The Yiddish expression, which I first heard from my father as a child, “Ess is shver zu zein a Yid” (“it is hard to be a Jew”) rang in my ears as Israel’s air attack against Gaza began. This was because I didn’t know how emotionally to cope with the knowledge that Israel would be condemned for defending itself against an enemy whose objective was Israel’s destruction. Its moral right to enable 900,000 of its citizens to live normal lives would be subsumed by the wagging finger: “Only a handful of you have been killed, not like the hundreds of Palestinians you have killed!”
In the early stages of Cast Lead, the killing of three Palestinian children in a playground by an Israeli bombing of a rocket launching site was reported. No commentator appeared to raise an eyebrow at what the children or the rockets were doing in that vicinity. No wonder that Israeli author, Amos Oz, a frequent critic of Israeli governments, felt compelled to write: “Hamas’ calculation is simple, cynical and evil: ‘If innocent Israelis are killed — good; if innocent Palestinians are killed — even better.’” “Better” because the West will blame Israel.
It is hard to be a Jew, because when individually or collectively we become the focus of public attention, it is always bad news for us. When Madoff caused a black hole of $50 billion, I jokingly asked, “What do you want first — the good news or the bad news? The bad news is Madoff is Jewish. The good news is that he swindled other Jews.” Why? Because at least the Jews will not be accused of joining in a conspiracy against non-Jews.
The same applies to Israel. Nothing it does will make any difference to its enemies, among whom we must now number the politically left-leaning world, as well as the Islamic forces who have declared their ambition to destroy the Jewish state. Even if Hamas is unable to recover, there will still be Hizbollah, with its rockets in Lebanon, and the threat from Iran. The battle for Israel’s survival and security will be won; but not in the near future and not without more blood.
There is something we can learn from recent events. At the outset of the war, a Daily Telegraph leader writer gave us a clue to the lesson: “Ordinary Israelis sense that Hamas is crazed with hatred not just for their state but also for Jews; that is why many on the Israeli left do not feel guilty about the weekend events.”
Jews outside Israel, especially those on the left, should realise the truth of this. Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks endorsed it by quoting Amos Oz: “In the 1930s, antisemites declared, ‘Jews to Palestine.’ Today they shout, ‘Jews out of Palestine’...they don’t want us to be there; they don’t want us to be here; they don’t want us to be.”
Jew-haters throughout the world, led by Islamists, have transferred the old slanders against the Jews over two millennia to “Zionists and the Zionist entity”. They claim: “The Zionists rule the world through its control of America. The Zionist entity is racist, apartheid and guilty of genocide against the Palestinians.” The word “Zionist” has become so abhorrent to so many that all new organisations supporting Israel no longer use it because it hampers their activities on Israel’s behalf.
Even the Zionist Federation can no longer use the abused word when creating new activity programmes. A high ideal has been transformed into its very opposite. It is used as a hypocritical cover for antisemitism.
We need to recognise this reality and adjust accordingly. Our argument should be that Zionism achieved its goal when Herzl’s vision made a reality out of the Jewish dream. With the existence of a Jewish state, Zionism as an ideology has lost any relevance other than as camouflage for Israel’s enemies to deflect their hatred not only for Israel but for Jews themselves.
It is, surely, in Israel’s interest to pension off this “ism”. We need to declare that Israel is not a “Zionist entity” and that those Jews and non-Jews who support Israel throughout the world are not advancing “Zionist interests” to be attacked. Rather, they are friends of Israel whose courage is to be applauded. And, as members of the Jewish community, we should declare without reservation that we stand shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters in Israel when they use their inalienable right to defend themselves against attack.
The future of Jews and Judaism is inextricably intertwined with Israel’s future. Even if, as many western critics believe, the elimination of Israel (of course without killing too many innocent Jews) would heal all Muslim resentment, it would leave us extremely vulnerable.
What hurts Israel, hurts us. It is not a “Zionist entity”. It is a Jewish state. It is the one nation in the world where Jews have sole responsibility for determining their destiny. When gentiles who sympathise both with Jews and Israel realise that they are sympathising with the same reality, they, like us, will be clearer as to where their loyalties lie.
As Judeo-Christian ideology is the basis of Western morality, a strong, secure and creative Israel will be recognised as belonging to that family of democratic and liberal nations which seek to promote peace, justice and the rights given to all humans because they are made in the divine image of their creator.