As Pesach, the Passover commemoration of Jewish liberation is upon us, and Yom Ha’atzmaut, the fifty-third celebration of Israel’s Independence Day, approaches, Arafat’s murderous intifada continues, and spreads. There is an old Yiddish saying, reflecting much Jewish history, Shver ist a yid tsu sein, “It’s hard to be a Jew”; Israel’s history makes it clear that it is also hard to be a democratic Jewish state, in a region full of Arab dictatorships and authoritarian regimes and Jew-hating Muslim populations.
Another, different saying, this one Hebrew, similarly laden with history, also springs to mind: Ein brera, there is no alternative. Israel, the center of the Jewish people, represents, as Emil Fackenheim has written, “The Jewish return to history”, after 2,000 years of exile, exclusion, and oppression, capped by the long night of the Shoa. Modern Israel, after over half a century, and despite surrounding enmity and aggression, has nevertheless flourished, and is here to stay: Ein brera.
Israel is a miracle in many senses: the historically unparalleled return of a people to its homeland after two millennia; the unexpected triumph of a tiny population over five Arab armies in the War of Independence; the absorption of wave after wave of survivors and refugees; the greening of arid desert; the building of a modern, high-technology Western society; the creation of one of the world’s most vibrant democracies.
Israel represents the Jewish people’s stubborn survival and its revival as a subject making its own history, instead of an object suffering the history imposed on it by others. It is perhaps precisely this miracle of Return, and this new fact of Jewish political, and military, independence and strength, that, indirectly and even unconsciously, underlies much of the often unwarrantedly negative media coverage of Israel generally, and of its counterpart, the oddly uncritical coverage of the Palestinian-initiated violence, terrorism, and guerrilla warfare against it. The secular West, including North America, remains the legatee of Christian civilization and values, which include a long history of passive, and at times murderously active, antisemitism. According to that tradition Jews, by rejecting Christian truth, had become not only politically and juridically dependent, but religiously sterile and culturally unproductive. They merited the various punishments and exclusions with which Christian rulers and the Church afflicted them.
Today, one sometimes senses the after-life of these views in media “spin” and imagery. Many critics remark a tendency to identify with Jews when they suffer, but not--using the political and military means which only having one’s own state provides—when they actively defend themselves against terrorism and aggression. Is it an accident that Arafat (whose Tanzim militia destroys synagogues) poses as the defender of Christian holy sites against supposed Israeli depredations? Or that his propaganda machine even presents him--in a classic “inversion”--as a Christ-like figure persecuted, again, by “the Jews” (or, even better, the “Jewish Nazis”). The inverted “David [Palestinians] versus Goliath [Jews]” image, and its slight variation, the so-called Jewish “Holocaust” against the Palestinians, is, after all, a staple of much media presentation of the current conflict.
Well, the “Wandering Jew”, doomed in Christian anisemitic mythology, to eternal homelessness and suffering, has returned home. Israel is a novum, a new fact, in modern Jewish history, a sovereign, democratic state with a large Jewish majority. It is not, of course, a novum in Jewish history generally, for Judaism was never merely a “religion”, but a civilization, a Covenanted People sovereign on its own Land, a fact commemorated, and prophetically guaranteed, in the Tanakh, or Bible. Miraculously, this consciousness of being a People survived Exile and dispersion, and was the bed-rock on which the modern Zionist “return to history”, and the Jewish state proclaimed in 1948, were built.
Fifty-three years later Arafat & Co. may, breaking their signed word at Oslo eight years ago, do what they can to destroy this state. They may blow up buses and attack Jerusalem suburbs and murder 10-month-old infants; they may try to widen the crisis and involve the Arab states; and the world and the U.N. will, as usual, turn a largely blind eye to this viciousness, and even blame those nasty Jewish victims for their own suffering. But Jewish history generally, and an intense half-century of independence and achievement, indicate that her enemies will, again, fail, and that new-old Israel will prevail.
Shver ist a yid zu sein, yes—but Ein brera!, there is no alternative. Let us then, here in Diaspora and there, in our embattled Land, in this season of remembrance, re-affirm our solidarity, unity, peoplehood, and pride. And let us, remembering the sacrifices of our fallen and our martyrs, celebrate together the miracle of Pesach, and of Yom Ha’atzmaut—our survival, our freedom, and our flourishing.
(Prof. Krantz, the Editor of ISRAFAX, is also Director of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)Shabbat Shalom to all our readers, and a happy and healthy Passover. Hag Sameach!