Thursday, September 3, 2009

How to Answer the Haters

One of the most important claims for Israel's defenders, both American Jews and Israelis, is Israel's willingness to compromise for peace. "Israel's greatest desire is peace, and is willing to sacrifice for it", they proudly proclaim, in contrast to the 6 decades of Arab rejectionism. Another essential point cited by supporters of Israel is that Israel is "the only democracy in the Middle-East", after which they go on to list the number of ways in which Israel is similar to the United States.

Israel is certainly the only country in the Middle-East with free elections, freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Despite any problems with Israeli democracy, it is infinitely better than Saudi or Iranian theocracy, Egyptian or Syrian dictatorship or the host of other thuggish regimes that rule the Middle-East. However, if this is the cardinal argument in favor of Israel, then Israel advocates are faced with a terrible dilemma: Israel's Jewish and Zionist character are inherently opposed to true, liberal Western-style democracy. Israel is, by definition, a Jewish state, which means that Jews must be the majority of the population. Israel's people, culture, religion, language, holidays and character are thoroughly Jewish. Even if an Arab has equality before the law and the right to vote, he is automatically culturally alienated from a state which belongs to another people. No Arab can sing Hatikvah with pride, beaming as he recites the words "the soul of a Jew yearns". Neither can he identify with a flag which is designed to resemble the Jewish prayer shawl and that features the Star of David, symbol of the Jewish people. He cannot celebrate Yom HaAztmaut, Israel's Independence Day, as this is the day of his defeat at the hands of the Jews. All lovers of Israel must realize that Israel, as long as it is a Jewish state, can never be a perfect democracy in the sense of Canada or the United States. This is not meant to criticize or deligitimize Israel- it is simply the stating of a fact.

Similarly, Israel can never have a complete separation of Synagogue and State, as is in the United States. Whatever role religion should play in the public sphere, most Israelis agree that it is important for Judaism to play a role in the Jewish State. For the concept of a Jewish state to have any significance, Israel must have some sort of Jewish character.

Here we see the fundamental flaws of liberal Israel advocacy. Israel will never be a perfect democracy, nor will it ever be thoroughly American or Western, if it is to be Jewish. In the same vein, Israelis and American Jews present peace as the most important of Israeli goals, as if Israel without peace is useless. Israel's obsessive compulsion to pursue a reckless policy of appeasement and surrender in the name of "peace" is tauted as proof of Israel's supreme righteousness. From Jewish children in Hebrew schools and summer camps, brainwashed by "peace", to liberal American Jews and Leftist Israelis still enamored by Rabin and Oslo, we are constantly reminded that "Israel is all about peace".

Since the earliest beginnings of Jewish re-settlement in Israel, there has been constant conflict with the Arabs. In the 90 years since the Arab pogroms in the 1920s, the bloodshed has been without respite. Despite the initiatives of various US presidencies, the two sides seem too distant and irreconcilable for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The Jews and Arabs have far too many differences in terms of culture, collective past and their respective views for the future for any peace agreement in the near future. This being said, is Israel then to be considered a complete failure?

Peace is an important goal for Israel, but it is not the most important goal. The quest for peace does not give Israel its right to exist, nor does its democratic government or Western leanings make it the morally superior party. After all, one could easily establish a democratic, Western regime on the stolen lands of another nation, as was the case in Canada, the United or India, for example. After appropriating native land, it is only natural for this country to seek peace with the conquered.

What gives Israel the moral upper-hand in the conflict is the fact that the Land of Israel belongs indisputably to the Jewish people. It was in the Land of Israel that the Jewish people arose, built two Commonwealths, and fought courageously before being carried away by first the Babylonians and then the Romans. It was the Land of Israel in which Abraham, Isaac and Jacob sojourned, in which David fought and Solomon built, in which Isaiah and Jeremiah prophesied and called the wayward Jews to repent. It was the Land that, upon remembering its glory, the exiled Jews sat down by the rivers of Babylon and wept. It is the Land upon whose agricultural cycle the Jewish calendar and holidays revolve. It is the Land which our Sages taught that the entire Torah rests. Jewish settlement and presence in Israel predates that of the British in Britain, the French in France, or the Romans in Rome. When the Greeks were only beginning to ponder the great philosophical questions, the Jews had already left Egypt, conquered the Land, established Jerusalem as their capital, built the Temple there, split into two kingdoms, been exiled by the Babylonians for 50 years, and returned to rebuild under Ezra and Nehemia.

Even after the vast majorities of Jews were carried into captivity by the Romans, the Land was never bereft of a Jewish presence. The center of Jewish life spread to the Galilee and then to the Golan, and during the ages, pious Jews settled in the holy cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed and Tiberias. For the great masses who could not ascend and return home, Israel remained the focal point of their intense longing and desire. Every single year, at the end of every Passover Seder and Yom Kippur fast, every Jew would declare: Next Year in Jerusalem! At every Jewish wedding, a cup is broken and a vow is made: If I forget thee, O Jerusalem... Three times a day, every day, observant Jews turn towards the East and beseech G-d, "may our eyes behold Your return to Zion in mercy". A Jew cannot even eat a cookie without thanking G-d "for the good and spacious land which You gave our ancestors as an inheritance".

To all those who charge Israel with the most vile of crimes, with "occupation, "ethnic cleansing", "theft of land", our answer most not be of saying that Israel wants peace, or that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle-East. The fact that Israel is the United State's greatest ally is irrelevant to this accusation. Our answer must be that of Simon the Maccabee, which he wrote to the Seleucid king Antiochus: "We have neither taken foreign land nor seized foreign property, but only the inheritance of our fathers, which at one time had been unjustly taken by our enemies. Now that we have the opportunity, we are firmly holding the inheritance of our fathers." There is no "Palestinian people", nor was there ever, nor will there ever be. Any student of history is aware of this fact. The relationship of the Jews and their Land is one of love, longing, tearful separation and joyous return. With this we shall answer the haters of Zion.

29 comments:

Young Activist said...

You know Bar, I think we have found some common ground, intellectually at least. I hope you do not mind me cross-posting sections of this.

Anonymous said...

very good piece. but i would encourage you to add the key factor, which i know you are aware of:
the torah.

the land of israel belongs to the jewish people because the Creator of the Universe gives it to us. He owns the world, He owns everything and He decides who gets what.

there are many quotations for this from chumash you can choose to cite.

our only real power is only due to H' Yitborach and His torah, period.

the more we, as the jewish people, internalize, live and state this truth, the stronger we are in all areas.

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