As the president of the progressive Zionist Ameinu, Kenneth Bob often speaks to synagogue groups, bringing the message that support for Israel is not at odds with support for Palestinians and that criticism of Israeli policies is automatically anti-Israel. And he’s often told, “You need to be at every dining room table when Jewish students come home from college” where they’ve been subject to anti-Israel messages.
Since that’s an impossibility, Bob and other Ameinu lay leaders instead developed The Third Narrative, an initiative launched this week and aimed at countering anti-Israel activity by the progressive far left. The initiative includes a Third Narrative website and a booklet, “The Third Narrative: Progressive Answers To The Far Left’s Critiques of Israel,” penned by Dan Fleshler, a media and publish affairs strategist. Fleshler wrote the book “Transforming America’s Israel lobby – The Limits of Its Power and the Potential for Change.”
“It’s pretty clear that most of the attacks” on Israel, “but not all, come from the left,” says Bob. “We felt that the way to deal with these attacks is to be viewed as a legitimate voice on the progressive side, which means in some cases agreeing with the criticism of Israel.”
In discussing Israel as an “apartheid” state, for example, the booklet, which is available as a download or in hard copy, calls discrimination against Arabs “appalling,” but says charges of apartheid distort reality and do not meet the international definition of the term.
The booklet calls discrimination against Arabs ‘appalling,’ but says charges of apartheid distort reality
In discussing the global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, the booklet states that BDS “undermines progressive forces in Israel who are working for social justice and human rights” and plays into the hands of right wingers in Israel who cultivate an “us against them, Israel vs. the world” mentality. “They gain more, not less political influence, when they can lump all leftists into the same ‘anti-Israel’ category.”
The project is aimed at progressives, union members, students and Jews seeking ways to counter anti-Israel arguments. The website includes both reprinted and original articles, including one titled “Young Jews Need to Learn: Ending Occupation, Creating Palestinian State Is Win-Win” and another by the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart, “Why Do People Keep Calling Israel an Apartheid State When It’s Not?”
The initiative takes its title, The Third Narrative, from the notion that there are two narratives, one Zionist and one Palestinian, Bob says. The third narrative is not a zero-sum game, he says, but rather both a Zionist and a Palestinian one that recognizes “that Israel has made policy mistakes and the Palestinians have yet to engage.”
Ameinu officials say that the organization’s history of acknowledging Israel’s flaws and criticizing its policies and of labor support give it credibility among the progressive left. “We can help Jews argue in the language that the left will understand,” says new CEO Gideon Aronoff.
Ameinu, formerly called the Labor Zionist Alliance, is one of a number of organizations providing information to counter anti-Israel messages. Among them is the Israel Action Network, a project of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. Geri Palast, IAN’s managing director, said she considers Ameinu’s work “complementary to ours.”
“There need to be multiple messengers to speak to people in a language, and from people, they’re willing to listen to,” she says.
Ameinu thus far has spent $50,000 on the initiative, according to Bob, who calls it a “living project” that also will include outreach to Jewish organizations and Jewish campus groups.
The Third Narrative’s launch comes just days after Aronoff joined the organization as chief executive officer. Until he quit last year, citing personal reasons, Aronoff had been executive director of HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society for more than a dozen years.
‘There need to be multiple messengers to speak to people in a language, and from people, they’re willing to listen to’
At HIAS, he was instrumental in focusing the organization on non-Jewish immigration; at Ameinu, he’s working to develop a domestic advocacy program. He said he sees a lot of similarities between HIAS and Ameinu in that “both are trying to build a holistic agenda where we combine our concern for Jews — in HIAS’ case Jewish immigrants, in Ameinu’s concern for Israel — and our concern for humanity.”
By having a domestic agenda, we will be working arm in arm with progressive organizations to address labor, civil rights and other issues of concern,” he says. “We will have a place at the table with them where we can share our progressive Zionist perspective on Israel.”