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Of course we must celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut - here's why

What we are celebrating on Israel Independence Day is not Israel’s positive aspects, but the fact that such a country exists full-stop, writes student Gavriel Cohn

    Tel Aviv
    Tel Aviv (liorpt/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

    When I read Nina Morris Evans’s article, which asked "What are we really celebrating as Israel turns 70?", I was shocked, and felt a need to respond.

    Her piece indeed acknowledged Israel's positive aspects — being the only democratic country in the Middle East and a country of great economic and cultural vitality. However, she notes that the Occupation and Israel's severe human rights breaches have caused her love for Israel to wane and so she will "not put on her party shoes for any birthday celebrations" this year.

    I do not intend to argue with her in regards to the Israel-Palestine conflict per se — such an exercise would be futile. With both of us respectively maintaining opposing and incompatible viewpoints in regards to the conflict, it would just end up with the lobbying of pieces of information that support each of our respective outlooks and re-qualifying or dismissing those that do not. By this I do not mean to admit that my personal view on Israel is uncritically one-sided, rather it is an acceptance of the reality of how Israel-Palestine debates generally ensue.

    However, to tell you the truth, entering into a political debate is besides the point. I object to her decision not to celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut on a more fundamental level. Even if I were to grant her the "indisputable facts" of Israel possessing the moral low-ground, that is of no bearing, I would argue, on whether or not to celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut. Her reluctance to do so instead means to lack a basic understanding as to what it is Israelis and Jews around the world are actually celebrating.

    What we are marking on Israel Independence Day is not Israel’s positive aspects - that Israel is the "tech capital of the world", or the only democracy "of all the countries in the Middle East." Rather it is because such a country exists full-stop, because the Jewish people’s right to self-determination was materialised.

    We "put on our party shoes" for no reason other than out of this basic historical sensitivity. To be grateful for such an event — the establishment of a Jewish homeland — requires not “unconditional love”, nor possessing moral or political identification with Israeli government policy, rather it is the product of this simple ability to understand what the creation of such a country means for the Jewish people.

    Being a Jew, by definition, means being a member of the Jewish people. One is therefore obligated to lift oneself out of being solely a British individual standing within the year 2018, and to take a step back, to view the world through the eyes of the Jewish people as a whole, and their particular past. Doing this will enable a person to recognise the sheer magnitude of being able to finally establish a state for ourselves as a people in 1948, and to celebrate.

    Nina's approach rejects all of the above. By refusing to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, she would rather, I fear, have no state at all.

    Gavriel Cohn is a first year student studying Jewish Studies at UCL

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