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July 19, 2010: Balancing the Scales

October 26, 2010

Tonight begins a time of fasting, and of mourning.  This is primarily for the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem, but our tradition tells us this was also the day on which multiple other calamities have befallen us over the centuries, such as the Jewish expulsion from Spain.
It is a time of introspection for the nation.  Especially is this the case today, as we face threats and must examine our actions in several regards.  Yes, we must be strong.  Yes, we must make proper decisions with regard to our security and our rights.  But we are taught that we must also look inward at our own behavior.  Baseless hatred (sinat hinam) is said to have been the reason for the destruction of the Second Temple
Perhaps of particular note here is the linkage of this day with the sin of the spies.  The Torah tells us that Moshe sent 12 spies into Caanan, which had been given to the people by G-d, to check it out.  Ten returned with a report that was dire, causing the people to be afraid to enter.  The gift that G-d had given the people was defamed: there was no trust that G-d would keep us in the land, and no confidence in our ability to manage (“we were as grasshoppers”).
Thus do I write about balancing the scales, which is what Rav Kook said we were obliged to do.  Balancing the scales:  Accepting and appreciating this land as the gift from G-d that it is.
Books can be written — and undoubtedly have been written — on what this means.  I ask that you contemplate this for yourselves.
For a special video from Aish that addresses these issues and the lesson of Tisha B’Av:
I would also like to share here a moving video called “Home Game.”
Five years ago, the Israeli citizens of Gush Katif were forcibly removed from their homes.  This is a story of one of those communities — Netzer Hazani.  The expulsion was planned for the day after Tisha B’Av.  Three weeks earlier, the annual Gush Katif basketball tournament — in which the youth of the communities participated — was begun.  The final game, traditionally scheduled for right after Tisha B’Av, was to take place the very day that the expulsion was to happen, in Netzer Hazani — with the community’s kids competing for the championship.  The game was not cancelled. These kids, with an incredible spirit of courage (defiance?) played amidst what was happening about them.
See this film made by the kids.  Remember what happened. And then vow — in the spirit of Tisha B’Av — that something like this should never happen again.
Last night I attended a panel discussion, sponsored by The Legacy Heritage Fund, in conjunction with the Global Law Forum at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA), the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, and the South African Zionist Federation in Israel (Telfed).
The subject was “Combating Israel’s Delegitimization: Debunking the Apartheid Myth.”
The program began with a video clip designed to show us what we are up against:  Azmi Bishara — former Israeli Member of Knesset who fled the country when accused of aiding Hezbollah during the war — charging Israel with apartheid.
In the course of the program, it was noted more than once that Bishara was himself evidence for the ludicrousness of the charges he was leveling.  In a genuine system of apartheid, he could never have been elected to the Knesset.
Professor Gideon Shimoni — originally from South Africa, and former head of Hebrew University’s Institute of Contemporary Judaism — then examined the true nature of apartheid, as it existed in South Africa.  In doing so, he was able to clarify how different it was from anything that goes on here. 
The manifestations of apartheid within the society of South Africa existed for over 100 years, even though it was not institutionalized more formally by the National Party until 1948.  The conflict that developed over this had nothing to do with nationalism.  The issues were inclusion and sharing, and were predicated purely on race.  A white minority manipulated the conditions of all non-whites, while refusing to negotiate any of the pertinent issues. 
More was involved than exclusion from democratic electoral rights of anyone who was not white:  whites determined which schools non-whites could attend, and what hospitals would treat them. Non-whites were sometimes forced to move to specifically designated areas.
Here in Israel, tensions are not racial at all, but ethnic — regarding peoplehood.  And the basis of those tensions is a struggle between two national movements.  The tension arises with Palestinian Arabs who are not seeking inclusion within our system. What they want is separation, via their own state. This in no way parallels what transpired in South Africa, and is emerging from an entirely different set of circumstances.
What is more, Arabs who are Israelis have full entry into the system.  It’s not just with regard to democratic process: Arabs in this country are treated by the same hospitals that treat Jews.  In fact, Arab doctors, who may have been trained in the same medical schools Jews attend, often practice in the same hospitals.  This totally puts the lie to the charges that our system is race-based.
There are semantic distortions involved in apartheid charges leveled against Israel.  Apartheid becomes a code word, a generic pejorative label separated from context.
Dr. Dore Gold — former Israeli Ambassador to the UN, and head of the JCPA — made different arguments.  There are two parts to the apartheid charge, he noted.  The first part involves a white minority that suppresses a non-white majority, but the second part of the charge involves colonialism.  The white minority in South Africa was European (Afrikaners, who were originally Dutch or Huguenot) — occupiers enforcing their will upon the majority indigenous population.
It is this that is the most serious charge made against Jews in Israel: We are said to be outsiders, occupiers, enforcing our will on the indigenous majority population.  And it is this that must be most vociferously refuted.  It is not remotely the truth, and carries with it serious implications.
The Mandate for Palestine of 1922 recognized our pre-existing right to this land. Actually, since 1863, Jews have been the majority in Jerusalem.  The rise of Israel is anti-colonial.
This is part of the attempt to delegitimize Israel:  it is representing Israel as alien here, without rights.
DJ Schneeerweiss — originally from Australia, currently Coordinator of the anti-boycott strategy of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs — says he prefers to turn around what Dr. Gold referred to with regard to the delegitimization of Israel.  He doesn’t wish to do our detractors’ work for them, and so refers to the assault on Israel’s legitimacy.
The assault, he said, is broad, as there are attacks on supporters of Israel, as well as on Israel.  Words count and there is currently an attempt to brand us.  This is not about facts, it’s a PR barrage. They merely have to make the label stick, and they know what will follow.  It’s a case of the malevolent leading the ignorant.  
A variety of strategies are necessary:
There is loss of context today, as Jewish history is less well known.  We must educate, telling our story.
There is an attempt to dismiss our humanity.  Stories must be told that redress this, showing the human side of Israel.
Explain to people how ostracizing Israel can effect their lives because of all the helpful scientific and medical innovations that come out of Israel.
Expose the truth about those who oppose us, who are themselves anti-human rights.  (Note: the nations making the claim of apartheid against are not exactly paragons of a modern, liberal society that support human rights.)  
Reclaim liberal language:  Refer to the rainbow character of the Israeli people (i.e., make the point that we are not all white).  Promote our peace credentials.
Refute arguments, as appropriate.  Engage via dialogue and argument.
Using the “virus” analogy, we must inoculate society against these charges so that they don’t become mainstream. We shouldn’t delude ourselves that every instance of such charges can be eradicated.
It is important not to over-react.  Sometimes ignoring a charge is the best way to go, as making a fuss leads to more press for the “apartheid” accusations.
We must stay our course and build our resources via speakers, writers, etc.  We can win this!
To those who are fasting: an easy and meaningful fast.




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