My friends, I have been struggling for days with regard to writing my next posting. Everything is SO chaotic, and much of what is happening is truly not good news. For the first time, I was having trouble deciding what message I wanted to deliver.
Now it has come to me, with clarity and a sense of urgency. I urge you to save this posting; you are likely to find it of value now and down the road.
Last week, J Street – which is not pro-Israel, no matter its claims – held a conference in Washington D.C. There is a great deal to say about that conference, including the fact that, to his shame, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) participated as a speaker – apparently having decided to do so after he determined which way the Democratic wind was blowing. But I am going to leave him aside here.
At the conference a panel discussion was held on the growing rift between Israel and American Jews. One of the participants was someone identified as ‘Rabbi’ Ayelet Cohen; I don’t know where – in what progressive venue – she studied. She is associated with the New Israel Fund – another group that is ostensibly pro-Israel but most decidedly is not.
I came across a statement about Israel that Cohen made during the panel discussion that is so vile, so off-base, that it must be addressed.
Not remotely do I imagine I might ever change her thinking. But I believe supporters of Israel must be armed with solid information in dealing with persons such as her, and perhaps more significantly, with those who are on the fence and might be influenced by the likes of her.
She said, in part (emphasis added):
“For many of us, and we see this in many communities of North American Jews, across movements, affiliation, across religious connection, people who were deeply connected to Israel are tired, they are constantly feeling a need to justify why they feel connected to this place, they’re constantly disappointed, experiencing a lot of shame about this place– always hoping that it will rise to the occasion, be something that it’s not.
“…It’s a lot of work to stay engaged, to keep holding on, to not walk away.
“…It’s easier to look away.
“…it’s easier to just not talk about Israel. It’s too divisive, it’s too complicated. Politically engaged congregations have so much to do around immigration and other domestic issues– why talk about something that’s going to be so painful, so complicated, and feels further away for a lot of us?
“…I’ve spoken to some rabbis who have slowly taken Israel out of the Hebrew school curriculum, and no one noticed. As long as we’re still talking about social justice and antisemitism and highlights of Jewish history and holidays, nobody notices that Israel isn’t in there.”
The position of Ayelet Cohen and others who think as she does is clear: They are grievously disappointed in Israel – disappointed to the point of shame – that Israel does not adhere to their sense of what Israel should be.
This is not news. They have substituted progressive positions for Jewish values and imagine that are behaving Jewishly in embracing these positions. The emphasis on the issue of “immigration” – the number one progressive cause these days – is a case in point, but of course there others, such as universal right to abortion.
These progressives lack either the capacity or the desire to understand Israel’s positions, Israel’s needs and Israel’s rights. Their focus is on “Palestinian rights.” Palestinians Arabs, after all, are seen as the underdogs and are people of color to boot – making them, by progressive standards, the party inherently worthy of support. This ‘rabbi’ and a host of others have forgotten Hillel’s admonition, “If I am not for myself…”
But let’s look at why Jews should care about Israel:
- The Land of Israel is our religious inheritance, dating back almost 4,000 years.
God said to Abraham (Abram): “Go from your land, from your people and from your father’s house to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)
This promise of the land extended to Abraham’s son Isaac, and to his grandson Jacob: “The land that I gave to Abraham and to Isaac, I will give to you, and to your offspring after you I will give the land.” (Genesis 35:12)
When the Hebrews were enslaved in Egypt, God instructed Moses to say to them: “I am the Lord. I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage … I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession.” (Exodus 6:6-8)
The Book of Joshua describes Joshua leading the people across the Jordan to enter the Land.
Every Jewish child in every religious school should learn these texts, and learn, as well, that the land that is alluded to is the modern Land of Israel.
- The People of Israel have returned.
For those of a liberal/progressive mind-bent – who might not take seriously, or literally, the promise of God that this is our land – there is this to consider:
For 2,000 years, from the time of the Destruction of the Second Temple, the people were dispersed to lands far and wide. Yet God promised that we would return.
Before the people entered the Land, Moses, prophesying, told them:
“Then Hashem, your God, will bring back your captivity and have mercy upon you and He will gather you from all the peoples to which Hashem your God has scattered you…Hashem your God will bring you to the Land that your forefathers possessed and you shall possess it.” (Deuteronomy 30:1-5)
There are multiple allusions in the prophets as well to the return.
With the creation of modern Israel, we see this return happening: People from over 70 countries have made Israel their home since 1948. Historically, there is absolutely no precedent for this astounding phenomenon.
This is a proof in modern times. The Ingathering of the People has huge theological significance for those who have eyes to see it: it is a nes, a miracle.
- The historical connection of the Land of Israel to the Jews, going back more than 3,000 years, is beyond dispute.
Additional archaeological evidence of this is uncovered regularly. From a purely historical perspective, this is our land.
For some 3,000 years, the only time the land of Israel has been an independent nation, a sovereignty, is when it has been governed by Jews. In the 2,000 years of exile, until the founding of the modern state of Israel, the area of Israel was only an appendage, a province, attached to one larger empire or another, from the Roman Empire to the Ottoman Empire.
- Israel has thrived in the face of apparently insurmountable odds.
Our fledgling nation won the War of Independence in spite of predictions that it could never happen. Then, Israel won the Six Day War, when the Arab nations were aligned against her, and, after this, the Yom Kippur War.
But Israel has not only won wars, she has prospered and thrived beyond anything that might remotely have been expected. In 71 years we moved from the ashes of the Shoah to becoming a first world nation that is a leader in technology and medical advancement.
- Israel is a blessing to the nations of the world.
This is certainly with regard to those technological and medical advancements. The list of technologies developed in Israel, from which the modern world benefits, is impressive: the cell phone, voice mail technology, the first PC anti-virus software, etc. The medical advances, particularly with regard to cancer, are enormous.
But beyond this, Israel reaches out to help others on a regular basis. Israelis are first on the scene when there are disasters – setting up field hospitals, helping to rescue people, and more.
Israel even sends trained medical clowns from the Israeli non-profit Dream Doctors to ease the fears of children in times of trauma. Said Dream Doctors Executive Director Tsour Shriqui in late October 2019: “This is Israel. It’s part of our DNA to be there first to help in a time of crisis.”
Israeli experts teach drip irrigation to African farmers and provide various other sorts of expertise to struggling nations – such as how to use solar energy to pump clean water. Israel instructs others in anti-terrorism techniques, as well: Israel is much sought after by African nations for this critical expertise.
During the Syrian civil war, Israel brought in wounded Syrians, notably children, for badly needed medical care. The IDF even set up a maternity hospital on the Syrian side of the border to provide a place for Syrian women to deliver.
Israel treats children from a host of nations, including some that have no diplomatic ties with Israel. Via Save-a-Child’s-Heart, Israel provides heart surgery (with doctors working as volunteers) for those with life-threatening conditions. Thousands of children have been treated. Another Israeli non-profit brings Israeli ophthalmologists into the third world to do surgery on a volunteer basis.
Noted attorney Alan Dershowitz has observed: “No country in the history of the world ever contributed more to the welfare of humankind in such a short period of time than Israel.”
- The IDF is the most moral army in the world.
In times of conflict, we give warning to enemy civilians before attacking. Our soldiers have been killed when an operation has been halted to avoid hitting those civilians.
Additionally, Israel has an extraordinary policy (probably unique in the world) of receiving into its ranks, as full soldiers or volunteers, persons with various disabilities, including autism. The goal is to provide these people with a sense of worth and inclusion.
- Israel is a liberal democracy.
Whatever the weaknesses of that democracy, it is the only one in the Middle East and it is a bulwark of freedom.
Arab citizens of Israel have fuller human and civil rights – freedom of speech, right to petition the courts, etc. – than the residents of any of the surrounding Arab nations or the Palestinian-Arab administered areas.
Israel’s Arab citizens have full equity with Jewish citizens in terms of civil rights – they vote and select their own representatives in the Knesset, they are accepted at all schools of higher learning, they receive the same medical care as Jews in the same hospitals, receive the same welfare benefits.
- Jews the world over are more secure because of Israel.
Had Israel existed in the 1930s, we would not have lost 6,000 of our people in the Shoah. People today are complacent and tend to discount the effect that a powerful Israel with a strong standing army has on those who would destroy us.
- The presence of Israel in the volatile Middle East is enormously important from a security and defense aspect.
Israel supplies the West, and especially the US, with invaluable Intelligence. Many lives have been saved because Israel warns other countries about impending terror attacks.
The US relies on Israel in multiple regards; the Pentagon in particular understands Israel’s value. Israel’s actions – e.g., working against Iranian entrenchment in Syria – frequently serve American interests in the area. Additionally, the US relies on the Israeli development of certain military equipment, and cooperates extensively with Israel in the area of cyber-security.
US naval ships routinely dock in Haifa; US Air Force planes re-fuel at Israeli bases; and hundreds of millions of dollars of military and medical equipment are stored in Israeli territory for ready access.
The observation of the late Alexander Haig, former Supreme Commander of NATO and Secretary of State, some years ago, that “Israel is the largest American aircraft carrier in the world that cannot be sunk, does not carry even one American soldier, and is located in a critical region for American national security” still has great relevance.
- The continuity of the Jewish People lies with Israel.
The progressive Jews of America are not reproducing their numbers; many are assimilating or marrying out. Israel has the highest Jewish birthrate in the world, and almost all marry Jews. Jews in America who are non-religious easily assimilate into a non-Jewish culture. In Israel, those who are non-religious are still within a Jewish atmosphere. Research shows that many of those who describe themselves as non-observant still keep something – perhaps lighting Chanukah candles, or attending a seder. This is supported by the Jewish cultural environment.
There is more Jewish study – from serious text study to informal lessons – going on in Israel than anywhere else, now or ever.
- Israel is the only Jewish state in the world.
This means going according to Jewish time and sharing a pervasive sense of common Jewish culture and values.
Being Jewish is normative here. There is nowhere else in the world where this is true.