The Anti-Israel Agenda: Inside the Political War on the Jewish State: a book review by Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen

February 26, 2018 by J-Wire
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Any book about Israel is never going to please everyone. Also depending where in the world one lives will depend how this book is viewed. Not that long ago we witnessed an argument in Melbourne about which organisations with an Israeli focus were allowed or precluded from joining the JCCV.

The perspective on Israel is one which not only divides the world but also our community. I am sure there have been friendships broken over a disagreement about Israel. It also extends to how the words “Zionist” and “Zionism” are used as either badges of honour or as a derogatory term.

In a sense it is not a new argument. Persecution of Jews goes back centuries if not millennia. Derogatory terms for Jews we know from at least the time of Shakespeare. Boycotts of Jewish businesses are recalled with the Nuremburg Laws of 1935. Countries have tried to stop Jews immigrating there- think of the Voyage of the Damned [the boat the Saint Louis] where the Canadian Immigration Minister in 1939 was reported as saying that one Jew was too many!

So what makes this book different? Two things. First, it is the focus of this book on the political war and second, is that the very concept of a political entity called Israel is confronting- it also is true that in many of the events of the past there was no Jewish State.

Alex Ryvchin’s book is a collection of articles, some would say essays, on aspects of the question of how the world responds to the presence of Israel in the community of nations. A few of the authors are Australian although the author acknowledges many Australian community leaders who supported this book in both conception and in publication. The final author is Alan Dershowitz who was speaking in Australia at almost the same time as when this book was launched in Melbourne.

In reviewing this book the hardest question is where does one start? To begin with the BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] movement; the obsession of the United Nations and the Security Council in particular with its totally disproportional number of votes on Israel and Palestine both in absolute numbers as well as in context with the real problems of the world or the attempted silencing of any pro-Israel group especially on university campuses.

This book is designed not only for the Australian audience. It has an emphasis which reflects the possible international readership. The involvement of the Union Movement in the U.K. in delegitimising Israel is far more pronounced and with Jeremy Corben as head of the UK Labour Party there has been a downgrading in their support of Israel. The same cannot be stated about the Australian Labor Movement although that may change in the not too distant future. With people like Bob Carr now seen as pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel. It is nearly 50 years since Bob Hawke visited Israel for the first time and returned as a strong advocate as he was also for releasing Soviet Jewry. The Labor left, at least after the 1967 Six Day War, began to change its tune. The Labor right has only recently begun to move out of the pro-Israel camp but that is as much a function of the individual as a “group think”. The very fact that while Australia is one of the few countries which usually votes with Israel, as opposed to our neighbor ‘across the ditch’, there have been more abstentions by our government recently than in decades past. I have heard it argued that this is due to the expanding Muslim presence in Australia and their mirroring the Jewish community in their development of political influence. Many would agree with this shift, as it has also happened in Europe and North America while some would disagree with this analysis.

Alex Ryvchin

Fifty years ago I already heard that the PLO, and others, had imitated the Jewish community. Just as, beginning in the early days of the Yishuv (Jewish settlement in the land of Israel), and the development of the JNF Blue Box the Palestinians were likewise doing something similar. I had to smile when one of the book’s chapters had approgated the term “intifada” in the context of social media and in particular incitement. In today’s instantaneous 24-hour news cycle and the use of Twitter and other social media and “fake news” [which can be achieved with careful editing including Photoshop].

The hardest chapter was that devoted to how the faith communities, and in particular the Christian world has responded to Israel. True, the Vatican (in it political hat) has always argued for Jerusalem to be what the 1947 Partition Plan described as an International City- how that was to be achieved is less clear. What is harder to accept is how many of the main stream churches have shifted, beginning again post 1967, from being strong supporters of Israel to now many, especially through the World Council of Churches to being strongly pro-Palestinian. It is impossible to speak about Christianity as one solid block for many of those churches and groups which are usually described as fundamentalist are still pro Israel as reflected in Christians United for Israel and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. The chapter on this topic alone makes this book an important piece of research.

In reviewing this book I realised it was effectively a retrospective piece, and at that level it is excellent. What it could not do for this reader and I suspect could not do for anyone was to be at all prospective- the question we all ask ourselves “what will happen tomorrow?”

This book was published just prior its editor being made co-CEO of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. It reflects concerns which nearly all Australian Jews would have when they think about Israel and its place in the 21st century world.

Read this book- agree with it; argue with it; shout at it but at the end of the day you will learn from it.

The Anti-Israel Agenda: Inside the Political War on the Jewish State

Author: Alex Ryvchin

Publisher: Gefen 2017

Review by Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen


Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen is currently Associate Professor in the School of Medicine at University of Notre Dame, Australia. From 1996 to 2001 he served as CEO of the Sydney Jewish Museum


One Response to “The Anti-Israel Agenda: Inside the Political War on the Jewish State: a book review by Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen”
  1. Ben Pebbleson says:

    I am surprised at this rambling review, which seems to be more concerned about alleged divisions in the Jewish community than the topic of the book being reviewed. I rather doubt that Jewish readers will find much to argue with in this book, but all certainly can learn from it. The book is about the global propaganda war against the Jewish state. Some of the top authorities in the world, on the topics covered, have written articles on their specific field within this subject. E.g., Gerald Steinberg, who has directed the Israeli NGO called NGO Monitor for many years, and who is as a result the top or one of the top authorities on NGOs relating to Israel topics, contributes the first chapter on “NGOs and the Battle Plan for the Political War on Israel.” Hillel Neuer, who likewise for years has directed UN Watch, the leading independent human rights monitor of the farcical UN Human Rights Council and other UN activities, is the best-qualified person to write a critique of “The United Nations versus Israel,” the second chapter of the book. And so on, through the book, outstanding authorities contribute succinct accounts of the background history and current situation regarding anti-Israel propaganda activities on American university campuses (Michael Dickson and Max Samarov), including BDS initiatives, the media mobbing of Israel (Seth Frantzman), the role of political parties and governments such as those in the EU in assaulting Israel’s legitimacy (Peter Wertheim, with another chapter added on the case of Marrickville here in Australia, by the editor himself), delegitimization in labour unions, taking the British case as a focus (Alan Johnson), the war crimes libel (Col. Richard Kemp), the Christian Churches and Israel (Andrew Tucker and Kees de Vreugd), the social media onslaught (Arlen Ostrovsky), and, finally, “Why the Anti-Israel Movement in Wrong” (Alan Dershowitz, who has led the way in refuting anti-Israel propaganda).

    As can be seen, the roster of contributors is world-class, and the essays are required reading for those concerned with these matters and seeking guidance on how to deal with them. That, I suspect, would include most readers of J-Wire. The editor, Alex Ryvchin, has made a vital contribution surveying the entire range of anti-Israel activities that will be read world-wide. I am sorry that Rabbi Cohen’s review did not make that clear.

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