Today is Yom Haatzmaut (Israel Independence Day) and Peter Beinart will be celebrating it by giving a lecture at a synagogue about his anti-Israel book, “The Crisis of Zionism.” In doing so, Beinart joins Gunter Grass and the producers of the 60 Minutes segment (blaming Israel for the withering away of the Palestinian Christian community) in proposing that Israel can only be purified if it ceases to exist as a Jewish state.
Victor Davis Hanson points out that the new anti-Semitism regards the creation of the Jewish state as a manifestation of the Western hegemonic impulse. It barely concedes that Israel is democratic and protects human rights in a way unlike its autocratic neighbors. It’s proponents ignore the systematic persecution of Christians in Arab countries, the torture and extortion of Hamas, the ongoing slaughter in Syria, the resurgence of the Islamic Brotherhood.
Rather, they are focused on forcing Israel to give up what the Economist calls the “Auschwitz Complex.” accrued from the Holocaust, a pathology which they say its unwillingness to “to give up its empire” (by crawling back into the 1949 borders of the state and absorbing millions of Palestinians).
The remembrance of the Holocaust is a searing reminder of the necessity of Israel. Yom Hashoah is recalled by a two minute siren -- invoking the shofar – that turns all moving things and people into standing monuments.. The moment stretches on, the wail growing tighter and thinner, like a taut thread, binding all together, until it unwinds.
But Yom Ha-Shoah is only the tragic beginning of the story, not the end. Seven days after, Yom Ha’atzmuat (Israel Independence Day) is celebrated. The day preceding that holiday, Israel observes Yom Ha-Zikaron ( Memorial Day) to reaffirm (as written in the Israel Defense Force manual) “that establishing the State of Israel was intended to provide an answer to the problem of the existence of the Jewish people, in view of the fact that all other solutions had failed. The Holocaust proved, in all its horror, that in the twentieth century, the survival of Jews is not assured as long as they are not masters of their fate and as long as they do not have the power to defend their survival.”
The movement from Yom Hashoah, to Yom Ha-Zikaron to Yom Ha'atzmaut reminds people, as Rabbi Irving Greenberg notes, that the “ State of Israel is not a reward or a product or an exchange for the Holocaust; it is a response. The Jewish people responded to the total assault of death by an incredible outpouring of life.”
And with an enduring sense of purpose. When my son immigrated to Israel in 2007 and joined the IDF he was repeatedly asked why he did so. He could never fully explain to others or to himself until his unit was called into battle during 2008 Operation Cast Lead against Hamas.
He was in an APC with his brothers in arms. He looked around at his comrades with who he shared the cramped space.
“To my right was the sharpshooter, an Ethiopian by the name of Redit Mullah. His parents were thrown onto Israeli chartered planes and saved from political instability and war in the 1991 Solomon Operation, when Israel rescued and integrated thousands of Ethiopian Jews into its growing populace.
To my left was my friend Avichai Galilee, of Yemenite descent, whose grandparents were similarly rescued from persecution and vehement Arab violence by a massive and unprecedented Air-Evac operation known as ‘Operation Magic Carpet’ in 1950.
In back of me were two soldiers, of Russian and Iraqi descent. They both shared the same legacy of being rescued and welcomed by the Jewish state when they had no place else to live as Jews. It did not matter that the Israeli economy was anemic at the time and that we had few resources to spare. We did it anyways.
It then finally made sense to me: The state of Israel is there for us, and so should we be there for the state of Israel. Riding away in our APC’s it was us who was thanking Israel and paying a debt of gratitude for all it had done for us. “
Tomorrow Israel celebrates this spirit. So do most Americans, who know that a democracy can achieve great things only if the citizens believe it is worth defending. Only people like Beinart want to strip the Jewish state of this eternal essence.