President’s Column: The Voice of November

April 2014 Home Column List 2

President’s Column: The Voice of November

Marcie Natan

This is a month in which the calendar speaks to us.


November 9 is the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the outbreak of anti-Semitic violence in Nazi Germany that is one of the most potent examples of Jewish powerlessness in history.

November 29 marks the day—in 1947, just nine years after Kristallnacht—that the United Nations voted for the formation of a Jewish state by partitioning Palestine, giving the Jewish people the right to control their own destiny.

In between those two dates, American Jews celebrate Thanksgiving—a festival that unites us with our non-Jewish neighbors and reminds us that whatever power and comfort we have comes with a higher purpose.

As we give thanks, we also renew our determination to confront challenges new and old. I have supreme confidence in Israel’s ability to defend itself and in our own capacity to use whatever influence we have for good. What concerns me more this November is that the campaign to delegitimize Israel is being abetted by people within our community. A few give their support actively, but many more do so through indifference or, as we said in the ’60s, by dropping out.

Most troubling are those who seem to think they can leave Israel aside and still live a Jewish life.

Let me be clear: Criticism of Israel’s actions as a nation, or actions of its government, is legitimate. As long as Israel is populated by human beings, it will be imperfect. We all know that within Israel, dissent is vigorous—as it should be in any free society.

But denial of Israel’s right to exist—often coded as a denunciation of Zionism—is fundamentally different from criticizing Israeli actions. Every country has stains on its history. In the United States, slavery and racial discrimination are part of the historical record. But few in the world would say now, or said in the past, that America has no right to exist.

I could make similar observations about Britain or Argentina, France or Egypt, Russia or Japan. Israel deserves to be judged by the same standards as any of these nations.

Yet, when it comes to faults as perceived by others, many judge Israel by a standard they apply to no other country. All nations are guilty, but the Jewish nation is uniquely guilty and deserves unique censure.

More people died in the three-year Bosnian conflict than have lost their lives in 63 years of Arab-Israeli conflict. More people died in three months in Rwanda than in all the Arab-Israeli wars and battles combined. And that’s even before we get into who attacked and who was simply practicing legitimate self-defense.

Have you ever heard anyone suggest that Bosnia, or Serbia, or Rwanda has no right to exist?

Why, then, the obsession with Israel? And why the shying away from Israel even by otherwise identifying and committed Jews?

Part of the answer is fatigue. Israel has been in the news constantly, throughout our lifetimes. Criticism often comes from people who hold views that otherwise seem so in sync with ours, so Israel becomes a topic best avoided. My response: Own your Jewishness. When was it ever easy to be a Jew?

The other part of the answer is lack of understanding. Like the child from the Haggada who does not know how to ask a question, some of the people closest to us don’t know. They don’t ask, and we don’t tell.

We need to remind our friends and family members not only of the justification for Israel’s founding but also that today’s Jewish vibrancy, success, pride and sense of global unity are all products of the movement to build a Jewish state.

We also need to be frank. While there may be people who believe they can question Israel’s existence and still profess admiration for the Jewish people, there is no question that the delegitimization of Israel is driven largely by people and movements guilty of classical anti-Semitism. In many of the countries that do not recognize Israel, there is no line separating demonization of Israel from demonization of Jews.

We need to show as well as tell. Show people what we do. Hadassah was a pioneer not only in building the Jewish state but also in nurturing it as a caring and ethical society. Our reputation for healing, educating and hiring Israel’s Arab community as well as the Jewish population has brought us accolades from around the world. In 2005, this reputation earned the Hadassah Medical Organization a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the early years of Hollywood, changing your name was a strategy some Jews used to avoid identifying who they were. But Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, is not changing its name.

So let our enemies try to drive a wedge between the Jewish people and the Jewish state. They don’t have to take account of the Bible, the Hagadda, the siddur, history, much less the lessons of November.

We know what all of these things tell us: Israel and Judaism are inseparable.

 
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