Oct. 3, 2010
In December, 2008, our group from PTS was in the Old City of Jerusalem, overlooking the Western Wall plaza, on the same day that the newest Israeli soldiers were preparing for their graduation from basic training.
In front of them were two tables -- one piled high with Bibles and one with rifles. As each soldier approached, he or she was given one of each. There will never be a clearer image in my mind of what Israel is than that -- a bible and a gun.
This has been Israel's reality since its inception. The reason I am focusing on it now is that recently two competing notions about Israel have been gaining strength: one is the increasing effort to delegitimize and demonize Israel, and the second is the effort by some to reclaim Israel as a "normal" country, due the same considerations as any other nation.
Of particular concern is the BDS movement -- boycott, divest, sanction, which seeks to promote boycotting Israeli goods, divesting from companies that do business with Israel, and placing sanctions against Israel.
Also alarming is the intensity of the debate over Israel's legitimacy.
While many states in Asia and Africa have arbitrary borders drawn by colonial powers, their right to exist is not questioned. But Israel, whose right to exist was recognized by both the League of Nations and the UN, is not afforded the same consideration.
We are a part of Israel the people, and because of that, we also are part of Israel the place. We are connected to the land, the people, and the ideal.
And with that connection in mind, the specter of a nuclear Iran is truly frightening. Iran will have a nuclear weapon in one-to-three years, reports Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic.
By that estimate, the Israelis will have to make a decision by the end of this year on whether to act, possibly unilaterally, against Iran and "that there is a better than 50 percent chance that Israel will launch a strike by next July," Goldberg writes.
Many believe a nuclear empowered Iran is a threat not just to Israel but to all of Western civilization, and would use its leverage to encourage proxies, like Hezbollah and Hamas, to increase their terrorist efforts, destabilizing the entire region.
These are stark and difficult realities; however, I have not given up hope and ask that you don't either.
As Abraham Joshua Heschel said, there's something in the Jewish spirit that makes us immune to despair.
Which brings me to the second, competing view on Israel, one that includes a large element of hope.
This past year, a group of prominent current and former world leaders wrote in The Wall Street Journal: "Israel is a Western democracy and a normal country.... Because we believe Israel is subjected to unfair treatment, and are convinced that defending Israel means defending the values that made and sustain our Western civilization, we have decided to launch the Friends of Israel Initiative." I find hope in the group's position that Israel is on the West's side in the battle against terror and that the democratic world must not sacrifice Israel in order to placate Islamism.
And here's another reason for hope: On a conference call with American rabbis just before Rosh Hashanah, President Barack Obama spoke of his unwavering support for Israel and its security. Both Israeli and U.S.
officials believe that the sanctions imposed against Iran by the world community are having an effect, he said, and added that he is hopeful the latest round of peace talks will result in a framework for peace within a year.
Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, who also recently spoke to rabbis, notes that this is the first time every Arab country is united in its concern over Iran.
Second, the Israeli government is solidly behind the peace talks. Third, Israel has taken unprecedented measures to create trust, including a 10- month moratorium on building new settlements, which no prior Israeli government, left or right, has ever done.
I want to share some other reasons we can feel good about Israel.
Israel was unanimously elected into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, has far more high-tech start-ups per capita than any other nation, and ranks second behind the US in the number of companies listed on the NASDAQ.
With only seven million people, Israel attracts as much venture capital as France and Germany combined.
Israel is not perfect -- no country is, but I am proud that it continues to act as a compassionate light unto the nations, welcoming 17,880 new immigrants this past year. Israel also sent medical and military personnel to help the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. Along with treating over a 1,000 wounded and sick, the team also delivered 16 babies, including a boy whose mother gave him the name Israel.
So what can all of us do? We can start by speaking out for Israel and supporting organizations that advocate for Israel. We can participate on missions to Washington, DC to lobby members of Congress and can travel to Israel ourselves. I am excited that the four North Peninsula synagogues are creating a joint trip to Israel during the winter break of Chanukah 2011. Support for Israel is a grass roots effort that begins right here.
It is my fervent wish that one day soon, Israel will be treated like a normal country, with all the beauty, imperfections and glory of a thriving Western democracy, and that future generations will only know it as a place of peace.