June 21, 2022
Noa Tishby is many things: an American and Israeli actress, singer, supermodel, television producer, author, tour guide, mother, and Jewish activist.
Only recently has that last job on the list gone from an informal role to an official appointment by the Israeli government.
Tishby, who was appointed Israel’s special envoy for combating antisemitism and the delegitimization of Israel in April 2022, shared with the audience at AJC Global Forum 2022 in New York City how her past decade of pro-Israel advocacy began when she discovered a pervasive antisemitism in Hollywood under the guise of anti-Zionism.
From her professional pursuits as the executive producer of a dozen American adaptations of Israeli hits, to her activism as the founder of Israel’s first online advocacy organization, Tishby’s journey has been far from that of a conventional diplomat.
“My advocacy became not just this thing I did at dinner parties but a true calling,” she writes in her 2021 book A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth. “Truth spreading.”
“If you believe in democracy, freedom of speech, human rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and especially if you’re a liberal and a progressive, and you’re not supporting Israel within the context of the Middle East, you’re an idiot,” she writes.
Here’s what Tishby had to say about antisemitism, Israel, Palestinians, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, and the irony that Zionists, heirs to one of the most successful movements of national liberation in the 20th century, are not welcome in some progressive spaces.
Growing up a fourth-generation Israeli whose great grandparents left Russia to help found the country, Tishby never encountered antisemitism until she moved to Los Angeles in the 1990s.
“Throughout history ‘the Jew’ was used to describe what is worst at the moment,” she told an AJC audience. “In the days of Christianity, ‘the Jew’ was a Christ killer. Nazis said Jews were race polluters. What’s the worst a Jew can be today? Racist, colonialist, apartheid. Who can be blamed for all these horrible traits? The Jewish state. Israel the scapegoat. This is nothing but new antisemitism – just old antisemitism in a new disguise.”
The 8,019 square miles that comprises the world’s only Jewish state is precisely the opposite of what people try to make it out to be, Tishby said. “In order to have any legitimate discussion about Israel, you need to know a few basic facts,” she writes. Anyone who calls it a colonizing state is wrong, she said.
“Israel is a refugee state that was decolonized from Britain,” she said. “It is the only example in history of indigenous people going back to their homeland. Yes, there were people. There wasn’t a state. But it was never Palestine as a state. Two people were living in this land and sharing that land. To say anything otherwise is mental gymnastics.”
Tishby did not back down from her book’s excoriation of the BDS movement as “a giant pile of crap — misinformation, disinformation, manipulation, elimination of history and flat-out lies.” Instead, she explained why it’s so dangerous.
“The BDS movement’s intention is to dismantle Israel as the Jewish state,” she told the AJC audience. “If the Jewish state ceased to exist, it would be a calamity. Every Jew around the world would be in danger. Jewish people have had freedoms in the last 70 years because of a Jewish state and a Jewish army. If you are a Ukrainian Jew, you have somewhere to go.”
To be a Zionist doesn’t mean to support every action of the Israeli government, Tishby writes. Rather, Zionism is a constant work in progress – an endeavor toward a more perfect society.
“Zionism is a progressive movement,” she told the AJC audience. “Zionism was a movement to progress Jews from discrimination to self-determination. Zionism is a victim of its success – a progressive movement that succeeded so much that people are going against it … Stand your ground, know your facts, and don’t shy away.”
On conflict with Palestinians
Tishby models the Zionist example of supporting Israel with eyes wide open.
“Israel is guilty of many things, but it has attempted to make peace over and over again,” she writes. “Why, for some of the Arab world, is Israel’s biggest ‘aggression’ not its actions or unfavorable government but its mere existence?”
“What is it that Palestinians as a national movement want?” she asked the AJC audience. “Why is there no Palestine yet? If you want to be a supporter of peace in the Middle East, encourage Palestinians to come to the table with good intentions. There definitely would be room for that.”
On social media
Frustrated with the spread of misinformation and vitriol surrounding Israel, Tishby’s activism has focused on discrediting and changing the social media narrative.
“We are dealing with so many trolls,” she said. “Identify what it is and who it is. If it’s someone you know, call them and respond. Don’t get into social media fights with trolls. Someone who has a large platform doesn’t listen to us.”
The recent spin accusing Israel of assassinating Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was particularly disturbing, she said. The whole reason the military was in Jenin was that 19 Israelis had been murdered by terrorists who originated there. It is the Palestinian Authority that has refused to release the bullet and cooperate with an investigation, she said, yet “people will jump to believe the worst of Jews.”
Tishby urged AJC to prioritize education and tough conversations with teenagers.
“We can’t send our kids to college without hearing slanders against Israel,” she said. “We have to talk about this. If we don’t, then they will hear it in college for the first time.”
And quite often, they will hear it from an influencer or celebrity much like herself, but who is either misinformed or has malign intentions. Just last year, Palestinian terrorist Leila Khaled went on a campus speaking tour, calling Israel an apartheid state and vowing to take up arms against it if necessary.
“I’m against canceling anywhere,” she said. “When it comes to colleges, the only remedy is to know your facts, be rooted in those facts in Jewish identity and Jewish pride.”