Tag: Israel Independence Day

AM YISRAEL CHAI!

 

 

 

The Canadian Institute for Jewish Research cordially invites you to its

23rd Anniversary Gala

Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Congregation Shaar Hashomayim
450 Avenue Kensington, Westmount, Quebec, Canada

DISTINGUISHED KEYNOTE SPEAKER

MOSHE ARENS
Former Israeli Defense Minister and Ambassador to the U.S.

 

Also Featuring

 

Prof. Barry Rubin
Outstanding internationally-renowned Middle East analyst

 

Tax receipts will be issued for the maximum allowable amount

 

For additional information. or to register for the 23rd Anniversary Gala,
please call Yvonne at 514-486-5544 or contact us by e-mail at yvonne@isranet.org
.

 

REFLECTIONS ON YOM HA’ATZMAUT 5771/2011
Frederick Krantz

 

Lenore and I recently had the privilege of spending a month in Jerusalem, into and across the Pessah holiday. As always, being in the Jewish state allays the anxieties which living in the Diaspora engenders—concerns about Hamas and Hezbollah terrorism, Mahmoud Abbas’ threatened “unilateral declaration of independence”, Iran’s progress towards a nuclear weapon, whether the Arab rebellions will result in even more radical, anti-Israel regimes , about the unending European and North American delegitimation campaigns, and so on.

It’s not that one’s concerns over these very real issues suddenly or entirely disappear. Rather, directly experiencing the strength and dynamism of Israel’s democratic Jewish society, unique in a Middle East wracked by dictatorship, underdevelopment, and Islamic extremism, conveys a conviction that Jerusalem can and will endure.

Precisely the normality of everyday life, of the traffic and building cranes and the throbbing hum of street life, and yes, even the tensions and give-and-take of democratic politics, demonstrate that modern Israel, as it celebrates its sixty-third birthday, has the economic, political, and cultural strength, and the robust civic resilience, not only to deal with its violent and hostile neighborhood, but also to lead the Jewish people in the centrally-important struggle against anti-Semitic delegitimation.

The period from Pessah through Yom Hashoah, Yom HaZikaron, and Yom Ha’atzmaut, is a period for serious personal and national reflection. The survival of the Jewish people, across its millennial history, amidst the persecution and the wars of extermination against it, is indeed a miracle. And surely its return to independence in its own Land, even as Hitler and his European henchmen, and then the Arab nations in their turn after 1945, sought to destroy it, can only be read as something miraculous.

Israel’s destiny, some would say mission, among the nations is inscribed in our Tanakh, with its promise of return to our own Land, a return foreseen by our Prophets, from Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel, to Theodor Herzl, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, and David Ben-Gurion.

Biblical Israel, charged with the joyous burden of witnessing to God’s redemptive plan by sanctifying daily life through doing the commanded mitzvoth, has shaped modern democratic Israel, charging it to be a Zionist beacon of modern civilization, transforming its barren post-Exilic hills and plains and deserts into a modern Land of milk and honey.

Today’s Israelis, backed by a Diasporic world which has steadfastly stood by them, constitute a generation blessed by the sacrifices of the pioneers who came before them, and by the over 23,000 keddoshim who have fallen in the wars and terrorism since the beginnings of Return in the nineteenth century. Who, in 1948, when the just-proclaimed State fought for its very life against invading Arab armies, a scant three years after the nightmare of the Shoah, could have foreseen a Jewish society rivalling America and Western Europe in its economic and technological dynamism and standard of living?

Who, peering into the ashen smoke of the death-camps, could have foreseen Israel’s military strength, expressed in an Israel Defense Force which has not only defeated successive Arab invasions and terror campaigns but is, today, man-for-man perhaps the world’s most effective military force?

Above all, and even as they fought off the various Amaleks who came to destroy them and, poor as they were, nevertheless welcomed waves of refugees from an unstable and hostile world, modern Israelis, religious and secular, have forged a consciously Jewish society. In it, three millennia of our history and culture are expressed in modern political and social institutions, law, and education, informing the daily life some seven million people, today the demographic and spiritual center of the Jewish people.

It is natural, and understandable, that, concerned by the very real problems Israel continues to face, we sometimes forget the solid strength and great achievements expressed daily in myriad ways in Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, Ashdod, and Haifa, on the kibbutzim and moshavim and in the hesder yeshivoth , up and down and across this cherished Land.

It is also natural that, caught up in the vigorous back-and-forth of Israel’s vigorous and sometimes intensely partisan political life, in the Knesset and municipally, we sometimes forget the substantial unity of Israel’s citizenry on the great issues facing the country.

But walking the quiet streets of Jerusalem on the Shabbat before Pessah, or watchinglife grind to an immediate halt in Tel Aviv as theYom Hashoah shofar-siren calls all to remembrance, in a country where being Jewish in its different expressions is simply assumed, a given, one is again reminded of the miracle of every-day life in the reborn Jewish state.

Yom Ha’atzmaut, just passed, is illuminated by, and teaches, that Jewish sacrifice, of our past and recent, and future history, has not been and will not be in vain. We are today, in our variety, what we have always been, an am segula, a People chosen to demonstrate, to our enemies and our friends and above all to ourselves, what being human, being created in God’s image, is, at its best, capable of, and in so doing to give courage, in a world so often fallen, to give courage to ourselves and to all people of good will, today, and to our posterity in the generations to come.

Am Yisrael Chai—the Jewish people lives!

(Professor Krantz is Director of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research,
and teaches at Liberal Arts College, Concordia University.)

 

THE JOURNEY FROM MT. SINAI TO MT. HERZL
David Breakstone
Jerusalem Post, May 13, 2011

 

Back in 2004, the Knesset graciously passed a law allowing me to indulge my passion once a year without having to make any excuses. It legislated that 10 of Iyar—the birthday of the father of our country, which happens to fall five days after we celebrate its independence—would henceforth be known as Herzl Day, and stipulated that it be celebrated by recounting his vision and deeds.…

As our calendar tells me that we are still shedding the shackles of Egyptian bondage while making our way to Mount Sinai, I thought it appropriate to relate to Herzl’s own Jewish journey during a lifetime that lasted merely four years longer than our wandering in the wilderness. It begins with an attachment to the Jewish people essentially divorced from rites and ritual, and culminates in a passionate affirmation of Jewish tradition. Fascinating in itself, this exploration of Herzl’s evolving relationship to his Jewishness might also serve as a catalyst for considering our own—as well as prompting some reflection on our dreams regarding the Jewish state that his brought into being.

To begin with, fairness demands acknowledgment that misconceptions about Herzl’s attitude toward Judaism are not entirely groundless. They originate in his early response to anti-Semitism. Initially he was not terribly bothered by the phenomenon, held his brethren accountable for the animosity they attracted, and even went so far as to assert that there was something positive about it. “We Jews have maintained ourselves…as a foreign body among the nations,” he wrote. “In the ghetto we have taken on a number of anti-social characteristics. Our character has been damaged by oppression and must be repaired through another sort of pressure.…”

Anti-Semitism, he believed, would serve that purpose. “It is the education of a group by the surrounding populations and will perhaps in the end lead to its absorption”—which, shockingly, is what he fleetingly considered to be the best solution to the Jewish problem, as recorded in his diary in 1895: “About two years ago…I wished to arrange for an audience with the pope…and say to him: I will lead a great movement for the free and honorable conversion of Jews to Christianity.”

Such references account for the accusations hurled against Herzl that he was concerned with safeguarding Jewish bodies but not the Jewish soul. Add to this that in Der Judenstaat he wrote of the need to “keep our rabbis within the confines of their synagogues” and suggested the Jewish state might be established in Argentina (followed a few years later by his proposal of Uganda), and it is not difficult to understand why his detractors accuse him of lacking Jewish sensibilities.

But any dismissal of Herzl as an ardent defender of the Jewish faith with a deep affinity for the Land of Israel does him a terrible injustice, drawing conclusions based on isolated snapshots of his life taken out of context, and ignoring his own testimony of metamorphosis.

“Deep in his soul he began to feel the need of being a Jew,” he writes about himself in the short story “The Menorah.” “His Jewish origins…had long since ceased to trouble him…he began to love his Judaism with an intense fervor.”

But even “in the old days,” Herzl bore his Jewish identity with pride. As a student, he was expelled from his fraternity after accusing it of being anti-Semitic. When he had yet to establish himself as a writer, he refused an offer to be published if he would agree to adopt a less Jewish pen name. And he blamed his failure to gain the pope’s support for the Zionist cause in part on his refusal to kiss the papal ring.

While it may have been the “push” of anti-Semitism that first propelled Herzl from a trajectory of engagement with gentile society to an obsession with creating a Jewish one, the “pull” of Judaism quickly became his source of inspiration. In his address to the First Zionist Congress, he declared that “Zionism is a return to the Jewish fold even before it is a return to the Jewish land,” and he later asserted that our aspirations must include not only the settling of Jewish soil, but also “a new blossoming of the Jewish spirit.…”

As to the depth of his connection to the Land of Israel, those who would deny it disregard the words Herzl puts into the mouth of his alter ego in Altneuland upon seeing Jerusalem for the first time: “Recollections of Seder services of long-forgotten years stirred in him. One of the few Hebrew phrases he still knew rang in his ears: Next year in Jerusalem!… And here before him the walls of Jerusalem towered in the fairy moonlight. His eyes overflowed.…”

Those who have yet to be convinced that Herzl believed religion must play a vital role in the Jewish state of which he dreamed need only turn to the last page of Altneuland. Here visitors to this new society inquire of its founders what made its establishment possible. Each answers in accordance with his own perspective: the unity of the Jewish people, new systems of transportation, the forces of nature, self-confidence. “But the venerable Rabbi Shmuel got happily to his feet and proclaimed: ‘God.’”

These are the closing words of the novel. They attest eloquently to the zenith of Herzl’s Jewish journey while raising questions about our own. What answer does each of us have as to what has made the miracle of 63 years of Jewish statehood possible? And if the price it has exacted is to be justified, of what must we keep dreaming?

(Mr. Breakstone is vice chairman of the World Zionist Organization,
and founding director of its Herzl Center on Mount Herzl, Jerusalem.)

 

THE BÖRNE IDENTIFICATION
Sarah Honig
Jerusalem Post, May 13, 2011

 

“Losing an illusion makes you wiser than finding a truth.”—Ludwig Börne (1786-1837)

One of the wittier and more brilliant satirists ever to have come out of Germany, Börne identified with characteristic precision that indispensable preliminary step in Everyman’s quest for solutions to whatever plagues us. “If you seek wisdom,” he advised, “seek the destruction of the illusions you hold as true more than you seek new truths.”

This is counsel that should be heeded here and now by our inveterate hawkers of megadelusion—Israel’s very own proponents of the two-state solution. Unflaggingly they peddle tattered, intrinsically disorienting delirium. Incredibly they never seem to tire of pulling the wool over their own and our eyes. They present themselves as possessors of singular insight, as harbingers of a greater truth and as wise beyond our plebeian grasp.

They won’t let go of the grand delusion that underlies their self-professed wisdom and purported truth. Their two-state delusion was certainly sweet—simplistically and seductively so. It claimed that all conflicts can be amicably and fairly settled by just dividing up whatever is contested. It touted idealistic goodwill and seemed compellingly rational. But it was from the start delusionary.

By all empirical yardsticks, that delusion has finally and undeniably crumbled into grimy dust. The illusion of a reasonable accommodation with genocidal foes—which without fail anyhow failed the test of coolheaded analysis—ignobly disintegrated when Ramallah’s Fatah and Gaza’s Hamas banded back together, at least pro forma, for the sake of expediency. Whatever their motives and whatever the long-range plans of the old-new partners, their joint venture should persuade even the most diehard of our peaceniks that the time has come to finally wise up and lose the illusion.

The prevalent illusion thus far was that we face two dissimilar Palestinian entities—negotiation-espousing Ramallah and Gaza, whose unaltered goal is Israel’s annihilation. Now that the pair has retied the knot, their deception has been exposed. That should mean that the illusion has been shattered irrefutably once and for all.

In reality the only distinction between the two always was tactical. Ramallah excels at propaganda warfare, while Gaza fires rockets. Ramallah is funded by the Quartet, while Gaza is underpinned by Damascus and Tehran. Both wish to obliterate Israel, but Ramallah is more cunning and Gaza more candidly confrontational.

Neither Ramallah nor Gaza was ever a reliable or viable peace partner. Only our indomitable wishful thinking and obsessive illusion kept conjuring up interlocutors on whom we could unload slices of homeland, directly atop the soft underbelly of our densest population centers.

Gaza’s Hamas thumbs its nose at us and glorifies the IslamoNazism of infamous Second World War-criminal Haj Amin al-Husseini, who from his Berlin residence avidly abetted Hitler’s Final Solution, recruited Muslims to the SS and actively foiled the rescue even of several thousand Jewish children.

Conversely, in his Moscow Friendship University PhD treatise, Fatah figurehead Mahmoud Abbas attempted to dwarf the Holocaust’s proportions drastically, while simultaneously accusing Zionists of colluding in Holocaust perpetration—i.e., it didn’t happen, but Israel is guilty. This history-warping dissertation is compulsory study material in his fiefdom’s schools.

Abbas’s Fatahland is nothing but a more outwardly decorous version of Hamastan. All the rest is desperate illusion.…

Most members of the dysfunctional family of nations indeed advocate the two-state solution, but we alone are delusional. All the others are stimulated by cynical vested interests, which impair our self-preservation prospects. In other words, other states don’t push us into the two-state abyss for our own good. Quite the contrary. Nevertheless, too many of our headliners and opinion-molders voluntarily embrace that detrimental external pressure. They avidly engage in scare-mongering. If we don’t succumb to what’s dictated from abroad, they hector, we’ll be left alone, ostracized, vulnerable and on the verge of extinction.

But are these demoralizers weakening our resolve for altruistic ends? Or, perhaps, are they identifying with foreigners whom they regard as sources of clout and influence? Are they obsequiously out to win coveted international credentials of enlightenment, that would differentiate them from all those bothersome insular, intransigent and politically incorrect Israelis?

A cooperatively toadying disposition could secure Israel’s peaceniks the acceptance they crave, allow them to bask in the limelight of those who really scorn Israel, win accolades in places Israelis should naturally shun, and earn approval from the most disapproving sorts.

The illusion is that serving the purposes of powers whose greedy, shortsighted interests negate one’s own interests will help promote personal or factional aggrandizement. This isn’t a recently evolved illusion. It has been with us for at least two millennia, perhaps the manifestation of a persistent, pesky mutation in the Jewish genome that keeps popping up exasperatingly in all manner of circumstances, no matter how superficially different.

Somehow Jews appear to crave acceptance, to seek to bask in the limelight of those who really revile them, to win accolades in places they should naturally shun, to yearn for approval from the most inimically disapproving sorts. Ingratiating ourselves with our enemies—and friends-of-enemies—seems preprogrammed into too many of us.

The Jews of Germany, who historically comprised one of the most successful of Diaspora communities, were mind-bogglingly susceptible to the aberration. The list of famous Germans who were born Jewish yet strove not to stay Jewish is unbelievably long. For those cursed with Jewish parentage, talent and brains were never enough to make it in intensely Judeophobic surroundings.

Too many Jews with both talent and brains deluded themselves that Christian credentials would secure them the acceptance they craved, allow them to bask in the limelight of those who really reviled them, win accolades in places they should naturally have shunned, and earn approval from the most disapproving sorts.

Razor-sharp Börne was disturbingly typical. He was born in Frankfurt as Leib Baruch, and that critically was a colossal fly in his ointment. He couldn’t even keep a bureaucratic public-sector job because of his Jewishness. His illusion was to ditch said Jewishness by becoming a Lutheran convert with a suitably Teutonic name. Gallingly, though, even that failed to erase the original sin of Baruch’s extraction. Eventually he ended up in Paris banding with other frustrated Jews to fix up the world.

Börne-Baruch’s illusion of ingratiating himself didn’t pan out. He didn’t succeed in currying the favor of non-Jews. To them Börne remained who he was born. Perhaps it was this life experience that led him to conclude that the prelude to any progress is losing one’s illusions.

Illusions won’t lead any of us anywhere—not to peace with Ramallah or with Gaza, and certainly not with both. Before we rummage around for yet more appeasement-expediting supplementary sacrifices, we must rid ourselves of specious illusion. First things first.

 

REPEATING THE NAKBA MISTAKE
Editorial
Jerusalem Post, May 12, 2011

 

For Arab Israelis and Palestinians, the creation of Israel was a “nakba,” a catastrophe. On Friday, Arab towns across the nation will kick off three days of Nakba commemorations with marches, conferences and rallies.

Though these ceremonies take place every year, this year is different in a significant and positive way. The absurd practice by which organizations and municipalities were allowed to use state funds to pay for Nakba events has been stopped. Legislation approved by the Knesset in March, known as the “Nakba law,” empowers the state to fine those who finance their commemoration ceremonies with public money.

The Nakba law will not, and was not intended to, prevent Arab Israelis or anyone else from commemorating Israel’s Independence Day in any way they wish to, as long as they do so peacefully. Rather, the legislation has put an end to the folly in which Israel underwrites activities that undermine the very foundations of Zionism by falsely presenting it as an imperialist movement that engaged during the War of Independence in ethnic cleansing and the intentional, wholesale transfer of the Arab population outside the borders of Israel.

However, while it is Arab Israelis’ and Palestinians’ right to commemorate the Nakba in a way that not only incriminates Israelis for crimes they never committed but also places all the blame for failure on the Zionist movement, it is self-defeating and a major obstacle to peace for them to do so.

If Palestinians were to look clearly and objectively at their behavior around the time of Israel’s founding, they would realize that today they are repeating many of the same mistakes.

“Jihadism”—or the hatred of the infidel and a desire to kill him—to a great degree underlay the Palestinian assault on Zionism through the 1920s-1940s period. The leader of the Palestinian national movement during these years, Haj Amin al-Husseini, was a rabidly anti-Semitic Muslim cleric with close ties to the Nazis.

Similarly, today, many Palestinians have chosen to embrace the most extreme form of Islamist leadership. In the West Bank-Gaza elections of 2006, Hamas trounced the ostensibly secular Fatah. And the national unity deal signed on May 7 in Cairo, which enjoys broad Palestinian support, has brought Hamas—a rabidly anti-Semitic Islamist terrorist organization that has launched dozens of suicide bombings and thousands of mortar shells and rockets against the Israeli civilian population—back to the heart of the Palestinian leadership in all its rejectionist, reactionary glory.

It was this sort of religious extremism and intransigence that exacerbated the plight of the Palestinians back in 1948. In the first weeks of the War of Independence, for instance, Jaffa mayor Yousef Heikal tried to reach a non-belligerency agreement with neighboring Jewish Tel Aviv, to allow the citrus crop to be harvested and exported. But Husseini vetoed this and called for “jihad against the Jews.” As a result, many of Jaffa’s Arabs were expelled during the ensuing war.…

In the 1948 War of Independence, after [Arab countries] had rejected the UN partition plan that would have given them a state, Palestinians launched a bloody offensive to prevent the emergence of a Jewish state. If they had won the war, the result would have been a massive slaughter of Jews just a few years after six million Jews had been massacred in the Holocaust.

The violent, unsympathetic and ungenerous Arab population of Palestine repeatedly attempted to destroy any hopes that the Jewish people would return to their homeland after nearly two millennia of exile and after suffering the worst genocide ever known to mankind.

Thankfully, they failed.

The world’s only Jewish state is now surrounded by 21 Arab nations and has shown a willingness to help establish a 22rd state, for Palestinians.

Yet in large part due to their distorted view of history—the Nakba being just one example—Palestinians continue to focus on their victimization and suffering while ignoring personal responsibility for their predicament. One of the crucial psychological barriers to peace today is Arab Israelis’ and Palestinians’ stubborn insistence on ignoring their own role in creating the refugee problem and in the failure to obtain Palestinian political autonomy.

Instead of devoting so much energy to emphasizing their victimization, Arab Israelis and Palestinians would do well to learn from their mistakes. At present, they seem bent on repeating them.

ISRAEL CELEBRATES 63RD BIRTHDAY: AM YISRAEL CHAI!—UNTIL FOREVER…

 

 

 

The Canadian Institute for Jewish Research cordially invites you to its

23rd Anniversary Gala

Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Congregation Shaar Hashomayim
450 Avenue Kensington, Westmount, Quebec, Canada

DISTINGUISHED KEYNOTE SPEAKER

MOSHE ARENS
Former Israeli Defense Minister and Ambassador to the U.S.

 

Also Featuring

Prof. Barry Rubin

Outstanding internationally-renowned Middle East analyst

 

Tax receipts will be issued for the maximum allowable amount

 

For additional information. or to register for the 23rd Anniversary Gala,
please call Yvonne at 514-486-5544 or contact us by e-mail at yvonne@isranet.org
.

 

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: ISRAEL YOUNG AT 63!
Baruch Cohen

 

In loving memory of beloved Malca z’l

“Love for Israel must be a fire burning in every Jewish heart”—Sharon Zalman (1796)

O! My people!
I would sing my heart
On this day of glory
Tears of endless generations
Of my people Israel
Have not ever extinguish
The flames of infinite love
The flames of eternal sacrifice!
Clouds of unbearable thunder
Of hate and destruction
Of endless tears!
O! My people Israel
O! My beloved Israel
You are embraced for ever
With my people’s love!
O! Israel
Forever!

 

As Israel celebrates its 63rd Independence Day, the Jewish state is today stronger than ever before!

No other State faces unremitting hatred and lethal threats as Israel does. Today’s struggle is for the right of Israel and her citizens to live in peace and dignity, secure against her relentless enemies: Hamas, Hezbollah and their patron Iran, and inflamed worldwide antisemitism.

For Israelis who have fought and continue to fight so valiantly just to stay alive, the notion of peace seems to be a dream of never ending!

From the ruins of Europe, from the ashes of the gas chambers, from the concentration camps, from Russia, Romania, Poland, Egypt, Morocco and dozens of other lands, the Jewish people created a most vibrant and successful land—Israel!—sustained by our ancient faith. Am Israel chai!

With painful sacrifice, and the loss of some of our finest and bravest sons and daughters, we are proudly celebrating our 63rd anniversary.

I want to remind the world that Israel is facing increasing waves of radical Islam and global antisemitism: an nuclear-bound Iran harbours global ambitions of a will to destroy the Jewish state. We Diaspora Jews must stand on the front lines of the oncoming storm, by lending our support and encouragement to our sisters and brothers in Israel. We must remember our ancient hope and belief that neizach Israel lo yishaker, the eternity of Israel will never falter!

(Baruch Cohen is Research Chairman at the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.)

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ISRAEL!
David Harris
Jerusalem Post, May 9, 2011

 

This week, Israel celebrates its 63rd birthday. For most countries, that number would elicit a shrug of the shoulders. Not in Israel’s case. Considering Israel’s extraordinary history, each birthday is a cause for celebration—and admiration.

It’s quite a story—and it drives Israel’s foes bonkers. Try as they might, they haven’t managed to sap Israel’s will to survive, nor its capacity to thrive.

How can it be that this tiny nation, the size of New Jersey or Wales, could defend itself through thick and thin against determined, well-funded, and numerous adversaries?

How can it be that this small sliver of land, one percent the size of Saudi Arabia and bereft of any natural resources until recent offshore discoveries of natural gas, could catapult itself into the top tier of advanced nations?

And how can it be that the flag of democracy could be planted in Israel in 1948 and celebrated in this lone oasis to the present day, while surrounded by what the world today should better understand as a prevailing culture of despotism, emergency rule, torture, cronyism, and corruption?

No, Israel is not perfect. Of course not. And yes, Israel, like other democratic societies, remains very much a work in progress. There’s still much to be done in addressing relations between Jew and Jew, Jew and Arab, democracy and religion, and rich and poor. Moreover, the quest for a durable peace…raises difficult and divisive questions about how best to get there, and whether it’s even possible in the current regional environment.

These issues aren’t going away anytime soon. Nonetheless, Israel’s birthday provides an occasion to pause, take a deep breath, and marvel at what has been achieved.

An ancient people, born and rooted in this land, have built a modern, dynamic state.

The age-old cry of the Jewish people, “Next year in Jerusalem,” is now this year.

The psalmist’s remembrance of the tears of exile in Babylon has been replaced by the joy of the return home.

A language of old has been restored.

A dry, barren soil has become lush with the fruits of the earth.

A people decimated by the Nazi Final Solution experienced sovereign regeneration only three years after the Holocaust.

A nation confronted by a war of extinction on its very first day—and relentlessly thereafter with more wars, waves of terrorism, economic boycotts, blood-curdling incitement, assaults on its legitimacy, you name it—has never given up or given in.

Despite the ever-present threats, Israelis have embraced life to the fullest, not succumbing to a siege mentality, nor losing the yearning for enduring peace and normalcy. Israeli society has developed rapidly, enriched by wave after wave of new immigrants. In recent years, for example, thousands of African Christians and Muslims have risked life and limb, crossing inhospitable lands such as Egypt, to seek a new start in, yes, Israel.

It’s hard to visualize the real Israel if the only lens is the conflict-obsessed media. In actuality, Israel today is a high-octane, multicultural, and open society. First-time visitors are inevitably surprised. They often expect to be met with dark colors, a brooding mindset, and the shadow of war. Instead, they soon discover why Lonely Planet named Tel Aviv the third hippest city in 2011, and why the 2010 UN Human Development Report ranked Israel #15 among the world’s nations—ahead of the United Kingdom and Denmark and just behind France—in terms of education, health, and other indices of an advanced society.

They also might learn that Israelis have won more Nobel Prizes than all the countries surrounding them combined. Or that, incredibly for a nation of only seven million, Israeli high-tech companies—prominent in such fields as biotechnology, alternative energy, and communications—now rank second, after the U.S., in the number of listings on the NASDAQ stock exchange.…

And, above all, perhaps, visitors to Israel encounter a deeply-rooted and pervasive national spirit that is hard to put in words. Apropos, maybe if more of Israel’s adversaries would see it up close with open eyes rather than judge it blindly from a distance, they’d come to understand two things. First, Israel is a far cry from the place they’ve conjured up in their one-dimensional minds. Second, Israelis will not be defeated in their determination to defend their country.

There’s a story that G-d became so furious with the sorry state of the world that he announced a new flood would engulf the planet in two weeks. In response, the French president told the nation that, as the end was near, there’d be no more work and everyone was encouraged to enjoy la joie de vivre. The Italian prime minister announced that, with only 14 days left, all Italians should take full advantage of la dolce vita. Meanwhile, the Israeli prime minister informed the Israeli people: “We have exactly two weeks to learn how to live underwater.”

That just about says it all.

Through courage, inspiration, sacrifice, and innovation, and in defiance of all the odds, Israelis have built a remarkable country in their ancestral home. Again, the work is unfinished and the challenges are many. But in 63 short years, Israelis have proved the late Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion right when he said: “In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.”

Happy 63rd birthday, Israel!

(David Harris is Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee.)

 

BOOMING AT 63
Editorial
Jerusalem Post, May 8, 2011

 

Celebrating the 63rd anniversary of Israel, one cannot help but be struck by the incongruity of conflating an ancient people, perhaps the world’s oldest still extant, with a birthday age befitting a baby boomer. Indeed, many of the dilemmas that face the Jewish people today have been around for centuries. And yet, while many aspects of “the Jewish question” have not been resolved, we have so much to be proud of and thankful for this Independence Day.

Zionism’s founders thought that the Jews’ “abnormal” status as weak and stateless was the cause of anti-Semitism. They had hoped that by normalizing the Jewish condition via the creation of a Jewish state, “like all the nations,” Jews could finally put an end to their status as a pariah people. Originally, Zionists competed with assimilationists and Bundists, Reformists and Socialists.

But the Nazi Holocaust and the rise of the totalitarian Soviet Union put an end to the bickering. Zionism emerged as the dominant and most dynamic Jewish movement to confront the challenges offered by modernity while taking advantage of its opportunities, including military technologies, to alleviate Jews’ tragic powerlessness. But although they were wildly successful at fulfilling their state-building goals, the Zionists did not—and have not—put an end to persistent anti-Semitism.

There are those who would argue that, if anything, Zionism has made the Jews’ predicament even more precarious.

Of the world’s three groupings that remained after the Holocaust—Israelis, American Jewry and Jews spread across the rest of the Diaspora—only the first group lives in daily range of rockets, mortar shells and missiles launched by rabid anti-Semites bent on destroying the Jewish state. Only Israelis are directly in danger of a nuclear Armageddon if Iran’s Islamic Republic manages to get its hands on the bomb. And while the sudden changes sweeping the region, currently optimistically described as the “Arab Spring,” might conceivably lead to the creation of stable democratic or semi-democratic regimes and the birth of a new Middle East, they could just as easily result in increased anti-Semitic extremism in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood and its various offshoots or some other reactionary Islamist dogma.

But such thinking overlooks the fact that, in Israel, the Jewish nation is also uniquely capable of defending itself and determining its own destiny.

The age-old prejudices of the anti-Semites remain largely the same. In the 18th and 19th centuries, individual Jews—even those, such as French army captain Alfred Dreyfus, who agreed to strip themselves of all vestiges of their heritage—found they could never integrate into European states as full citizens. Today, the hostility, hatred and bias of large parts of the international community have prevented Israel from being accepted by the nations of the world as an equal, no matter how accommodating Israel has indicated its readiness to be in negotiations with the Palestinian and no matter how fairly Israel fights its wars.

Israel’s very existence—the Jewish nation’s fundamental right to sovereignty in its historic homeland—continues to be constantly questioned. Inexplicably, similar claims are never made against states such as, say, Pakistan—which for years played host to Osama bin Laden while consuming vast amounts of American aid. Established a year before Israel was re-established, its legitimacy—historic and moral—is eminently more deserving of scrutiny.

And yet, notwithstanding the all too common rejection of Israel’s very right to exist, the misrepresentations of Israel’s daily narrative, and the numerous military threats Israel faces in this rapidly changing region, the Jewish state’s situation today is enviable compared to those long centuries of exile, wandering and powerlessness.

We have come a long, long way in ingathering the exiles. We are managing to reconcile the conflicting demands of a first world democracy and fealty to the religion that sustained us in exile. We enjoy a robust alliance of common values with the world’s single superpower.…

We have accomplished all this while fighting conventional and unconventional wars, absorbing a vast and diverse immigrant population and providing basic democratic rights to all citizens, regardless of race, creed or religion. Not too bad for a state the age of your average baby boomer.

 

AN INDEPENDENCE DAY GIFT FROM CANADA
Evelyn Gordon
Jerusalem Post, May 8, 2011

 

The people of Canada gave Israel a lovely Independence Day gift last week when they resoundingly re-elected Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The vote, of course, had nothing to do with Israel: Harper’s Conservative Party won its first absolute parliamentary majority of his three terms in office mainly due to his economic stewardship, under which Canada suffered far less from the global economic crisis than most other Western countries. Nevertheless, it is good news for Israel, for two reasons.

The first is that Harper is currently one of Israel’s best friends worldwide. Under his leadership, Canada has repeatedly cast the sole vote against anti-Israel resolutions in the UN Human Rights Council—as in a 2009 vote condemning Israel’s operation in Gaza, or a 2007 vote placing Israel’s “human rights violations” permanently on the council’s agenda (European countries, by contrast, abstained on the former and supported the latter).

Harper made Canada the first country, preceding even Israel itself, to announce a boycott of the UN’s Durban II conference on racism in 2009 on the grounds that it was set to be an anti-Israel hate fest. And he has worked to end Canadian government funding for anti-Israel organizations: Last year, for instance, his government defunded several Canadian groups involved in anti-Israel activity; he also slashed Canada’s contribution to UNRWA, the UN organization founded to prevent the resettlement of Palestinian refugees so that the ongoing refugee crisis could continue to feed anti-Israel sentiment.

But perhaps even more important than Harper’s specific actions is the degree to which he has changed attitudes toward Israel within his country.

Before he took office, Canada’s policy on Israel was identical to Europe’s—meaning lots of lip service about being “a friend of Israel” while in practice opposing it in every international forum and lavishly funding its enemies. Shortly after the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000, for instance, Canada voted for a UN Security Council resolution that condemned Israel for the violence, without a word of blame for the Palestinians.

Moreover, Canada has been a hotbed of anti-Israel boycott/divestment/sanctions activity. In 2006, for instance, the Ontario chapter of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) voted to boycott Israel until it accepts a Palestinian “right of return”—or in other words, agrees to commit suicide.

Thus one would, at least, have expected Harper’s pro-Israel stance to remain strictly confined to his own party. But in fact, while both main opposition parties continue to advocate markedly less pro-Israel policies than Harper does, change has begun seeping into their ranks as well.

This became glaringly evident last year, when the provincial legislature of Ontario—Canada’s largest province—voted unanimously to condemn Israel Apartheid Week because it “serves to incite hatred against Israel, a democratic state that respects the rule of law and human rights.…” The resolution, naturally, was introduced by a member of Harper’s Conservative Party. But the legislature was dominated at the time by the opposition Liberal Party, which had 71 seats compared to the Conservatives’ 24. Thus it could not have passed at all, much less unanimously, had pro-Israel sentiment not spread beyond Harper’s party.

Nor can the vote be dismissed as a matter of electoral necessity, as pro-Israel votes are for, say, New York politicians: Not only is Ontario’s Muslim population roughly double its Jewish population, but powerful vote-getting machines like the local CUPE chapter—Ontario’s largest labor union—were firmly in the anti-Israel camp.

And that is precisely the point: In the few short years since he entered the Prime Minister’s Office in 2006, Harper has managed to make being pro-Israel politically respectable in Canada—so respectable that politicians on both sides of the political fence are willing to take pro-Israel positions even when powerful interest groups oppose them. That message of respectability was underscored by Harper’s resounding victory this week. Just seven months ago, Canada’s chattering classes were up in arms over the “humiliating rejection” of the country’s bid for a UN Security Council seat, which was attributed in part to the fact that Harper’s pro-Israel policy cost him the support of Muslim countries. But that did not stop voters from re-electing him with an even bigger majority last week.

In world where anti-Israel positions are increasingly de rigueur for aspiring politicians, it is no mean feat to have succeeded in making pro-Israel positions both respectable and electable. So thank you, Stephen Harper. And best of luck to you and your country in your new term.