Temple Beth Torah

ISRAEL

Imagine going off to college for the first time. You’re looking forward to real independence. You’re a bit anxious about the academic challenges. You’re excited about meeting new people . And, you can’t wait for the serious partying to begin!

But one thing you weren’t prepared for was anti-Israel activities on campus. There’s a table out on the quad, with a sign that says: “From the River to the Sea, Palestine must be free!” When you figure out that that means the Mediterranean sea and the Jordan river, you realize that there’s no room for Israel. Then one day, on your way back to your dorm, you’re stopped by students wearing army costumes who harass you. When you ask what’s going on, you’re told: “Now you know what Palestinians go through at Israeli checkpoints every day!” A lecture is scheduled by the Israeli ambassador to the US, and just as he begins to speak, protestors wearing Kefiahs begin chanting “End the Occupation!” A Jewish coed, running for Student Senate is disqualified from serving because she went on Birthright and this proves she cannot be fair to all students. After the shooting of an unarmed black man by the police in a nearby city, you attend a rally organized by Black Lives Matter, and you are shocked to see signs that accuse Israel of genocide against the Palestinians. When you ask what one thing has to do with the other, you learn a new word: “Intersectionality.” You’re told that racism, sexism, homophobia – constitute an intersecting system. Uniting oppressed groups – in this case African Americans and Palestinians – strengthens them against the dominant power structure – the police, and the Israelis. Pretty soon, you learn another new word: “Pinkwashing.” As in, “Israel is guilty of pinkwashing by claiming it is LGBT friendly – but it’s just a tactic for covering up its mistreatment of the Palestinians.” One day you’re handed a flyer that urges: “Say Yes to BDS.” You soon learn that those letters stand for Boycott Israeli products, Divest from financially supporting Israel, and impose Sanctions on Israel to punish it for the occupation of Palestine. In the college newspaper you read about a professor who taught that Israel perpetrated the attacks on 9/11 and against Charlie Hebdo, and brought down the Malaysian Airlines flight 17. Then you go to hear the Green Party Candidate for President speak, and in addition to her plea for the environment, you are puzzled by her condemnation of Israel’s policies of occupation, apartheid, assassination, illegal settlements, blockades, building nuclear weapons, indefinite detention, collective punishment and defiance of international law – which are met with loud cheers and applause by those in the audience.

At first, you’re confused. Then you’re upset. But you’re not really sure who to be mad at: Arab students on campus? Left-wing organizations that seem behind all these activities? Or your parents and your Hebrew school for lying to you about what a terrible country Israel really is?

What’s happening on campuses across America is part of a war against Israel and the Jewish people that has been going on for a hundred years - long before there were any settlements in the West Bank and even before there was a State of Israel.

For 25 years, the Arabs tried to fight wars of extermination. In 1948, on the day Israel declared its independence, Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon and Iraq attacked the Jewish state intending to drive the Jews into the sea. In 1967, Egypt and Syrian and Jordan again prepared for a war to destroy Israel. And on Yom Kippur, in 1973, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack against the Jewish State. In each case, Israel absorbed the blows and went on to victory. It finally became clear to the Arabs that we were too strong, and they could not defeat us on the battlefield.

If the Arabs could not destroy us physically, then they would try to break our spirit. Way back in March of 1920, Arabs attacked an outpost of Jews in the Galilee, in Tel Hai, killing 6, among them soldier and pioneer Joseph Trumpeldor. Less than a month later, riots broke out in Jerusalem with 5 Jews murdered. A year passed and there were attacks in Jaffa that killed 47 Jews, including the famed Hebrew author Yosef Haim Brenner. From these early events, it was clear that the Arabs would not accept Jews living among them. Over the next century, there would be thousands of attacks – by the Fedayeen in the 1950’s and 60’s; hijackings in the 70’s, throwing of rocks in the 80’s and 90’s, the blowing up of busses and cafes in the 2000’s, and knife attacks in the 2010’s, along with the random shooting of thousands of home-made rockets across the Gaza & Lebanon borders. And all this time, there were brutal murders of Jews. This past June, in Kiryat Arba, a Palestinian broke into the home of a Jewish family and stabbed to death a 13 year old girl, Hallel Yafa Ariel, as she slept. The Arabs don’t think that they will destroy Israel by murdering one Jewish girl. What they do think they can do is cause the Jews to lose hope, and leave. But while they have been able, time and again to break our hearts, after a hundred years they have not been able to break our spirit.

And that’s why the Arabs have turned to a third tactic – after all-out war, and terrorism. They have tried to turn the world against Israel and impose a solution favorable to the Palestinians. You will remember 40 years ago the notorious UN resolution that stated Zionism was a form of Racism. Today, BDS resolutions have been adopted by church groups and by certain businesses. Even some entertainers refused to appear in Israel; and pressure others not to do so.

So what are you supposed to do when you walk across a college campus and you’re confronted by these attempts to de-legitimize Israel?

 

       

 

First, let’s play a little game of Jewish geography. Where are you from? Jericho, Long Island. No, before that. Born in Manhasset, at North Shore. No, before that. Grandparents came from Brooklyn… Before that. Great-great grandparents came from Russia somewhere. And on the other side from a Shtetl in Poland. No, go back as far as you can. I don’t know…

Well, 3700 years ago, Avraham ben Terah – our ancestor Abraham – settled in what we now call Israel. (As a matter of fact, he lived and was buried in what we now call the West Bank.) We were there until Jacob and sons moved to Egypt during a famine and were enslaved. Two hundred years later, Moses and Joshua brought us back, and we lived in Israel for 600 more years. The Babylonians exiled us for two generations, but some of us came back, and we lived in Israel for another 500 years. The Romans drove many of us out. But we never forgot who we were and where we came from. On Passover and Yom Kippur we always sing “Next Year in Jerusalem”, and every single day for 2000 years we prayed that God would bring us back to our home. Truth be told, some of us never left. You can go to Peki’in in the Galilee, the home of the Zaynati family – who, for 2000 years remained in the land. And they were not alone. Christians came and went. Muslims came – and stayed. But the Jews were always connected to the land of Israel, both in body and in spirit.

In the 1880’s, Jews were able to return home in significant numbers. Thousands came from Eastern Europe, and from Yemen. During the 20th century, a few million Jews made their way to Israel – some escaping pogroms, some Holocaust survivors, some driven out of Arab countries, some from the Soviet Union. On our trip this summer, we met with a remarkable woman. She was born in Ethiopia. Thirty years ago, when she was just 10 years old, she and her brother walked through Ethiopia, and through the Sudan to get to Jerusalem. Her people knew they came originally from Israel, and it was their dream to one day return. When her water ran out, this 10 year old drank mud to stay alive. She was ultimately rescued by the Mossad, who were sent to bring her home. Today a growing number of Jews from France, are making strides before it’s too late. Now, half of the 13 million Jews in the world live in Israel.

Here’s what you need to know: The Arabs think the Jews don’t belong in Israel. Like Helen Thomas, they say: “Go back to Poland and Russia where you came from.” Israel is where we came from! The Arabs think that Palestine was taken from them and given to us after the Holocaust, because the world felt bad for the Jews. But that’s because they don’t know, and they don’t want to know, history. But we need to know it. Israel has always been the home for the Jewish people. You weren’t lied to in Hebrew School. It’s the Arabs trying to deny our connections to the land of Israel, who are lying. You need to know that, and you need to confront lies with the truth. You and I have chosen to live in America. Jews in America played an important role in Israel’s founding, and in strengthening the State of Israel today. And Israel plays a critical role in our lives as Jews here in America, reminding us of who we are, and making us proud to be Jews.

But is what they say about genocide and settlements true?

Genocide is the worst crime there is – the extermination of an entire people. But anyone with half a brain knows that that is not what Israel is doing.

Bernie Sanders condemned Israel for its killing 10,000 Palestinians in the last Gaza war. Actually, his numbers were way off. 2000 died – half of them members of Hamas and other terrorist groups. And none of the 1000 innocents would have died, if the terrorists hadn’t used civilian neighborhoods to launch unprovoked attacks on Israeli cities,

In 1967, there were a million and a half Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Today there are 3.7 million. In 2013, 39 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli army. In 2014, leaving aside those killed in the Gaza War – started by the Arabs, 94 Palestinians were killed in clashes with the IDF. Those are not the statistics of extermination. Maybe the Arabs can fool the world, telling a big lie over and over again. We Jews know something about genocide. Shame on anyone who accuses Israel of doing to the Palestinians what the Germans did to the Jews.

The President of the United States – along with much of the world – believes that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are the main obstacle to achieving peace with the Palestinians.

Some Israelis believe that Judea and Samaria are integral parts of the Land of Israel – how can you tell a Jew that he or she can’t build a home where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived, and were buried? Other Israelis say that peace is more important than land; whatever the historical and religious connection, the settlements should be evacuated and given back if that’s what’s preventing peace. It’s a serious and important debate.

But here’s what you need to know. There was a Palestine Liberation Organization back in 1964 – before there were any settlements. The conflict is not about settlers occupying Arab land in the West Bank. It’s about Jews living and governing any land from the river to the sea. The Arabs won’t even acknowledge that there is a Jewish historical connection to the Western Wall. It’s not Hebron alone that they demand. It’s Tel Aviv. The settlements are not the reason there is no peace. It’s the Arab refusal to accept that the Jews have any right, to any of the land. That’s where a President of the United States – interested in the Peace Process has to start: Getting the Arabs to acknowledge that Israel is the national home of the Jewish people.

When the early Zionists dreamed of retuning to Israel, their slogan was “A land without a people for a people without a land.” Or so it seemed from far away in Russia. When the pioneers arrived, they found another people there. Most Jews were willing to be good neighbors; most Arabs were not. Back in 1909, Jews had to form Ha-Shomer, an organization of watchmen to protect the first towns and villages from Arab attacks. In 1920, Ha-Shomer morphed into the Hagana – the Hebrew word for Defense. And in 1948, the Hagana became the Israel Defense Forces. It’s always been about defending ourselves, not attacking or occupying another people.

There is another people in the land. To be honest, I wish they weren’t there – but they are. It’s contrary to Jewish values to get rid of them. We’d prefer to live with the Arabs in peace. That aspiration is actually written into the Israel Declaration of Independence. But for 68 years, we haven’t found a partner who shares that dream.

The Middle East Arab-Israeli conflict is among the most complex and difficult ones in the world, baffling diplomats and statesmen for a century. Yet it can all be reduced to one simple fact: In 1947 the United Nations voted on a partition plan that would have divided the land and created two states – Israel for the Jews, and Palestine for the Arabs. The Jews said Yes, and the Arabs said No. That’s all you need to know. Had the Arabs said Yes back in ’47, there would have been a Palestinian State, there would have been no wars, there would have been peace.

There is a long history since then of the Arabs saying No. Following the Six Day War, the Israelis said: We’ll give back the Golan Heights, and the West Bank, Gaza, and the Sinai – in exchange for peace. The Arabs gathered in Khartoum and said: No peace, No recognition, No Negotiations! (In 1979, when Anwar Sadat was willing to make peace, Israel ceded all of the Sinai to Egypt.)

As part of the Oslo peace accords, Prime Ministers Rabin, and Barak and Olmert were willing to give back more than 90% of the West Bank, plus land swaps. But Arafat and Abbas would not say Yes.

In 2005, Prime Minister Sharon, sensing there was no partner for peace, unilaterally withdrew all Israelis from the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian response was to elect Hamas, which began shooting thousands of rockets into Israel.

The Arabs will say that the Jews stole their land in the West Bank, and are brutally occupying the Palestinians there. The Israelis will remind you that Yehuda and Shomron (as Jews call it) was an integral part of our history and religion going all the way back to David, and to Abraham. For security reasons, the Israeli Army controls much of the West Bank, and Palestinians are subjected to someone else controlling their lives. This is not good for them, or for Israel. But until the Arabs are prepared to live together in peace, that’s how things will be. It’s all up to them. What the world calls “occupation” will end when the Arabs stop trying to put an end to Israel.

On our trip to Israel this summer we visited Rachel’s Tomb, one of the holiest sites in the Jewish religion. The Tomb is in Bethlehem, which is now part of the Palestinian Authority. To protect Jewish worshipers, Israel had to surround the Tomb by an armored fortress, because a number of years ago, Arabs looted and burned another Jewish site, the Tomb of Joseph. You don’t see similar fortifications at the Golden Dome of the Rock, or at Al-Aksa Mosque. Jews don’t prevent Muslims from praying at their holy sites – unless the Arabs use the Temple Mount to throw rocks down at Jews praying at the Western Wall. Yet to keep the peace, Jews are forbidden to pray on the Temple Mount. Over a million Arabs are citizens of the State of Israel, yet the Arabs continue to demand that no Jew can live in what is historically and religiously a part of the ancient land of Israel, in what they call Palestine.

Israel is certainly not perfect. Like any democracy, Israel’s government makes its share of mistakes – both minor and grievous. The United States of America has been around for 240 years, and still hasn’t worked out its racial issues and tensions. Israel, too, is not a perfect society. Yes, its Arab citizens face discrimination, (as do some of its Jewish Sephardic, and Ethiopian citizens.) If you think America’s political system is dysfunctional, compared to Israel’s, it’s down right utopian. And the lack of separation of “Synagogue and State” in Israel leads to many injustices regarding Marriage and Divorce, Conversion, and Burial and even Prayer for the non-Orthodox.

But remember that in only 68 years, Israel has had to fight 13 wars – some of them for its very survival. And while doing so, it has brought in, and settled millions of immigrants.

It is necessary to criticize a country when it does something wrong. But there’s a line today where criticism of Israel crosses over into anti-Semitism. How do we know where that line is?

Natan Sharansky tells us about “the 3-D’s Test.” If criticism of Israel involves De-Legitimization, Demonization, and Double-Standards – then it’s anti-Semitism. De-Legitimization is when people say that the very existence of the State of Israel is a crime; that the Jewish people, alone of all peoples in the world, – have no right to their own country. Demonization is when Israel and the Jews are characterized as evil and satanic. That they are Nazis, that they purposely kill babies, that they drink blood, that they control the media, the government and the economy. Double-Standards are when Israel alone of all nations, is singled out for condemnation, ignoring that Syria has killed almost a half-million of its residents, that Saudi Arabia beheads adulterers, and Iran executes homosexuals.

Anti-Semitism is on the rise today, and it comes in three distinct colors – Brown, Red and Green. Brown is a reference to the Brown Shirts of the Nazis. This form is right-wing and it is ultra-nationalist. It is sometimes even connected to classic Christian hatred of Jews, seeing us as Christ-Killers, but also as “the Elders of Zion,” scheming to control the world. Red is the color of the flag of the Radical Left, people who identify Zionism with Capitalism and Colonialism. Green is the flag of the Islamists – like Hamas – who use traditional Muslim anti-Jewish ideas – for example, that the Jews are descendants of Pigs and Monkeys. We have to listen carefully to what people say about Israel and the Jews. And whenever we hear one of the 3 D’s, we need to realize that we are facing not legitimate criticism of Israel, but Jew-hatred.

 

       

 

Let me share three stories I heard on our trip to Israel this summer.

May, 1948. Israel had just been declared an independent nation. The Egyptian army was moving up the coastal road, headed for Tel Aviv, to destroy the Jewish State in its first days. Standing in the way of the Egyptians was the small Kibbutz of Yad Mordechai. The Kibbutz was named for Mordechai Anilevich, the 23 year old leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising against the Nazis in 1943, an uprising that held off the German Army for almost a month. The Kibbutzniks had only 130 defenders. For six days they blocked the Egyptians from moving on Tel Aviv. 26 of those Kibbutzniks were killed and ultimately the Kibbutz fell to the enemy. But by the time it did, the Israeli Army had organized its fighters and weapons and headed south, intercepting and stopping the Egyptians. Because of those 130 defenders, Israel survived.

June 1967. The Jordanian Army entered the war with Egypt and Syria. Jerusalem became the focus of a great battle. The Jordanians were entrenched above the city in their fortifications on Ammunition Hill. To secure Jerusalem, the Israelis had to take the Hill. They arrived at 2:30 in the morning. We walked in the trenches. They are chest high, and just shoulder-wide. The Israelis ran single file in the dark. When the lead soldier ran into the enemy in the trench or a bunker, there was a fight to the death. When the first man fell, the man behind him had to step on his fallen body to continue forward. By dawn, 36 Israelis had died – and Ammunition Hill was captured. From there, Israeli troops moved down to the Old City and the Western Wall. Jerusalem was once again united.

August 2016. We visited the town of Sederot – less than one mile from the Gaza Strip. In the proceeding 10 years, 10,000 rockets have been fired into the city. When a rocket is launched from Gaza, a siren goes off in Sederot. The citizens have as little as seven seconds to get to a shelter before it hits. Every home has a shelter. Every bus stop has a concrete shelter attached to it. Every playground is built with a shelter. The police station has a display of some of the rockets that landed – either harmlessly in a field, or fatally onto someone’s roof. We stopped for lunch at a mall in Sederot. Life went on as usual, in this town of 24,000. Here’s the amazing thing: The people stay. Some might say that this is because they can’t move – who would ever buy their homes? But you could also say that the people of Sederot stay because they know that if they leave, Ashkelon is next, and then Ashdod, then Rehovot, and then Rishon and then Holon and Bat Yam – and then Tel Aviv. Israel is counting on them.

Seredot is on the front lines of the ongoing war against Israel, and the Jews. But so is the American college campus. And whether you know it or not, whether you like it or not, we’re all part of the forces that are defending Israel. We don’t have to hold back the Egyptian army for six days; we don’t have to crawl through trenches and capture fortified Jordanian bunkers in the middle of the night.

What we do have to do, is know who we are, and where we came from, and what the truth is. And when we’re confronted with lies, and hate, we need to stand up proudly, and let our voices heard.

Israel, and the Jewish people, are counting on us.