Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth
passeth over before you into the Jordan.
Yom Ha’Atzmaut marks the establishment of the modern state of Israel on May 14, 1948, the day on which David Ben-Gurion, the de facto leader of the Jewish community in Palestine, publicly read the Israeli Declaration of Independence. The Jewish people, he announced, “reclaimed the wilderness, revived the language, built cities and villages” and revived a state with “explicit international recognition of…their right to reconstitute their National Home.” As Israel now prepares to celebrate its Diamond Jubilee, signifying 75 turbulent years dating from the invasion of five Arab armies on the very day of its induction into the community of nations, it is well to remember the words of the prophet Isaiah that Israel was to be “a light unto the Nations” (Isaiah 49:6).
Much of the world begs to differ. Israel is the one nation on Earth whose right to exist is widely questioned and threatened. It is the disproportionate target of the United Nations Human Rights Council which devotes many of its sessions to attacking the Jewish state, approving in 2022 alone 15 anti-Israel resolutions promoted by the Palestinians while giving some of the world’s most scandalous human rights violators – China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Venezuela, Qatar – a Get Out of Jail Free card. Israel has been subjected to unfairness by the European Union, a worldwide boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign, and the vicious defamation of Israel Apartheid Weeks hosted on our morally debased university campuses. The Washington Free Beacon reports that President Joe Biden’s Administration is increasing U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority as it pursues its “pay-to-slay” terrorist program.
As Lincoln Brown writes in PJ Media, “One would think that in a supposedly-enlightened age, the naked hatred and prejudices of the past would have already been consigned to history. But of course, this is not an enlightened age. People are motivated by stereotypes, rhetoric, and a situation in Israel that they do not fully understand or care to research.” The ideology of the left continues to demonize Israel as a racist and conquistador nation that should be delegitimized – a state beyond the pale, to cite the title of Robin Shepherd’s book on the subject. Meanwhile, its Muslim neighbours, particularly in the West Bank and Gaza, have vowed to physically erase Israel from the map of the world, launching terrorist attacks – as, for example, on January 27, on February 10, and counting – firing rockets at its civic centres, and pursuing their version of the Final Solution. Every period of relative quiet is routinely described as a “lull” in the hostilities.
The propaganda assault on Israel is merely another species of terrorism, the contemporary form of the age-old anti-Jewish pogrom, as Bat Ye’or has persuasively argued in Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis and Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide. Obviously, bigotry and baseless aspersion are never openly admitted. Rather, for antisemites and anti-Zionists, Israel is regarded as a geopolitical irritant, a historical mistake, a garrison kingdom, an artificial construct that should never have been established, however validly and legally. Does the 1967 UN Resolution 242, guaranteeing “the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries,” have no juridical force? (As is to be expected, the UN is currently violating its own principles.)
For Islam, Israel is an interloper in the region, despite the indisputable historical fact that Israel and Judah predate the Arab occupation of the Holy Land by more than a thousand years. Surah 17, ayah 1 of the Koran mentions the pre-existing Temple at Jerusalem; indeed, it mentions the presence of the Jews and Moses in the Holy Land multiple times (e.g.: 2:47-48; 9:30; 2:83; 3:110; 3:199; 7:159; 2:62; 22:40; 5:5; 7:145). Jerome Verlin in Israel 3000 Years tabulates in exacting detail the historical presence of the Yishuv, or homeland community, “in the four holy cities of Jerusalem, Safed, Tiberias and Hebron, as well as in the rural grassroots of the land.” No matter. For the so-called “realist” school of international relations – see John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy – Israel is a political liability and therefore not entitled to American and international sympathy and concern.
Moreover, Israel is by no means a great power. Its current population of 9.4 million (including its Muslim citizens) makes it by normal census standards sparsely populated, and it covers about as much territory as Wales or New Jersey. As former mayor of New York Ed Koch reputedly said, one “might need a magnifying glass to see Israel” in a World Atlas since it could easily “disappear in the crease of a page.” In the larger scheme of things, presumably, its absence would scarcely be noticed.
And yet it can be argued that Israel’s existence is an absolute necessity. It is, to begin with, a haven for the Jewish people from the world’s ancient antipathy. As Leonard Cohen sang in one of his most moving songs, “Dance me through the panic ’til I’m gathered safely in,” a lyric version of Moses’ Song in Deuteronomy 32 in which Jacob is led from “the waste howling wilderness” and kept in “the apple of the Lord’s eye.”
Israel is a testimony to historical continuity and cultural memory in an age of temporal dissipation, a sort of “Benedict Option” for Jews – although a decidedly well-armed one, with stealth fighter jets, nuclear missiles and submarines. It is a sign of what is possible when a people gather together and pool their intelligence, courage, obstinacy and talent to create a vibrant pluralist democracy in the midst of ignorance and barbarism. Israel is a country that gives more to the world than many other countries, excelling in the fields of science, technology, medicine, agriculture, and energy. Israel has more Nobel laureates in absolute terms than China, and more hi-tech start-ups per capita than anywhere else on the planet.
Among the many inventions and discoveries coming out of Israel, we note: the PillCam (endoscopy system), the flexible stent, the computer firewall, the ICQ Instant Messenger, the collaborative development of the first cell phone, the world’s first USB drive, desert irrigation (Netafim), Mobileye (tiny vehicle cameras to warn of hazards), ReWalk (battery-powered exoskeleton), the smart watch, Duali-Q (radiology software), nano-magnets (to restore damaged nerve cells), and most recently a 23-pound, cost-effective, fuel-efficient car engine that just might be the wave of the future. George Gilder’s The Israel Test has made luminously clear the extent of Israel’s innovative genius from which the entire world has profited, which does not prevent the Jewish state from being considered a pariah among the nations. Yet the renaissance is real.
What we seem to be witnessing, as Eric Nelson reminds us in The Hebrew Republic: Jewish Sources and the Transformation of European Political Thought, is a contemporary reprise of the emergence of vast quantities of ground-breaking Hebraica texts and documents in the late 16th to mid-17th centuries, a revival which “transformed European literature and criticism, medicine and science, theology and ecclesiology, and philosophy and law, and [the principles of] political thought.” The scholarly term for the historical embodiment of these materials is the republica Hebraeorum, which profoundly influenced among others John Locke and his meditations on representative government that underlie the political organization of the liberal West.
Of course, Israeli politics soon became and remains splintered among innumerable fractious parties, a misfortune of which Locke would not have approved, though the country remains a robust, if tempestuous, democracy. Contemporary Israel is also an object lesson in how to manage a sound economy, running an engine with almost no gap in the output curve (although it had wallowed for several decades under social-democratic mismanagement). And it is, of course, the spearhead of the democratic West in the war against Islamic terror, receiving and resisting the brunt of the theo-imperialist onslaught against Western institutions, interests and, indeed, long-term survival. The Islamic writ is found in ayat like Koran 9:33 in which Allah sends forth his prophet “to make the true faith supreme over all religions.”
Those who study the history of civilization and who are disturbed or fascinated by the spectre of decline exhibited by our own will find Israel important for another reason. As I contended in The Big Lie and in this C2C Journal essay, it is difficult to repress the suspicion that ominous forces are working toward the demise of Judeo-Christian civilization. And I would hazard that many people in the ordinary walks of life are troubled by an inchoate premonition that something has gone terribly wrong with Western culture, governed by a political elite without moral convictions and educated by an academic elite without scholarly scruples, a charge convincingly documented in Ibn Warraq’s masterful volume Defending the West.
Many Western academics and intellectuals, Warraq writes, argue “that Western civilization is culturally, intellectually, and spiritually defective.” Quite the contrary. “Western civilization is good for the world,” having given it the principles of liberty and individual dignity, “the whole edifice of modern science…the symphony and the novel…the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders,” international aid, universal literacy and economic prosperity.
The “hostility to the West and Israel,” Warraq concludes, is a “shameful betrayal” of the ideals inherited from the Greeks and the Bible. The classical principles of democracy, the Enlightenment and scientific investigation, the Ten Commandments and the Christian Gospels form the basis of Judeo-Christian civilization, which must be defended against those who derogate the gifts of freedom, individualism, energy and inventiveness with which it has endowed the world.
As physicist Stephen Meyer points out in The Return of the God Hypothesis, the advancement of human reason and scientific investigation developed only in the Judeo-Christian West, especially after the Christian Reformation in the 15th and 16th centuries and common access to the vernacular (non-Latin) Scriptures. This implied that the individual was able to use his own judgment instead of relying on authority and that “human beings could attain insight into the workings of the natural world,” interrogating nature “using systematic experimental methods.” For all its life-enhancing donations to mankind, however, the Judeo-Christian West is not only being attacked from outside, but is being dismantled piece by piece by internal forces, by its own nomenklatura and internecine defectors, the political cruft of our day.
In the present context of doubt and apprehension, Israel, a testament to the singular, historical Western amalgam of science, democracy and communion, tells us who and what we are, that is, assuming we are interested in recognizing our own features. It constitutes a catechism for the West, a trial of values and a test of honour and principle – a test which the West appears to be failing. For the cherubs of political correctness and the fantasists among the intelligentsia cannot abide what Israel ideally exemplifies: vigilance in the face of aggression, the commitment to a genuine historic purpose and the virtue of unapologetic self-affirmation. They hate Israel because Israel stands as both living refutation of their self-hatred and physical resistance to their program of civilizational destruction.
Il Foglio journalist, culture critic and author Giulio Meotti persuasively argues that, “There is in fact only one Western country according to all democratic, cultural, social, civil and economic indexes, which has been going against the [disintegration] trend for years: Israel.” Meotti notes that, “Half of Israelis are Mizrahi and they tend to be more traditional and less ‘wokiste’” than those drawn from Western countries. Meotti quotes Nobel Prize literature laureate Saul Bellow, who wrote, “In this restless hour, the civilized world seems tired of its own civilization…Israelis have something to teach the world.” If Western nations, mired in ideological ruin, wish to survive, Meotti continues, they “must learn from this small Jewish country under existential threat where the self-hatred that runs through all Western societies is held in check by religious roots,” by faith, fertility, family and a realistic attitude to a volatile world.
This is not to suggest that Israel is without blemish or that it has not been partially infected by the contemporary Western proneness to false hope and political myopia. The Oslo travesty (which sought to gain recognition of Israel in return for allowing a Palestinian state, but actually sounded the prelude to the Second Intifada), the disengagement from Gaza, the destabilizing Israeli left with its spurious ecumenism and subversive media outlets like Haaretz, and the “peace process” mirage are examples of such lapses. The recent aggressive protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to reform a hard-core, self-appointing, leftist Supreme Court, which regularly thwarts the will of right-leaning governments, is, to quote military and security professional Ben Kerido in The Western Journal, “a shocking contradiction of Israeli cultural values.”
In the same vein, Melanie Phillips remarks that Netanyahu is reacting against the anti-democratic rule of an interventionist judicial activism, a system in which “judges have substituted politics and ideology for law,” which has created a troubling breach between the autonomous dispensation of justice and the proper functioning of a duly elected government. Meanwhile, Israeli commentator Caroline Glick recently reported that, “Israel has found itself in the midst of a simultaneous and coordinated assault [with] terror attacks countrywide and rocket volleys from Gaza, Lebanon and Syria.”
In a speech earlier this month, delivered amidst the current unrest, Netanyahu reminded the public that Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran (probably soon to be armed with nuclear weapons; it already has the ballistic missiles to deliver them) believe they can attack Israel with impunity. A punching bag does not win a boxing match. If the prevailing mindset does not change, 1973, the year in which Israelis almost lost their country, may happen again.
No less distressing, Israel’s embrace of the Covid-19/vaccine narrative and coercive mandates, clandestinely serving as a data-sharing petri dish for the noxious Pfizer experiment, is an egregious or at any rate a stupid and unscrupulous act. Like any nation on the planet, Israel has its share of gonifs, opportunists and sell-outs. For Islam and diehard Israel-haters, the entire nation is perceived as a collection of such reprobates and often vilified as “evil.” This is pure treif. What we call “evil,” however problematic a notion, is a human faculty, attribute or vice.
Interestingly, in The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James associates evil with the concept of “dirt,” which he defines as “matter out of place.” Drawing from James’ insight, anthropologist Mary Douglas in Purity and Danger, her landmark study of the concepts of pollution and taboo, analyzes how rules of purity constitute an organizing element in culture, setting off order from chaos, the acceptable from the improper, the affiliated from “matter out of place.” Jews, especially, are seen as “socially ambiguous,” their real offence felt as always having been “outside the formal structures of society and the symbols by which it organizes itself.”
Israel came to be regarded as political matter out of place, threatening the unity, coherence and order of the world, as if such were a fact rather than a fiction. It seems more appropriate to say it is not Israel but the anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish conceptual world, pursuing a duplicitous program of ideological apartheid against the Jewish state, that is itself septic, matter out of place – or perhaps better, spirit out of place. The fact is that Israel’s cadastral address, as we will shortly see, is also its rightful and authentic home. For despite the calumny and dishonesty to which it is regularly subjected, Israel is the one place where Jews, even the unruly and the dissident left, are truly not out of place.
For too much truth, at first sight, ne’er attracts
—George Gordon, Lord Byron, Don Juan, Canto XIV
Israel is accused in many quarters of having “cleansed” Palestine of its indigenous inhabitants and replaced them on the land, a canard of the first magnitude. What such indictments fail to take into account is that even after numerous historical expulsions Jews have always been present in the Holy Land. Douglas Petrovich’s riveting archeological and epigraphical study Origin of the Hebrews, succeeding the equally engrossing The World’s Oldest Alphabet, documents the Egyptian Captivity (or Sojourn) of the Israelites between 1876-1446 BC, latterly under the pharaohs Amenhotep II and Thutmoses III. The Exodus, the crossing of the Red Sea and later of the Jordan River would have occurred shortly afterward, the latter conventionally dated to 1406 BC, marking the traditional 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.
Severing the Jews’ millennia-old connection to the land is integral in the contemporary campaign to delegitimize Israel. The tenurial claim of the Jewish people to the land of Israel is an indefeasible one, however, based on a founding scripture, a millennial hereditament and a continuous presence, further ratified by the genetic evidence of the Cohen Modal Haplotype pointing toward a common ancestor dating back to the approximate time of Aaron and Moses. (See also, among many such studies, the American Journal of Human Genetics, 2003, treating of Y-chromosome evidence for the origin of Ashkenazi Levites.)
Conversely, as Joan Peters has indisputably shown in her magisterial From Time Immemorial, sifting through mountains of data, census statistics, official reports, internal memoranda, travel narratives and archival material, the Palestinians are, to a considerable extent, a loose aggregate of historically recent settlers and migrants to the area. (Even the term “Palestine” is not a Muslim but a Roman designation, an administrative department renamed by the emperor Hadrian in the 2nd Century AD from Judaea to Syria Palaestina.) Peters’ findings are reinforced by the Rev. James Parkes’ meticulous study Whose Land?, where he reiterates that “there was no such thing historically as a ‘Palestinian Arab,’ and there was no feeling of unity among ‘the Arabs’ of this newly defined area until modern times.”
The so-called Palestinian Nationality was fabricated in the 1960s by the Soviets and Yasser Arafat as the Palestinian Liberation Organization, or PLO. Indeed, Zahir Muhsein of the Palestinian National Council told the Dutch newspaper Trouw in 1977 that, “The Palestinian people does not exist…Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people…to oppose Zionism.” (The article is now almost impossible to locate, but we can find Muhsein’s admission on YouTube, Enterprise-Record, Daniel Pipes, an important article by Arabist Robert Spencer, and other venues.) Yasser Arafat himself, in the authorized political biography written by Alan Hart, affirmed that the “Palestinian people have no national identity.” Arafat intended to confer identity “through conflict with Israel.” This did not prevent Arafat from referring to himself as a native Palestinian though he was born in Egypt.
British census reports during the Mandatory period of 1922-1948, seeking to reduce the importance of the Jewish claim to the land, were regularly falsified to create the impression of a massive and original Palestinian presence. Data assembled from several credible sources, relying on economic developments, extrapolated migratory flows, imputation theory and growth rate differentials, as reported in The Middle East Quarterly (“The Smoking Gun,” Winter 2003), identify a substantial early 20th century flow of illegal Arab immigration into Mandatory Palestine from South Sinai, Trans-Jordan and Syria.
Examining the documents at the disposal of historians, commentator Daniel Grynglas concluded that, “95.7% of present-day Palestinians are clearly those Arabs and their descendants who migrated to Israel between 1831 and 2015.” The claim that Palestinians “are the indigenous people of Israel and that most of the present Palestinian Arabs have lived in these lands since time immemorial is a total fraud.” Similarly, in the essay collection Ottoman Palestine 1800-1914, social historian Gad Gilbar attributes the urban growth of the Arab population largely to “immigrants from outside Palestine,” whereas the Jewish presence in the Holy Land is longstanding and inherent.
It is evident, then, that a significant number of “Palestinians” migrated into the Holy Land from the surrounding Arab countries, mainly from present-day Syria and Lebanon while still part of the Ottoman Empire, which were used as a bulwark against raiding Bedouin tribes. The Arab late arrivals after the Ottoman Empire’s breakup were subsequently dubbed “Palestinians,” as were the Jews who lived there. The fact that the “Palestinians” have no stories, no texts, no coins, no relics, no historically verified muniments, whereas Israel is replete with stories, memorial scriptures and artifacts from pre-Biblical times and possesses a calendar that dates to 5783, is dispositive. New archeological finds attesting to a millennial Jewish presence – from small but revelatory artifacts to elaborate public facilities – occur with corroborating regularity.
Historian Bruce Thornton in The Wages of Appeasement justly points out that “the professed concern for the dispossessed Palestinians” is a pretext “based on an Orwellian rewrite of history that erases the 3,000 year presence of Jews in the Holy Land and makes the descendants of conquerors, occupiers, and immigrants the rightful possessors.” As jurist and former Attorney General of Canada Irwin Cotler wrote on the occasion of Israel’s 60th anniversary, Israel “is the aboriginal homeland of the Jewish people across space and time and overlaps with the State of Israel…as a political and juridical entity…; it is, in international legal terms, a successor state to the biblical, or aboriginal, Jewish kingdoms.”
As well, the late Roger Scruton in The West and the Rest confirms with much supporting evidence that, “Israel has transformed itself into a nation-state by allying a historical national identity with an existing territorial jurisdiction” to become, not a “Zionist entity,” as Arab propaganda has it, but a legal entity with a genuinely accountable government. This is buttressed by the instrument of international law behind the League of Nations Mandate applying to the territory in dispute and pursuant to the successor UN Constitution that undertakes to abide by its predecessor’s obligations and mandate agreements. It is pertinent to note that during the time of the British Mandate, the biblical term Eretz Israel (ארץ ישראל), “Land of the People of Israel,” was one of the territory’s official names.
Regrettably, the likelihood of a just and lasting peace remains slender. Neither has it ever been satisfactorily explained why Israel must conclude a peace on terrorist terms or submit to the pressures of the surrounding Arab states which launched the wars they subsequently lost. Since when do culpable losers dictate terms? As statesman Abba Eban said of the Six Day War of 1967, “This is the first war in history which has ended with the victors suing for peace and the vanquished calling for unconditional surrender.”
Is there a single country in the world that willfully returns territory captured in wars started by another country, when the defeated country still openly lusts for the other’s destruction and refuses to make peace? This folly might be thinkable only if negotiations could be expected to bear genuine fruit. A durable peace cannot be based on the shimmer of a consensual mirage.
We recall that Israel withdrew from Lebanon and was rewarded with an armed Hezbollah entrenched on its northern borders and conducting regular incursions, kidnappings, shelling and rocket attacks, eventually provoking the war of summer 2006. When Israel withdrew from Gaza, it reaped a continuous barrage of rocket and mortar attacks on its southern villages and cities. We recall, too, that the Arabs and the Palestinians have refused to accept a two-state solution on four separate occasions: 1917 (the Balfour Declaration), 1937 (the Peel Commission), 1947 (the UN partition proposal) and 2000 (Camp David and Taba). U.S. President Bill Clinton’s last-ditch bridge proposals were also rejected by the Palestinian side of the table.
Israel’s present borders, as well as Judea and Samaria (aka the West Bank), comprise the historic and legal home of the Jewish people, a fact conveniently brushed aside. (The Golan Heights were admittedly not part of Israel but were legitimately taken in defensive action and are geographically critical to Israel’s survival.) The historical truth is that the Balfour Declaration for the first time established a political unit called Palestine while recognizing that there already existed a historic Jewish right. The binding dispensations of international law, beginning with the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 and culminating in Article 80 of the UN Charter, recognize and provide for Israeli settlement in Samaria and Judea – the so-called “occupied territories” – as part of Mandated Palestine, later captured by Israel as the spoils of a defensive war.
As Therese Zrihen-Dvir writes in FrontPage Magazine, those who accuse Israel of allegedly occupying territories that do not belong to it “position the heavy load of illegitimacy on the Jews’ backs.” The fact is, as the historical record proves, “Israel has only taken back what is rightfully his.” Yet it has now become politically detrimental to pursue the issue and, in the name of an eventual, if unlikely, peace, much of the land in question will doubtlessly have to be formally ceded, with the exception of the cuticle around Jerusalem, a defensive wedge of the Jordan valley to ensure at least a minimum of strategic depth, and a handful of strategically-placed settlements, Palestinian violence notwithstanding.
The tiny state of Israel is like a postage stamp on a letter sent by a celestial syndic, seen through an anagogical lens as a mystical interpretation of distant events or scriptural exegesis. But there can be no denying that since its founding it has embodied an ideal of heroism, determination, enterprise, ancestral spirit and renewal rare, if not unprecedented, in the annals of modern statehood. The word “Israel” means “he who wrestles with God” (Genesis 35:10) or in laic terms, the struggle and trial to prove oneself.
In this respect Israel is like no other nation on earth. For this reason, the narrow slice of land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is a kind of litmus strip for the civilization of which it is an intrinsic yet disparate part, to ascertain whether that civilization is viable or deficient, strong or weak, resilient or bankrupt, capable of integrity or inwardly corroded by spiritual indifference and intellectual corruption. In other words, the way in which the West responds to Israel and its ongoing predicaments serves as an infallible indication of civilizational vitality or of irremediable decay.
This small nation of approximately 7 million Jewish souls – not much more than the number who were lost in the unthinkable infamy of the Shoah – demonstrates, for all its flaws, the pluck and vigour, the energy, fortitude and tenacity, the essential optimism exemplified in the unapologetic willingness to have children, that seem presently in short supply among Western countries. It is a country whose Diamond Jubilee should be internationally celebrated. It represents a model we should be shooting for, not shooting at. For in the last analysis, Israel provides an image of the possible while serving as a touchstone of the real.
The grape was pressed from the season’s yield
in the vineyard of the time
but the bottles in the rack have been there for millennia
preserved in the cellars of the dark Immemorial.
—Dov Ben-Zamir, New Wine, Old Bottles
What Jews cannot be forgiven by their enemies is the rebuilding of a national home. As we have seen, the re-creation of the state of Israel in its phyletic territory is broadly regarded as a colonial incursion into the Middle East and, in many cases, as the latest installment in a vast Jewish conspiracy to pursue the gradual conquest of the world or to assert a sinister hegemony, as proclaimed in the libellous forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This conviction is obviously nonsense if not sheer madness, but it serves a time-dishonoured purpose: the justification of an aversion to things Jewish, whether expressed, in Norman Cohn’s telling phrase in his book of that title, as a “warrant for genocide,” or as a free-floating revulsion to the mere fact of Jewishness – even where no or very few Jews are present.
We find here perhaps the chief grievance of the Western world, or of those who formulate policy and doctrine and those who climb aboard for the ride, against its outrider in the Middle East. Anti-Semitism, or its political manifestation anti-Zionism, must be challenged. The “historical strain of anti-Semitism continues,” writes Phyllis Chesler in The New Anti-Semitism, “but in the last fifty years it has also metamorphosed into the most violent anti-Zionism.” Anti-Zionism, we might say, is merely the kosher form of anti-Semitism.
In effect, the Muslim world and the anti-Semitic left have merely revived the ancient libels. As Raymond Scheindlin documents in A Short History of the Jewish People, “Egyptian writers circulated distorted and insulting accounts of Jewish history,” claiming that the Jews “originally came to Egypt as alien conquerors, set fire to Egyptian towns, destroyed their temples, and mistreated their inhabitants.” As usual, history proves otherwise. These putatively conquering Israelites who were said to have despoiled Egypt in fact constituted a captive population under the Pharaohs.
The Seleucid emperor Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem in 167 BC, was the first historical figure to persecute the Jews for their religion as such, and the anti-Semitic virus has been gathering momentum ever since. The Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus tells us in Against Apion of a certain 1st century AD grammarian who apparently started the hoary blood libel on its global career. Apion wrote that, “At a set time every year [the Jews] used to catch a Greek foreigner…and kill him, and sacrifice with their accustomed solemnities, and taste of his entrails.” Josephus comments: “Now this is such a most tragical fable as is full of nothing but cruelty and impudence.” The “tragical fable” has travelled through the centuries and bred far more than “cruelty and impudence.” Isaiah may have been right portraying Israel as a light unto the nations, but a light has at least two properties: it casts a glow, and it can be extinguished.
Robert Spencer points out that, according to an ISIS proclamation and Muslim clerics like Egyptian imam Muhammad Hussein Ya’qoub, the conflict is not about Palestine, not about lands and possessions, but is religious in nature. “If the Jews left Palestine to us,” thunders Ya’qoub, “Would we start loving them? Of course not. We will never love them. Absolutely not. The Jews are infidels.” Sheikh Said Al-Afani confirmed: “Our hatred of them is purely on religious grounds, and not because of the pure, sacred land…or because of Gaza.” The “Palestine problem” is ancillary to the call for a global jihad against the Jewish people; the campaign against Israel is only the opening salvo in a larger conflict. Israel is considered as the first casualty in a war of extermination. But one way or another, it remains the locus of asylum for the Jewish Diaspora.
It should be said at this juncture that in defending Israel I am not advocating for the classical rabbinical/Lurianic concept of Tikkun Olam, the Mishnaic mandate to mend a broken world and reveal the hidden Creator for all mankind to marvel and worship: Tikkun means “repair,” Olam, “for all time.” The idea is that the Lord purposely left room for human beings to continuously improve upon His work, a duty imposed upon Jews for the benefit of the human race. It is a lovely theological notion, but it should not come at the expense of exposing one’s own people to a bloodthirsty adversary, a decadent commentariat or a hopelessly corrupt United Nations.
A country cannot always be seeking to appease, always deferring victory, always diverting its own resources to benefit others. One recalls that Israel sent a crack rescue team to aid in restoration work after the 2011 tsunami in Japan, a country where many writers, publishers and organizations are preoccupied with Yudakaya (“the Jewish peril”). The state-of-the-art medical team and field hospital Israel dispatched to Haiti after the great earthquake of 2010 was venomously maligned among bloggers and journalists as an organ-harvesting operation.
The Israeli Medical Association requires that doctors apply the principle of comprehensive triage in battle conditions, even if that means helping terrorists before their victims. Compounding the absurdity, even after withdrawing from Gaza, Israel has continued furnishing an avowed and determined enemy with food, fuel, electricity, medical supplies and building materials. Par for the course, an agreement over offshore natural gas resources saw the former left-wing government cede significant portions of its territorial waters and a gas field to Hezbollah, gaining nothing in return. It seems the moral calculus among Israeli benefactors is self-destructively skewed.
This is Tikkun Olam with a vengeance. As Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky wrote sarcastically, “If you want to be ‘good,’ allow yourself to be killed and forego all that you made it your aim to defend: home, country, freedom, hope.” It shouldn’t be this way. “The prophets carried God’s message to the Jewish people,” explains Jonathan Neumann in To Heal the World?: How the Jewish Left Corrupts Judaism and Endangers Israel, “to mend their ways, not the world, and He will do the rest.” It is high time that Israel – its political and legal authorities, its commanders, the media and the intellectual elect – adopt a new mode of thinking, symbolized by its Diamond Jubilee.
Israel must get its act together and continue to be, as it has since its founding, a model by example, an archetype or paradigm of what is possible in the midst of hostility, revilement and belligerence, namely, the strength to defend one’s people and heritage, the clear-headedness to husband one’s resources, and the ability to survive and flourish. In his important book United in Hate: The Left’s Romance with Tyranny and Terror, FrontPage Magazine editor Jamie Glazov states that, “Two of the most outstanding Jewish characteristics are the love of life and the enduring struggle to survive.” The old Jewish joke is apt: They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat. The tragic is rendered both comic and stoic. The joke is expressive of a people’s fortitude.
Abcess makes the heart grow fonder
—Groucho Marx, The Cocoanuts
“What is it about the kind of jokes Jews tell,” asks Joseph Epstein in The Ideal of Culture, “that is notably, ineluctably Jewish?” Good question. Is it a way of negotiating what Henry James, in an 1896 letter to his friend A. C. Benson, called “the imagination of disaster”? Jewish humour is both a survival technique and a cultural semiotic. It is, writes Ruth Wisse in No Joke, “One of many possible responses to the anomalous experience of the Jews.” Even the super-earnest Isaiah’s use of the word basar (Isaiah 40:8-9), often translated as “preach,” carries the nuance of cheerfulness and glad tidings (בָּשָׂר). Abraham’s haggling with God has all the marks of an incipient comedy sketch, even if the capper went off-script.
The Israeli-inspired Comedy Central TV cartoon show, Drawn Together, highlighting characters with names like Jew Producer, Foxxy Love, Toot Braunstein, Wooldoor Sockbat and Strawberry Shortcake, and making astringent fun for didactic purposes of some of the major currents and events of Jewish history with all its suffering and turmoil, is an expression of both indomitable festivity and wry humility. “I do not know whether there are many other instances,” wrote Freud in Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, “of a people making fun to such a degree of its own character.”
The Jewish Joke is a special case, a way of remaining solvent in a bear market. Like Noah, the Jew floats his stock in a situation in which everyone else would be in liquidation. Israel’s Diamond Jubilee is, in its way, a joke upon the world, albeit a good-humoured one. But the issue is always critical. Things can always get worse. As comedian George Burns remarked, “When I was a boy, the Dead Sea was only sick.”
One thinks, too, of the Israeli paratrooper joke. “If the chute doesn’t open,” the newly enrolled paratrooper asks his training officer, “how long until I hit the ground?” The officer answers, “The rest of your life.” Regarding the historical friction between Judaism and Christianity, there is a deep understanding in Judaism that Jesus was also a member of “the Tribe” and should be embraced, not rejected. There are four things, the joke goes, that reveal that Jesus was a gantzer Jew: he lived at home till he was thirty; he went into his Father’s business; he thought his mother was a virgin; and his mother treated him like God.
Perhaps the most scarifying of Jewish jokes, retold by Wisse, distinguishes between two kinds of German Jews, the pessimists who went to Palestine, the optimists who went to Auschwitz – indicating that Jewish life is always perilous, even in Israel. Iran and Saudi Arabia just agreed to re-establish diplomatic ties, which bodes serious trouble for Israel, especially as Iran is reportedly fast approaching the nuclear weapons threshold. In the light of Israel’s oft-disputed recognition and its precarious position in the world, every anniversary day for Israel is today (hayom, הַיּוֹם).
One can only agree with McGill University history professor Gil Troy who wrote for the Jerusalem Post that the Jubilee should “culminate in a big, brassy, schmaltzy celebration of Israel…At this critical moment, we must go big picture, transcending the complexities of the moment to showcase this great story of a broken, wandering, persecuted people finding their way by finding their way home.” The Jubilee can be said to resemble the traditional Purim Spiel – joyful antics commemorating the survival of the Jews related in the Book of Esther, bringing merriment into a sombre and violent world.
The day fittingly concludes with an official celebration on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. Music, parades and formal speeches precede the lighting of 12 torches symbolizing the Twelve Tribes of Israel, of whom only the descendants of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin have survived following their return to the homeland from the Babylonian exile in 586 BC. It is as if the prophecy of Jeremiah had been fulfilled: “The Lord saith I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds, and they shall be fruitful and increase” (Jeremiah 23:1-3).
Speaking metaphorically, Israel has crossed the Jordan from its fraught and tumultuous founding on May 14, 1948 to its present existence among the nations of the world, as mutatis mutandis its ancestors did on the tenth of the month of Nisan in 1406 BC into the “promised land” of Canaan, and as the Israelites before them crossed the Red Sea harrowed by the Pharaoh’s chariots to eventually establish their homeland.
One thinks of Isaiah’s prophecy: “The Lord will have mercy on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and set them in their own land: and the strangers shall be joined with them, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob” (Isaiah 14:1). The West, for its part, should be crossing the political Jordan to settle in its birthright with its historical forefathers, to be “joined with them,” and to gather around the festive table to celebrate modern Israel’s 75th birthday. For, like it or not, Israel is both the precursor and the conscience of the West. It is spirit in place.
David Solway’s most recent volume of poetry, The Herb Garden, appeared in 2018 with Guernica Editions. His manifesto, Reflections on Music, Poetry & Politics, was released by Shomron Press in 2016. He has produced two CDs of original songs: Blood Guitar and Other Tales (2014) and Partial to Cain (2019) on which he is accompanied by his pianist wife Janice Fiamengo. His latest book is Notes from a Derelict Culture, Black House Publishing, 2019, London. He is currently preparing a new book, Crossing the Jordan: On Judaism, Islam and the West.
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