Defending Israel’s right to exist is just as important off the battlefield as on it for former Israel Defense Forces special forces soldier Ran Bar-Yoshafat.
The deputy director of the Kohelet Policy Forum spoke to a group of young professionals about anti-Semitism on college campuses, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, and how people can strengthen their support for Israel during a Friends of the IDF young leadership program Tuesday, Oct. 24, at Southbound.
As Bar-Yoshafat’s employment came to an end at Camp Barney Medintz in 2006, he left the United States to serve in the Second Lebanon War. In battle his brigade lost nine men, including three from anti-tank missiles.
It was Bar-Yoshafat’s experiences during the Second Intifada, however, and his involvement with nonprofit organizations that led him to pursue Israel advocacy.
To gain a better understanding of the issues affecting Israel, Bar-Yoshafat met with diplomatic delegations and participated in advocacy organizations.
“I was surprised to hear that in other places in the world, people saw me as the bad guy, which for me came as a complete shock,” he said. “In my view, serving in the IDF was the most morally correct thing to do. I was protecting Jews, Muslims and Christians from terrorists, yet for some reason people saw me as the aggressor.”
After earning a law degree from Hebrew University, Bar-Yoshafat went on a six-month tour of the United States, visiting college campuses and promoting Israel. He spoke to about 45,000 students.
“It was a very meaningful time for me because I was trying to not only protect Israel on the battlefield, but on college campuses,” he said.
While presenting his lectures, however, Bar-Yoshafat discovered that students did not mention specific policies or issues about Israel, but its right to exist. That’s when he began using basic advocacy while focusing on demonization, delegitimization and double standards to determine whether someone was offering legitimate criticism of Israel or using modern anti-Semitism.
He found common examples within the BDS movement.
Bar-Yoshafat said the main issue on college campuses regarding Israel is how the undecided 70 percent of students are influenced. “You are going to have 5 percent to 15 percent of individuals who hate or support Israel no matter what, but what I am concerned about is the 70 percent. It’s like a trend. The fight against Israel has become more important.”
In addition to anti-Semitism on college campuses, Bar-Yoshafat spoke about media coverage of terror attacks and the effects on Israel. “For me, this is very problematic because it places Israel in a situation which will make it very difficult for the country to retaliate when it’s under attack.”
Turning his attention to the United States and President Donald Trump, Bar-Yoshafat said: “Most Israelis are optimistic about the new administration and believe the U.S. and Israel share the same democratic values. However, world Jewry imposes a bigger concern. We are worried about assimilation, that American Jews are apathetic toward Israel and that the fastest-growing organization for Israel is Jewish Voice for Peace, which according to the Anti-Defamation League is an anti-Semitic organization.”
After his campus tour, Bar-Yoshafat said, statistics from college surveys indicate that support for Israel rose about 20 percent while anti-Israel events are decreasing and pro-Israel events are increasing.
But he said the best form of Israel advocacy is to visit Israel and have Israelis travel abroad. “We are not at the promised land yet, but we are getting there.”