’t have it both ways

Jewish life in Canada is thriving. Support for Israel within the political sector frequently prompts descriptions of Canada as “Israel’s best friend in the world.” Despite the financial challenges, Jewish education across the country is a foundational community priority, with thousands of children enrolled. Philanthropic activity, although changing, is at an all-time high, and interest in our spiritual tradition is experiencing a true renaissance.

Indeed, there’s much for which to be grateful. But not all is right. Advocacy challenges take many forms, testing the community’s ability and will to confront them. They range from the ongoing initiative in Quebec to assert a zealously secular program to attempts to skew public discourse on, and understanding of, the Arab-Israeli conflict through the promotion of anti-Israel advertisements in the transit system, chronic “Israeli Apartheid Week” and boycott, divestment and sanctions efforts on campuses, attacks on Israel at Pride parades, and a slew of other issues. All of them – individually and collectively – generate frustration, tension, anxiety and, often times, an angry reaction that demands a response. As well they should.

The real question is what kind of response and what set of considerations should inform that response? This is where the Jewish community must make a choice, a serious choice with far-reaching implications. Effective advocacy demands that there can be no half measures, no hybrid approaches that draw from disparate strategic anchors. The binary option is this: undertaking a response that provides immediate, if unsustained emotional satisfaction, or embracing a strategic plan that seeks the long-term, meaningful advancement of the community’s interests. There is no middle ground.

This isn’t about “turning the other cheek” when Israel’s legitimacy is challenged, even when that challenge contains misleading or deceitful vitriol. Rather, it’s about understanding who the real targets of our advocacy efforts are and the effective strategies needed to secure their support. It isn’t about feeling good or preaching to the converted. It’s about exercising influence where it counts and when it counts.

While no one can doubt the sincerity or good intentions of those willing to man the ramparts at anti-Israel rallies, or those who try to out-shout or out-spend those bent on delegitimizing the Jewish state, there’s every reason to question the efficacy of that approach. All of our experience suggests that, at best, such efforts only achieve an ephemeral sense of emotional satisfaction. Simply put, these tactics don’t work. They don’t change opinions, nor discredit our adversaries.

True advocacy is about extending influence and winning support among those not already committed. Effective advocacy is about successful outreach to new sources of support, not providing emotional reassurance to those already persuaded of the righteousness of our cause.

The Canadian Jewish community has something more to celebrate. It has developed an advocacy approach that’s evidence-based and empirically tested, whose efficacy has not only been recognized by communities around the world – including Israeli institutions – but has been adopted by them as the foundation of their pro-Jewish, pro-Israel advocacy efforts as well. In facing our current inventory of challenges, we must decide what approach will drive our actions. If we can resist the instinctive temptation to lash out and hit back in favour of a tested, smart and effective strategic plan, we will achieve a great deal. And unlike feeble emotional reactions, that satisfaction will be enduring.                 Shimon Fogel