The overarching theme of her message is this: When people reject Zionism, suggesting that Israel does not have the right to exist as a Jewish state, it is code for hatred of Jews themselves. “When a massacre occurs that is more barbaric than the world had seen in generations, people actually say, ‘Well, but Israel kind of deserves that,’” Ms. Tishby said. “Anti-Zionism is antisemitism.”
That concept — that anti-Zionism and antisemitism are equivalent — is at the heart of a generations-long argument. It is a position endorsed by many mainstream organizations and rejected by others, including many progressive Jews. Critics say that tying a disavowal of Zionism to antisemitism discourages critical discourse about Israeli politics.
“My overarching criticism of Noa is that she is part of an effort that is led by the Israeli government to conflate all strident criticism of Israeli governmental policy with antisemitism,” said Simone Zimmerman, a writer and activist who helped create “If Not Now,” a movement of American Jews who are critical of the Israeli government for its policies toward Palestinians.
Ms. Tishby, who said she was fired by the Israeli government after criticizing the Netanyahu administration, says she welcomes the debate. But she does not apologize for her belief that her homeland has a right to defend itself, even now, when Israel is facing intense criticism for its barrage on areas of Gaza populated both by civilians and Hamas.
“Three weeks ago, Israel was brutally attacked by savages who are out to destroy her,” she said. “If Mexico would have done the same thing to the United States, nobody would have told the US three weeks in ‘restrain itself.’ “Israeli is doing the best it can in an impossible situation.”
She demurs only when she is asked if she stands behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his handling of the war. “I don’t want to talk about that,” she said.
In social media videos and in interviews, Ms. Tishby speaks with the ease of a veteran broadcast anchor, the self-certainty of a politician who has honed her talking points and the passion of an activist who is willing to reveal her emotions but not give in to them.
Her objective, she said, is to lift the morale of Jewish people around the world and to try to reach those on the political left who believe the killing of 1,400 Israelis and kidnapping of 240 more by Hamas was an act of Palestinian resistance. “The progressive left has been played,” she said.
In an appearance on Fox last week with Sean Hannity, Ms. Tishby noted that Hamas has broken cease-fires in the past, and she emphasized the threat posed by Iran, a supporter of Hamas. “The human rights that you have in Iran are the human rights that you are going to have in the West” if Hamas is not removed from power, she said. “Israel is fighting the West’s war.”
And in an Instagram video post that included footage of the plane that crashed into the World Trade Center, Ms. Tishby spoke to the camera. “Imagine if within days of the Al Qaeda attack on 9/11,” she said, “a group of students on American campuses were holding rallies in support of that terror attack.” She added: “That is exactly what is happening on campuses in America right now.”
To plenty of Jewish people, Ms. Tishby is an inspiration — a frontline general in a messaging war, providing supporters of Israel with an insider understanding of its history and answers to accusations made about a country they cherish — all in shareable Instagram posts. “She is a pro-Israel influencer on a platform that is notoriously hostile to Israel,” said Representative Ritchie Torres, a Democrat from New York and a close friend of hers. “The common refrain that I’ve heard from the Jewish community is, ‘We’re feeling alone and we’re feeling scared, and it’s voices like Noa Tishby’s that make us feel less alone and scared.’”
Before the war, Ms. Tishby was relatively unknown in the United States. But for decades, “she was a household name in Israel,” said her friend Gideon Raff, who created the Israeli television series “Prisoners of War” and was an executive producer of “Homeland,” the Showtime series based on it.
Ms. Tishby was born in Tel Aviv and raised in a politically active, progressive family. She served in the Israel Defense Forces, in what might be thought of as the Israeli USO She traveled from “the Golan Heights to Hebron to the Gaza Strip,” she wrote in her book, singing cover tunes and performing sketches for her fellow soldiers.
While still in the army, she was cast in a television drama as Dafna Maor, a designer hired to bring youth and relevance to a fashion company. The show, named “Ramat Aviv Gimmel,” for an affluent suburb of Tel Aviv, was a sensation.