There’s always so much negativity in the news about Israel. And the good news often gets buried. Do influential Jews—bloggers, journalists, religious leaders—have an obligation to spread the word about positive developments coming out of Israel, in order to shed some positive light on Israel?
One of the major overriding precepts to our behavior as Jews is Kiddush Hashem, the sanctification of G-d's name. Any action which reflects positively on Jews is a Kiddush Hashem while actions that do not are a Hillul Hashem, a desecration of G-d's name. Unfortunately, the world tends to focus on the Jews' downfalls rather than our achievements, causing us much grief. What is worse is that the Jewish world has been terrible about Public Relations and often do more damage with their statements than had they remained silent.
There are several perspectives on to what extent the modern state of Israel is an expression of Judaism, with some voices being very much against its existence. In principal, both attitudes can be maintained and one would not necessarily need to stick up for Israel, particularly when its actions violate the moral conscience of Judaism. However, in the spirit of the answer I am about to give I will not focus on Israel's shortcomings, since I still believe that the positives that the State of Israel have accomplished outweigh the negatives.
It was Dr. Martin Luther King who said that anti-Zionism is a thin veil anti-Semitism. I can certainly attest to this by the kind of hate posts I received on my video simply stating why I am proud of Israel. There really isn't a difference in the world's mind between Israel and Jews, and this is a fact recognized by even the most ardent anti-Zionists. For example, the anti-Zionism Satmar sect excommunicated the members of the Neturia Karta for marching on Shabbat with Palestinians in Washington against the State of Israel. It was precisely for this reason, that we do not take the side of our enemies.
Israel is in desperate need of PR, and if you are able to help it is a positive thing. I do add a proviso: it must be done well. This means two things:
1. It must be done unapologetically. There are more than enough people on the other side to point out what Israel is doing wrong. It is the tendency of some Jewish sources to engage in self-deprecation while defending Israel that gets us in trouble.
2. The defense must be well-founded and well-researched. It will be scrutinized so it must be beyond reproach. The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot enjoins us to know how to answer the Apikores, a heretic. In this case, if you are willing to post, you have to be willing to do the background research to make sure that it is airtight.
The most important thing if you decide to advocate for Israel is to ask yourself: how will what I say be interpreted? If it will reflect negatively on Jews, then it's better not to say anything.
This is a complicated question: Many people have stated that it is the obligation of Jews in the diaspora to counter "bad PR" about Israel. The difficulty comes in when we consider what that "bad PR" is: a great deal of it is not "public relations" at all, but genuinely bad things that happen in Israel due to political decisions of the Israeli government, or sometimes crimes and violence committed by certain groups of Israelis for political reasons.
Since the great majority of the "bad news" has a factual basis, from a religious point of view there are two conflicting values: the first is that there is a principle based in the talmud that it is forbidden for one Jew to inform on another. Strictly speaking, the prohibition is to inform on individual Jews to a non-Jewish government, and there are exceptions to this rule even early on, such as that one who engages in conduct that endangers the community maybe informed on. In addition, there is some disagreement by modern commentators about how this applies in countries with a secular government which is not inherently oppressive of Jews.
There is a (for this matter, anyhow) somewhat related principle that one shouldn't commit a chillul haShem: in other words, one shouldn't cause others to think badly of the Jewish God. In terms of our current question, this principle has bent both ways. In one mindset, the idea has become that one should never say anything bad about one's fellow Jews, because it will cause others to think poorly of Judaism. However, the principle can also be faced the other direction; we'll see how in a bit.
Together, the two concepts have morphed from Jewish legal guidelines to a sort of folk idea of not creating a "shanda fer di goyim" -creating a shameful view of Jews to non-Jews.
However, a second concept that must be taken into account is that of the obligation to rebuke. The Torah (Lev. 19:17) commands us, " You shall not hate your brother in your heart: you shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him."
In the talmud, there is a wonderful passage explaining this verse which states: "Whoever can prevent their household from committing a sin but does not, is responsible for the sins of their household; whoever can prevent the people of their city, is responsible for the sins of their city; if the whole world, one is responsible for the sins of the whole world."
If Israel is doing bad things, then we are obligated to try to stop them.
Finally, there is a further consideration about what it means to speak publicly in the modern world. Not so long ago, it was possible to keep information under wraps, more or less. Today, that is simply impossible. Technology and social media have made information freely available. The idea that, somehow, failing to speak about bad things that are happening will keep people from knowing about them is hopelessly naive. The average high school student has constant access to all sorts of information, 24 hours a day. Moreover, simply trying to counter serious problems by talking about good things to "balance" them is absurd. Does a new iPhone app counterbalance spitting on an 8-year-old?
To solve problems we must necessarily make it clear that we are aware of these actions and object to them. At the same time, we shouldn't forget the first part of the verse in Leviticus, "You shall not hate your brother in your heart." Criticism must come from a place of love: we don't criticise to destroy, but to repair. However much it hurts, speaking out about extremism and violence is a necessary part of our relationship with Israel.
Trying to hide what's going on, either by not talking about it or by "countering" it with good news is more likely to be counterproductive than helpful. People already know what is going on. If we love Israel, then we are obligated to try and make sure that we do not hide the problems, but to the contrary, are very open that 1. we are working to try to fix these very real problems and do not regard them as things that we simply need to put a different spin on, and 2. that at the same time, we love Israel and care about Israel's people, who are our family.
By doing both of these things, we make it clear that Jews and Judaism are not monolithic; that we understand that there are problems that cannot be left to fester; that we also believe that these problems can be solved; that we believe that these problems should be solved peacefully and politically; that we are willing to put pressure on Israel to make the Israeli government act to address the problems, and that we fully support the continued existence of the state of Israel and that solving these problems is part of ensuring Israel's safety.
It's fine to talk about good developments that are coming out of Israel, and when it's appropriate we certainly should talk about them. At at the same time, we are doing no favors to Israel if we pretend that everything will be fine if nothing changes. Is it painful to have to admit that there is a geat deal that needs to be fixed in israel? Yes, it is. So I finish with a quote from the chasidic rabbi, Menachem Mendel of Kotsk: "The one who increases knowledge, increases pain (Kohelet 1:18). And what does this mean? It is worth it for a person to increase pain, provided that they increase knowledge as well."
In my opinion, influential Jews have an obligation to speak the truth and use their influence in a positive way. Thus, since all Jews are members of Am Yisrael, the people Israel, we should speak and publicize truths about our people and its land and nation whenever possible and whenever such speaking will do good in the world. Of course, the truth is not always good and we have an obligation to be balanced and fair. Ultimately such balance enhances the speaker’s credibility.
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