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Iris Hami, Jewish Travel Expert Explains How Jews Can Help Today – Part 2

Combat Anti-Semitism and Support Israel

Am Yisrael Chai

Gil Travel CEO Iris Hami is an expert on Middle Eastern and Jewish travel and a lifelong supporter of Israel. As Israel fights a war on terror, and Jewish people around the world face an ugly wave of anti-Semitism and hostility, Iris explains how each of us can step up and make a real difference. 

Shalom,

By way of introduction, my name is Iris Hami. I’m an American Jew who’s spent a lifetime organizing Jewish travel and tours to Israel and the Middle East. I’ve seen Israel face many tough situations over the years, and always prevail. But I’ve never seen the country in as much shock and pain as it is now. 

The horrific events of October 7th have seared the national psyche and caused immense fear, grief and distress. Israel is a small country where everybody knows everybody else. It can be hard for Americans to understand the intimacy of life in Israel. A basic comparison is New Jersey; Israel has roughly the same population and land mass as the Garden State. A tragedy that affects one Israeli, is usually felt by all. 

A barbarian rabble broke into this small country and massacred over 1,200 of its citizens. The terrorists – little more than gangs of mass shooters, rapists and arsonists – deliberately targeted peaceful civilian communities and went on a homicidal rampage. The atrocities of October 7th were filmed by Hamas and are irrefutable, but there are already people in the free world who cynically choose to deny them. 

As the IDF fights in Gaza, and the Israeli Home Front Command defends the country against rocket attacks, we have another front to fight on – it’s the battle for world public opinion and the battle against anti-Semitism. Everybody can volunteer, and everybody can play an active role. We also need to support Israel and help the country to restore its security and to recover on every level. 

How Serious is the Threat of Anti-Semitism?

As I watch the mass demonstrations against Israel in the US, and London and Europe’s capitals, and watch films of vandals tearing down posters of Israeli hostages, I repeatedly ask myself how serious the threat actually is. The America I knew was a liberal democracy where Jews had largely overcome residual pre-war anti-Semitism. Our community was integrated, confident and punching above its weight in almost every field. 

Something has changed, and the most striking change is on college campuses. They used to be beacons of free speech and tolerance and Jews were active in academia. Now, a loose alliance of social justice warriors, Islamists, left wing radicals and anti-Israel activists seems to dominate the campuses. As well as attacking freedom of speech and the free exchange of ideas, they are openly hostile towards Jews. 

This anti-Semitism is also appearing in the media, and in trade union activity and local politics. There is a contingent of openly anti-Semitic and anti-Israel representatives in Congress. The situation isn’t good, and (if we don’t act) it has the potential to become a lot worse. Fortunately, anti-Jewish sentiment isn’t part of mainstream America yet, and we don’t intend to ever let that happen.

Join the Fight Against Jew Haters 

When we combat anti-Semitism, we’re fighting for hearts and minds and for control of public spaces. Everybody can do something, even if it’s just registering to write in the comments sections of online newspapers or joining online forums. Whatever you write, keep it as short as possible and entirely factual, and rely on reasoned argument. Don’t get emotional or resort to name calling or mud slinging – and don’t get sucked into online fights with trolls.

We can also write to our elected representatives in Congress and the Senate and to local Democrat and Republican political organizations. If they already support Israel – thank them! Ask what else they are planning to do to help the Jewish State and to fight anti-Semitism in the US. When you write to politicians, express your concerns, and give specific examples of problems and your preferred solution. 

Keep the tone respectful, but make it plain that votes and donations are at stake. If you support a particular party, consider getting involved at grassroots level. You can influence candidate selection and help to exclude hostile individuals. We tend to be cynical about politics and politicians, but the system can work – if we use it.

It’s also important to push back against unacceptable behavior by individuals, particularly when they are representatives of a wider organization like a business, college or media outlet. When people say things that are demonstrably untrue, vile, or that cross the line into incitement to violence, they must be held to account. Take screenshots, save video clips and repost them widely. Make sure that managers, deans, shareholders and investors see the clips.

You may not be able to change the opinions of anti-Semites, but you can force them to moderate their behavior. It’s vitally important to prevent them from influencing less bigoted but more impressionable people and setting the tone on social media etc. As soon as the hatemongers realize that they’ll be unemployed – and unemployable – the whole atmosphere of incitement will be defused. 

Help Israel with Practical Support

Israel was founded on the trauma of the holocaust, and has experienced two profoundly traumatic events in its short history. The first was the Yom Kippur war of October 1973. The second was exactly 50 years later – the massacres of October 2023. Both were surprise blows that hit immensely hard. In 1973, the casualties were mainly young male combat soldiers. In 2023 they were predominantly civilians – including children.

Israel is reeling from a shock that will take a generation to process. Civilians were butchered in their homes, on the highways, and at a music festival. The sense of collective and personal security is shattered. In its place, a sense of trauma and grief cuts like a knife through every segment of society and every community. 

As Israel fights back, 18% of the workforce has been recalled to the IDF. The tourist industry is broken, including Jewish travel, while agriculture is almost at a standstill. The retail sector is hit, and the amazing Israeli high tech industry has lost its best and brightest to the army for the duration. 

You can help out by buying Israeli goods and services online, or in your local stores. Apart from buying (shamefully underrated) Israel wine and superb deli products, try supporting Israeli writers and filmmakers. Ask your local bookstore for works by Israeli authors or buy them on Amazon – and leave good reviews! 

Help to Free the Hostages!

On a day of relentless savagery, one of the most horrifying sights was Hamas thugs seizing Israeli civilians at gunpoint, and carrying them away to Gaza. The situation is complex and ongoing, and the hostages confined in Gaza’s labyrinth of terror tunnels need your help!

Extend your letter writing program to lobby for the release of the hostages. Place extra pressure on the International Red Cross and (while children remain hostage) UNICEF. Emphasize that hostage taking and the use of human shields are direct war crimes. Write to the ambassadors (to the US) of countries that maintain diplomatic relations with Hamas. Keep it polite, but demand that they use their influence to free Israeli hostages, and to ban Hamas as a terror organization.  

Where possible, refer to hostages by name and age. Make everybody realize that the hostages are people like them. Put up posters and arrange demonstrations at key locations (like outside the embassies of Hamas supporting countries). Use your imagination and initiative and help to keep the hostages in the public eye. Repeat the message that hostage taking and the use of human shields is a crime against humanity and a war crime

Jewish Travel in 2024 – A Message of Hope

I learned a long time ago that it’s naive to make predictions about the Middle East. It will always surprise you – frequently in a bad way – but often in a good way. I do know the Israeli people, and I’ve come to admire their resilience, determination, optimism and ability to adapt and innovate. 

Israel will bounce back from the Hell it’s currently going through. There will always be deep, deep sadness, as well as anger, shame, remorse and a lingering sense of fear when people look back on October 2023. However, the country as a whole can never be beaten or broken. When the fighting is over, and Israel picks up the pieces, the Israelis will desperately want to welcome tourists again. 

Israel’s connection with diaspora Jews, especially US Jews is vitally important. More than anything, Jewish travel to Israel will demonstrate to Israelis that better times are arriving. It’s easy to show solidarity from across the Atlantic (and every little helps). But nothing will tell ordinary people in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – and the battered South –  that the world believes in them, like American Jews holding bar mitzvahs at the Wailing Wall, or volunteering on farms. Just visiting cafes and restaurants, talking to the locals, listening to people’s experiences and making new friends will help with the healing. 

Iris Hami, is a Jewish travel expert, Zionist and a passionate and tireless advocate for Israel and its people.

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