Israel is no stranger when it comes international criticism and condemnation. From such organizations such as Breaking the Silence, B’Tzelem to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, anti-Israel sentiments across the international community are become increasingly vocal and sometimes violent. Anti-Israel organizations, which hide under the banner of human rights organizations, are mostly politicized fronts that seek to bring about the downfall of the State of Israel.
One organization has decided that it would not sit quietly by as the rest of the world took no shame in readily accusing Israel of false crimes and human rights violations. The Institute for Zionist Strategies (IZS) seeks to contribute to the longevity and success of the State of Israel as a Jewish state that incorporates both Jewish and democratic values.
Founded upon the teachings of Genesis 1:27 – “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them…” – the IZS believes that the basis of all human rights derives from the fact that all man was created in the image of God. Since man is created in God’s image, we are therefore required to safeguard his image and that of all his creations.
Using ideological components inherent to Zionism, the IZS meshes Zionist ideology, which promised and empowered Jewish existence, with human rights that are intrinsic to Judaism. Dr. Yoaz Hendel, Chairman of the IZS, told Breaking Israel News that one of the greatest challenges Israel faces today “is the issue of human rights.”
“Israel, for the last decade, has become the biggest tourism site for human rights organizations. In one week, 20 groups from all over the world come to Israel to learn and study human rights. They don’t go to Saudi Arabia or Guantanamo. They come to Israel because it is a democratic state. Unfortunately, most the the time, they are exposed to a false image of Israel,” Hendel explained.
The IZS attempts to fill a great void of non-politicized human rights organizations that focus on the true issues surrounding the Israel-Arab conflict. Many human rights groups today reject Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state and openly celebrate their participation in the BDS movement. The IZS offers an alternative discourse to those organizations that “vilify, demean and delegitimize the State of Israel.”
Hendel, who grew up in a very nationalistic family, believes that respecting human rights is part of Jewish heritage and values, “without any connection to the right or left.”
“The mainstream has found themselves in a position in which Israel is evil and all the others are pro-human rights. We are the black and everyone else is white,” Hendel said. “Someone has hijacked my values.”
“I am nationalistic. Jews deserve a Jewish state for the Jewish people. At the same time, minorities also have rights! In Israel, you have rights in the land for all people without any connection to religion and gender. However, the world only focuses on Israel’s values and how they are violating them. They never look to see how Israel upholds its values. In the end, everything is Israel’s fault.”
Hendel, who holds the rank of Major in the Israeli Navy Seals and earned a Ph.D in history, shared a personal story to reiterate the importance as to why Israel so desperately needs to counter the vicious false accusations thrown its way.
“I had just came back from Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2009 and decided to return to academia. At the university I was teaching in, I was asked to give a lecture about my experience which was two days after I returned from reserve duty. I spoke about the different academic aspects surrounding the operation. Suddenly, all the questions everyone was asking me had to do with war crimes Israel committed in the operation in Gaza.”
“I thought to myself, ‘Here I stand as an academic, an officer.’ I told them: ‘I just came back from the front and am proud to be part of the fight. I can promise you from first hand experience that any time we went on military operations, I briefed my soldiers on how to avoid damaging or attacking civilians. How to treat them, to make sure they don’t get hurt.’”
The IZS is not afraid to deal with the big issues. After realizing that most human rights organization that were active in Israel were mostly part of the BDS movement, the founders of the IZS decided it was time to uphold their moral duty and promote real civil society in Israel.
“We decided to create a human rights organization that really focuses on human rights. Not on politics. Pure human rights,” Hendel said. The IZS runs three different programs which seek to explore alongside other human rights activists the everyday challenges facing Israel.
The “Blue and White Crossing Organization” monitors IDF checkpoints and makes sure that Palestinians receive fair and decent treatment. “B-W Human Rights” offers medical treatment to Palestinians under Israeli governance. Lastly, the IZS runs programming for Israeli high-schoolers that educates them on the ethical codes of the IDF and prepares them on how to be a moral soldier in the army.
Groups from all over the world, from the left to the right, meet with IZS volunteers to survey checkpoints and see the true efforts Israel undergoes each day to improve the lives of Palestinians.
“Life is complicated here. We are not painting the picture of life in Israel with rose colored glasses,” Hendel said. “We are giving a realistic picture – Israel has many problems but in the end it is a democratic country that has an interest in being moral, upholding ethical codes, and not violating human rights.”
The IZS has a unique relationship with Israeli security personnel unlike any other. Many other organizations routinely visit checkpoints and take photos which they later doctor to accompany false reports. The IZS actually speaks with security forces themselves and implements change.
“Two weeks ago, a Palestinian at a highly trafficked checkpoint accidentally broke a sensor with his shoulder as he was walking through. The commander got upset and revoked the mans work visa,” Hendel shared. “Other organizations that were present took pictures and exploited the situation. They did nothing to help. We came to checkpoint, spoke with the commander, and explained that he was overreacting to the situation. Within two minutes, the man had his visa back.”
Countering the anti-Israel narrative set by leftist organizations, the IZS delivers the message that Israel is constantly looking to improve itself. As Hendel put it, “We cannot allow small organization to paint Israel as something that it is not.”
For example, Breaking the Silence, a supposed human rights organization, tries to shape a new narrative of the IDF by publishing “true-life testimonies” of former IDF soldiers claiming atrocities they committed while serving. Hendel explains that while these testimonies can sound very convincing, they are published without any proof, any basis. Breaking the Silence is not looking for improvement but is rather playing the game of politics. [Editor: To read a true life testimony as part of an exclusive series of IDF soldiers on the front lines, click here]
“What I know and what all of Israel knows is that the IDF is a moral, ethical army. This is the narrative,” Hendel stated. “Look at Operation Brothers Keeper [IDF operation in search of three kidnapped Israeli teens by terrorists]. The first sentence IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz told the soldiers in Hebron was to make sure that they remember there are civilians where they will be going and that they are not part of the game. ‘Fight the enemies and don’t hurt the civilians’ – this is the IDF as I know it.”
Upon the establishment of the IZS, many radical leftist organizations viewed the IZS as being anti-human rights. As Hendel puts it, “We are just trying to be in the playground and show people who come to Israel the true value of Israel as a democratic, liberal country and change the international conversation.”
Hendel explained that many human rights activists come to Israel with a set image in their head. Majority of them believe that Israel is occupied. This is, Hendel believes, the “first basic assumption we try to explain is wrong.
“We want to give them another perspective about what is happening in Israel, at checkpoints. There is a balance between security and humanitarian and liberal values. We need to help them understand what is happening, but first-hand.”
“If we can’t convince them entirely, then at least we are successful in putting some doubts in their heads.”
Dr. Hendel and the IZS work tirelessly to help publicize the fine balancing act Israel must undergo each day to uphold the moral, democratic, liberal and Jewish values that converge to create the only free country in the Middle East.
“Balance is important to understand,” stated Hendel. “Checkpoints will not vanish with a Palestinian state or not. I need help from you, from everyone who supports and stands with Israel.”
“I want you to come to Israel firsthand and experience the extraordinary efforts Israel does to protect human rights. If one understands what is the basic essence of Israel, he will never support any type of BDS or anti-Israel campaigns again.”