Our Israel connections – the need to tell our stories
The Six Day War may have been history’s most illustrative example of the limitations of a weekly newspaper. Reviewing this newspaper’s archives from 1967 shows one week’s paper filled with ominous foreboding and the next issue, triumphal jubilation.
Every year, we take a short publishing break in the usually quiet news period that is the summer doldrums. Unlike in 1967, though, we now have a spiffy new website that has allowed readers to follow some local events and commentary from abroad during these especially tumultuous few weeks.
The news has not been pleasant. Israel has somewhat successfully stanched some of the infrastructure of the Gazan terrorist regime. The cost has been tragic and the worldwide reverberations deeply disturbing.
“Victory” is difficult to discern. In the biggest picture, victory for all civilians would be peace in the region, but even the most optimistic among us see that as a long way off – the stated objective of Hamas remains the destruction of Israel. For Israel, victory has historically meant a few months or a couple of years of relative peace. By beating back the immediate threat (whether the combined Arab armies in 1948-49, 1967 and 1973, or the PLO in the 1970s and ’80s, and the assorted terrorist entities since), Israel has managed to buy a few periods of comparative peace. And, as a result of Operation Protective Edge, Israel has undermined the strength of Hamas and so that may result in a period of relative peace for Israelis and Palestinians.
There has been another battle: the battle of words around the world. It’s not all words, of course – some of the battle has been violent, with anti-Jewish attacks in Europe and elsewhere – but the discourse about Israel globally, even when largely non-violent, has been unprecedentedly grotesque and incendiary. The United Nations, reinforcing its long failure to live up to the promise of its founding charter, has made a mockery of justice and peace by condemning only Israel. Armchair commentators have declared themselves military authorities to parse Israeli actions. Cartoonists have exhumed Nazi-era imagery to employ against Israel. Street rallies around the world, while accusing Israel of bloodlust, have themselves turned into bloody and violent displays of hatred.
Even some of the more thoughtful contributors to the “debate” have exhibited assumptions that seem to rely on old familiar stereotypes. And people who have never uttered a word of concern in the past nine years while the repressive Hamas regime has tightened its grip on the people in Gaza suddenly, when Israel becomes involved, declare, “I don’t support Hamas. I support the people of Gaza.” Would that they actually did.
In Canada, things are somewhat brighter. All major federal political parties have rightly stood with Israel in its fight against terrorism. (The exception being the Green Party of Canada, but then, it isn’t “major.”) We have a fairly balanced media that has generally not succumbed to the extremism or misrepresentation we have seen in Europe. Still, Canadian opponents of Israel purvey the idea that they can denounce Israel in the most horrible terms without that level of rhetoric having an impact on Jewish Canadians or our country’s multicultural harmony.
Explaining why this type of anti-Israel action affects us as Canadian Jews is not simple. Most Diaspora Jews have a deep and passionate connection with Israel. In part, this has to do with the Holocaust. The Holocaust did not happen because of Hitler and Nazism. It happened, at least in the magnitude it did, because there was not a country on the planet (save the Dominican Republic) that was willing to welcome the imperiled Jews of Europe. The need for Israel as a nation where Jews control the immigration policy is not due to the Holocaust per se, but the world’s nonchalance toward it.
More than this, after the magnitude of the Holocaust became known to the survivors and to the entire world, the unfathomable disaster might reasonably have sunk the Jewish people into a collective depression of hopelessness and fatalism. Instead, the rebirth of the Jewish homeland in Eretz Israel allowed a people seeking some light from a catastrophic darkness to find hope and optimism. Those Jews who made aliyah – and, to no small extent, those who remained in the Diaspora – threw themselves into building the state of Israel, a task that has proven successful beyond any dreams and allowed an optimistic future to salve the horrors of the immediate past.
When street mobs, politicians, UN resolutions, cartoonists and Facebook authorities heap loathing on Israel, despite all their feeble assurances that it is Israel, not Jews, they target, the words and the hatred behind them hurt. There are other historical, cultural, familial and political reasons why Jewish Canadians and others in the Diaspora feel deeply a part of Israel. It might help our neighbors understand us if we told our personal and collective stories better.
The JI’s Pat Johnson spoke with David Berner about the Israel-Hamas conflict, global antisemitism and other issues on Aug. 7 2014: