For the Love of Israel

Erev Yom Kippur

2015/5776

 

I’ve never known a time when Israel wasn’t a part of my life. In the annals of Jewish history I am a very privileged person.  For millennium our people have prayed for the reestablishment of our ancient homeland without having lived long enough to see the fulfillment of their hopes and dreams.

The time I came to understand Israel’s existence was when I was a youngster attending Religious School. I was probably about eight or nine years of age. I was in my Hebrew class and the Rabbi walked in, my Rabbi of blessed memory. That the Rabbi walked into my class was reason enough for excitement and fear. He was there to make an announcement, an announcement that was a bit lost on an eight or nine year old. He told us that no longer was the Hebrew school going to teach us Ashkenazic pronunciation of Hebrew. There would be no more Tov and Sov only Tov, no more Kamatz pronounced as “ahw,” now the Kamatz would be sounded as Oh or Ah. Why this sudden change? Israel now exists and we will learn the Hebrew pronunciation of Israel, not Europe or the United States. He went on to tell us that eventually everyone will speak Hebrew like Israelis so that’s the pronunciation we will now learn and use.

The second instance of Israel impacting my life in a very personal way is when my sister went to Israel to attend high school. When I was twelve, my sister decided to spend a part of her junior year in Israel. She enrolled in the Reform E.I.E, Eisendrath International Experience, and attended the Leo Baeck High School in Haifa. From her I learned so much about this far away land through her photographs, letters and postcards. She lived with the Friedman family and attend high school with Irit Friedman her Israeli sister. As I’m speaking my sister is in Israel having attended the wedding of Irit’s daughter in Haifa.

My first direct relationship with Israel occurred when I entered my first year of rabbinical school. The Hebrew Union College required all entering students to spend one year in Israel for language training and acculturation. I attended Hebrew classes five days a week for five hours a day. I volunteered on a k’votzav, a communal farm, for two weeks picking Granny Smith apples. I taught English as a second language to Israeli kids. I toured the entire country and while in Israel the Friedmans in Haifa took me in when I longed for the feeling of home.

Over the years I’ve returned to Israel nearly twenty times sometimes with family, sometimes with colleagues and sometimes alone. Like our own respective families Israelis can be warm and embracing and they can be prickly, antagonizing and combative. But they are family!

And like family I have every right to criticize any member of the family for something I perceive to be inappropriate. However if someone outside the family says something about any of my family members I will take umbrage with that person.

In recent years Israel has received more than an appropriate amount of criticism. No country is above reproach. All nations fail to meet certain standards of ethical and moral behavior. However the singling out of Israel for severe reprimand is without parallel. Say the word Israel in the midst of some people or certain groups and the response is visceral, Apartheid State, Colonists, Warmongers….the list goes on and on.   

As I stated on Rosh Hashanah, Israel was established as a safe haven for all Jews. Israel for Jews represents a national aspiration, a homeland, and a return to our ancestral home. We are not unique in this hope. Kurds in Turkey, Iraq and Syria also wish to establish a national homeland. Tibetans wish to re-establish their national homeland that was stolen by the Chinese. Northern Ireland wishes to separate from the British. The Ukrainians who were officially separated from the Russia are again being threatened by Putin and Russia. The list goes on and on. For many and rightfully so these national aspirations are all legitimate. Only when it comes to Israel and its hope to have and safeguard its national homeland is it called illegitimate.

I want to address three contemporary issues that Israel contends with each and every day: BDS, claims of Palestinian genocide and peace with the Palestinians.

BDS is an acronym for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. The BDS movement seeks to stigmatize, isolate and delegitimize the state of Israel. Founded in 2005, BDS espouses a “moral” position of economic and political pressure on behalf of its cause. Some European countries employ BDS activities to unilaterally pressure Israel to change its policies that effect Palestinians. In the United States, the BDS movement manifests in anti-Israel academic, cultural and economic activities. Many in the BDS movement willingly admit that the movement exists to remove any Israeli presence from “Palestine” and, in doing so, makes the realization of a two state solution far more difficult.

In June, 2015, President Obama signed into law a “fast-track” Trade Promotion Authority that includes a provision to push back against actions by foreign governments to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel. The law directs that one of the principal American objectives in upcoming trade negotiations with the E.U. will be to discourage trading partners from taking actions that would limit US-Israel commerce. It also urges the U.S. Trade Representative to seek the elimination of politically motivated economic attacks on Israel by America’s free trade partners.

Also fortunate is that the BDS movement has not succeeded on America’s college campus. At the University of Michigan, the University of Texas, Princeton University and the University of California, Santa Barbara resolutions calling for the boycott, divestment and sanctioning of Israel were defeated by an assortment of pro-Israel groups on campus such as Hillel, Jewish fraternities, sororities, student members of AIPAC and pro-Israel Christian student organizations.

The truth is the BDS movement is doing more harm to Palestinians than Israelis. Soda Stream, known for producing at home soda machines, was located in an industrial zone next to the Jerusalem settlement of Ma-a-lei A-du-meem which is the West Bank. The Soda Stream plant employed approximately 800 West Bank Palestinians. Their wages were twice as high as wages in the West Bank. Benefits were also extremely generous: full health-care (in Israeli clinics and hospitals), retirement pensions and paid vacations. Because of an international effort by BDS to boycott Soda Stream the company chose to relocate from the industrial zone next to Ma-a-lei A-du-meem to within “Green Line” Israel. The new location was significantly far from where they had previous been. An overwhelming number of Palestinian workers lost their jobs. Those brave enough to speak out because of possible Palestinian leadership backlash were extremely upset. Their main concern was the lack of good paying jobs in the West Bank.

So who really suffers? The Palestinians do. Even with the BDS Israel’s economy thrives. Israel is only second to the United States in the number of companies listed on NASDAQ. Israeli innovation and research is unsurpassed. From the cellphone in your pocket to the newest medical innovations in our hospitals all herald from Israeli ingenuity. The world in so many ways could not do without what Israel imagines and creates every single day. If the BDS movement was sincere in its commitment to destroy the economy of Israel then I say throw away your cell phones, your generic drugs, your agricultural technology, your flash drives and thumb drives, your voice mail technology, your cherry tomatoes and your water purification systems.

Gaon Holdings that controls Ahava, the Dead Sea cosmetics company, informed Tel Aviv Stock Exchange that China’s investment giant Fosan has acquired the company for $77 million. China has acquired the company and seeking to expand the products into China’s enormous and rapidly expanding cosmetics market, Ahava may not need to relocate. Back in 2007, Ahava had already signed an exclusive distribution agreement with a Chinese company to build up the brand name in China.

The economic well-being of Israel is not threatened by BDS.

There is no Palestinian genocide taking place in Israel. Just from a statistical point of view this is nothing more than vitriolic diatribe. In Israel proper today 20% of the population is Arab which constitutes about 1.7 million people. 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank today. In 1967, about 500,000 to 600,000 were living in the West Bank. There has been almost a five fold increase in the number of Palestinians in the West Bank.

The claim of Palestinian genocide is absolutely true, however, not with respect to Israel. It is true with respect to Arab states.

After the First Gulf War Kuwait's lack of support for Palestinians was a response to the alignment of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the PLO with Saddam Hussein, who had earlier invaded Kuwait. On March 14, 1991, 200,000 Palestinians were still residing in Kuwait, out of initial 400,000. Palestinians began leaving Kuwait during one week in March 1991, following Kuwait's liberation from Iraqi occupation. During a single week in March, the Palestinian population of Kuwait had almost entirely fled the country. According to the New York Times, Kuwaitis said the anger against Palestinians was such that there was little chance that those who had left during the seven-month occupation could ever return and relatively few of those remaining will be able to stay.

As many as 2,663 Palestinian have been killed in Syria since the beginning of the civil war.  At least 27,933 Palestinian refugees fled Syria and arrived in Europe in the past four years of the war while 80,000 Palestinian refugees fled to neighboring countries including Jordan which received 10,687 refugees, Lebanon which received 51,300 refugees and Egypt which received 6,000 refugees, according to UNRWA statistics.

An estimated 240,000 Palestinians are living in Saudi Arabia. They are not allowed to hold or even apply for Saudi citizenship, because of Arab League instructions barring the Arab states from granting them citizenship; the only other alternative for them is to marry a Saudi national. Palestinians are the sole foreign group that cannot benefit from a 2004 law passed by Saudi Arabia's Council of Ministers, which entitles expatriates of all nationalities who have resided in the kingdom for ten years to apply for citizenship.

Palestinians have fared far better living in Israel and the West Bank than in most Arab countries. There is no Palestinian genocide taking place in Israel.

Lastly, I pray for the peace of Israel and hope that there can be a two state solution as soon as possible. However I’m also pessimistic about the possibility as well. And with each successive year my pessimism grows. The Palestinian leadership is not interested in a two state solution if it were it would have come to fruition years ago when three comprehensive peace agreements were offered by the State of Israel.  Arafat couldn’t do it nor can Abbas. The narrative for the Palestinians has essentially stayed the same since the time of Arafat. There should be one state and that state should be Palestinian. This is what has been promised to the Palestinian people and their leadership has neither the will nor the inclination to change that narrative.

To be fair there is a growing segment of the Israeli population that also agrees with a one state solution. However instead of being a Palestinian one state it will be an Israeli one state. The settler movement grows every single day in Israel and unless the Palestinians move toward the peace table I believe a two state solution will be an idea whose time has passed.

Just two weeks ago Netanyahu asked Abbas to resume the peace talks through face to face negotiations. Abbas refused just as Palestinian leadership have done for decades.

Before the vote on the Iranian Deal a few weeks ago members of the Jewish community met with Representative Peter Welch. There were about eight of us at the meeting, three local rabbis and about five members of the Jewish community. We were with Representative Welch to discuss the upcoming vote. Our comments to the congressman were at his request and for which I’m extremely grateful. What the congressman had to say was extremely telling.

Representative Welch since the time he entered his office in Washington believed that the crux of Middle East turmoil was the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. He shared that he no longer believes that narrative any longer. What causes the rage in the Middle East goes far beyond that particular disagreement. Sunni vs Shia, Arab vs Persian, various tribal animosities, the lack of pluralism, women’s rights and religious freedom all contribute to what’s happening. He also shared that he has lost faith in the current Palestinian leadership, claiming them to be utterly corrupt and completely disinterested in the well-being of its own people.  Hurray for our Congressman for seeing the situation for what it truly is.

Right now Israelis are in Greece handing out care packages to the fleeing Moslems from Syria, Libya and Iraq. Israelis are working in field hospitals on the border with Syria caring for the wounded of that nation. Israelis were the first responders to Haiti and Nepal. They were in those two countries helping the injured, homeless and hungry before any other nation on the face of this earth.

Lata Chand, 19, of Nepal was heavily pregnant when the magnitude-7.8 earthquake struck April 25. She and her husband ran out of their house in panic. Their home was undamaged, but the hospital where she was to give birth was forced to close.

On Friday, they went instead to a field hospital set up by the Israeli military, where the baby was born.

The beaming midwife, Dganit Gery, said she hoped the birth would show all Nepalese women that there is hope for the future.

Lata's husband, Hariender Chand, said they were terrified the quake would cause her to miscarry.

"When the quake struck, I was thinking, 'Will we survive?' because most of the pregnant women miscarried their babies," he said. "I was scared it would happen to us. Now we're safe, it's good."

This is the Israel I love! Happy New Year!