Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
Back to Opinion

Memo To Left Wing Activists: Israel Is Not Black And White

In 2012, I was an Israel Fellow of the Jewish Agency at the Hillel at The University of Pennsylvania. One day, I arrived at the university to see a beautiful exhibition spread across the center of campus. Thousands of small white flags were planted in the ground interspersed with just a few blue ones. I immediately understood that the display was somehow related to Israel. Sure enough, as I got closer, I saw a Pro-Palestinian student manning a table in front of the exhibition.

As students and passersby stopped to ask what the display was about, the group manning the site explained that the exhibition symbolized the “ethnic cleansing” that Israel perpetrated in Gaza during operation Cast Lead in 2009. The thousands of white flags contrasted with the few blue flags resembled the gap in the number of victims on the two sides.

No mention was made of Iron Dome or the thousands of bomb shelters built by Israel that saved countless lives. Nothing was said of the rockets shot from civilian areas drawing Israeli retaliation and using Gazans as human shields. Not a word about the traumatized children of Sderot, who only knew life with 15 seconds to find shelter from falling rockets. All of the information they provided, every “fact” that was mentioned, was for one purpose alone: to make Israel look guilty of war crimes.

I stood there, astounded at what I was hearing, at the one-sided hyperbole and complete lack of context.

This week, 13 years later, that same feeling hit me again as I read the news about the IfNotNow activists on Birthright who disrupted their trips. This summer, a number of activists walked off their trip. And last week, three If Not Now members were asked to leave their Birthright trip for asking questions in a disruptive way.

On social media posts, the activists emphasized their shock at being asked to leave the trip. Yet they seem to have planned the whole thing, aiming to disrupt the trip, film it, and post it to social media.

It was the same tactic I witnessed at UPenn: taking advantage of people’s ignorance and natural empathy to present one aspect of a very complex reality. Like the passersby at UPenn, many Birthright participants are not so interested in politics. For most, it is their first time in Israel, and, like all of us, they want to be considered people who care about human rights.

If Not Now’s point of view, just like the incident at the university, is built on a binary choice: you have to be either against Israel and pro human rights, or pro-Israel and against human rights.

I fit neither. I grew up knowing that Zionism was and is a moral movement, not in conflict with human rights. But I also can recognize that we are in a complex situation that might bring Zionism and Human rights into conflict.

This middle position is where the truth lies. The truth is, you don’t need to compromise one value for the other; you can support Israel and support human rights.

And it’s this middle ground that I am determined to uphold. It’s this discourse, this truth, that I’m working to spread.

At the “Blue & White Human Rights Movement” of the The Institute for Zionist Strategies, we monitor the crossings where thousand of Palestinians workers enter Israel daily; our volunteers stand three mornings a week to observe and offer assistance to Palestinians. We host workshops where we speak to young Israelis before they join the army, and host trainings in morality and ethics — in the name of Zionism.

We are not alone in this commitment to upholding human rights and our commitment to Zionism, because these are not values that conflict. All across Israel, there are Israelis committed to human rights work.

It’s very easy to take a situation to the extreme and make it black or white. It is much harder to acknowledge its complexity.

We invite If Not Now to visit our center in East Jerusalem where Arab and Jewish interns assist the local population with their needs and teach them Hebrew. We invite them to talk to the Palestinians who were tortured by the PA. We invite them to read our research.

We will answer any questions you have, but please be ready to hear more than the one sided argument you are used to.

It’s easy to stand on a bus full of students who might not be aware of the issues and bombard them with “facts” as was done to the students at UPenn. But the one fact that matters above all is that we are in a complex conflict that affects the lives of millions: Palestinians and Israelis.

Your choice is to add fuel to the fire, which will affect those of us who live in this reality, or to learn and take part in making it better.

It’s possible. We do it every day.

Nave Dromi is the head of Blue&White Human Rights Movement of the Institute for Zionist Strategies. She is an alumni of the Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies and writes for Haaretz.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.