Thursday, January 21, 2010

"Anti-Zionism = Anti-Semitism" by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was just marked in the USA, I though that it would be timely to remember his words about anti-semitism

". . . You declare, my friend, that you do not hate the Jews, you are merely 'anti-Zionist.' And I say, let the truth ring forth from the high mountain tops, let it echo through the valleys of God's green earth: When people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews--this is God's own truth.
"Antisemitism, the hatred of the Jewish people, has been and remains a blot on the soul of mankind. In this we are in full agreement. So know also this: anti-Zionist is inherently antisemitic, and ever will be so.

"Why is this? You know that Zionism is nothing less than the dream and ideal of the Jewish people returning to live in their own land. The Jewish people, the Scriptures tell us, once enjoyed a flourishing Commonwealth in the Holy Land. From this they were expelled by the Roman tyrant, the same Romans who cruelly murdered Our Lord. Driven from their homeland, their nation in ashes, forced to wander the globe, the Jewish people time and again suffered the lash of whichever tyrant happened to rule over them.

"The Negro people, my friend, know what it is to suffer the torment of tyranny under rulers not of our choosing. Our brothers in Africa have begged, pleaded, requested--DEMANDED the recognition and realization of our inborn right to live in peace under our own sovereignty in our own country.

"How easy it should be, for anyone who holds dear this inalienable right of all mankind, to understand and support the right of the Jewish People to live in their ancient Land of Israel. All men of good will exult in the fulfilment of God's promise, that his People should return in joy to rebuild their plundered land.

This is Zionism, nothing more, nothing less.

"And what is anti-Zionist? It is the denial to the Jewish people of a fundamental right that we justly claim for the people of Africa and freely accord all other nations of the Globe. It is discrimination against Jews, my friend, because they are Jews. In short, it is antisemitism.

"The antisemite rejoices at any opportunity to vent his malice. The times have made it unpopular, in the West, to proclaim openly a hatred of the Jews. This being the case, the antisemite must constantly seek new forms and forums for his poison. How he must revel in the new masquerade! He does not hate the Jews, he is just 'anti-Zionist'!

"My friend, I do not accuse you of deliberate antisemitism. I know you feel, as I do, a deep love of truth and justice and a revulsion for racism, prejudice, and discrimination. But I know you have been misled--as others have been--into thinking you can be 'anti-Zionist' and yet remain true to these heartfelt principles that you and I share.

Let my words echo in the depths of your soul: When people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews--make no mistake about it."

From M.L. King Jr., "Letter to an Anti-Zionist Friend," Saturday Review_XLVII (Aug. 1967), p. 76.
Reprinted in M.L. King Jr., "This I Believe: Selections from the Writings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr."

Germans, Jews and the Shoa - A Strange Night in Efrat

Last night I met with a group of German Pastors who were staying at the Efrat guest house. They are here in Israel to show support and to learn more about Israel – and to lay the groundwork for bringing church groups from Germany to visit Israel.

Since my dimly remembered college level German limits me to being able to wish people a good evening and asking them to open and close the window, and since only some of the pastors speak English, we communicated through an interpreter.

They were eager to learn and to better understand our connection and commitment to living in Israel. They were interested in the role that faith in God plays in our lives, whether we feel secure in Israel in general and in Efrat in particular, what motivated us to make Aliyah and more. We spoke about the Tanach, about Zionism and Judaism and about the right of the Jewish people to freedom and independence.

I think that when most contemporary Jews meet Germans, there is at least part of our brain that is wondering about Nazi connections. (What did you or your father or grandfather do during the war? etc). Given the language barrier and the short time that we had together, we did not have a chance to speak about the Shoah and explore the role that it plays in Jewish – German and in Jewish - Christian relationships. Yet that consciousness is always there on some level.

It was a strange evening for me, full of juxtapositions and contradictions. I spent about 45 minutes with the pastors and then drove around the corner to our son Ari’s high school for a very different kind of gathering. Back in September, Ari traveled to Poland with his school to learn about and remember the life – and the murder – of the Jews of Poland at the hands of the Germans and their allies during the Shoa (Holocaust). In many Israeli schools, this is a rite of passage for 11th and 12th graders. (Our oldest son Rafi went 2 years ago).

The students have been working for the past few months to summarize and express their feelings about their pilgrimage to Poland. Last night they invited all of us parents to share with them. It was a multi media program including singing, film, music and readings which touched our hearts and minds. Joining with over a hundred other parents in watching the faces of Ari, his school mates and teachers, listening to their words, singing and weeping together with them, was a powerful experience.

There are many legitimate questions and objections that can be raised about the wisdom and propriety of taking groups to Poland and using the memory of the Shoa as a Jewish identity builder. But there is no question in my mind that these trips are incredibly effective. Seeing first hand the ruins and pitiful remnants of what had been the most significant and vibrant Jewish community in the world until the Germans invaded and murdered over 90% of the Jews of Poland between 1939 – 1945 engenders in our kids feelings of pride, anger, determination, sadness, frustration, inspiration etc.

Sometimes our kids, growing up here in Israel, take our freedom for granted and forget why it is so important to have an independent Jewish state. The Poland experience reminds them of the consequences of Jewish powerlessness. It reminds them of what it means to be at the mercy of others. It reminds them of the horrible price of being a people without a land. It strengthens their determination to fight for the rights of the Jewish people in our land.

As I was sitting at the Shoa memorial program at the school, I couldn’t help but think of the German pastors just around the corner. Part of me wished that they could have accompanied me and experienced this with me. Part of me struggled not to hate or resent them. But mostly I had a sense of wonder and amazement that 65 years after the Shoa, there are Germans who are amongst Israel’s strongest supporters. That 65 years after the Shoah Germans and Jews can sit together in dialogue and find common ground. And that 65 years after the Shoah some of our strongest allies in the fight against the new anti-Semitism are Christians….and Germans.

What a strange world….

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Just Another Day in Israel?

Our middle son Ari is a senior in high school. The senior year in Israel focuses on studying for bagruyot (matriculation exams) and preparing for the Israel Defense Forces. This week is one of the periods set aside for students to explore various pre-Army prep and yeshiva programs.

Today though, Ari needed to report to the Draft Board in Jerusalem for the first stage of tests for acceptance to the Israeli Air Force. (He is not actually specifically interested in the airforce, but when the army says “show up”, you show up – and on time!).

Since I was heading into Jerusalem, we planned for me to drive Ari to near my office from where he would take a bus. But he wasn’t ready in time. I waited for him but he did not get to do everything that he needed to do before we left…like saying his Shacharit (morning) prayers.

While saying the morning prayers, we adult Jewish men (and some women) adorn ourselves with Tefilin (phylacteries) which for those who do not know, are Biblical verses enclosed in black leather boxes attached to our arm and head with black leather straps (Bind them as a sign on your arm and…between your eyes – Deuteronomy 6).

So there we were this morning, driving from Efrat to the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem, through the checkpoint and the tunnels, over the bridge and on the main roads, with Ari sitting beside me praying with his tefilin on. If we got any strange looks, I did not notice them. Jewish religious symbols are part of the landscape here, and while it is not usual to wear Tefilin while a passenger in a moving car, it is not really so strange either. Somehow I think that even in New York we would have felt uncomfortable (never mind in St. Louis, Denver, Oklahoma or California).

Anyway, I went to work and Ari spent most of the day at the Draft Board and performed well enough so that the airforce is calling him back for round two. From there, he got on a bus heading south to spend the next 2 days checking out a Mechinah pre-army leadership program.

The mechinot are army prep programs where high school graduates spend 1- 2 years strengthening themselves spiritually and physically before army service. The programs generally involve intense Torah study, leadership training, physical fitness and army guidance. The army has learned that the mechinot produce soldiers who are more mature, focused and motivated and often officer material. Our oldest Rafi is at the mechinah at Maaleh Efrayim and his draft date is just a few weeks away in March.

So today was just another day here in Israel, yet somehow, from start to finish it served to remind me of the significance and responsibilities of living here in the Jewish state.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Fighting for Jewish Rights on US College Campuses

I spent the last two weeks as Israel Tour Educator for a group of pro-Israel student activists from across the USA who came to Israel as part of a ZOA Israel leadership seminar. We met with Israeli political leaders and analysts, journalists and community leader. We were in Jerusalem and Sederot, Tel Aviv and the Shomron, Hevron, Efrat, the Galil and Golan.

Most of the students have been to Israel a number of times before, more than a few hope to make Aliyah, and the group included two non-Jewish Israel campus activists. They came from a variety of religious, geographic and educational backgrounds – what unites them is their commitment to representing and defending Israel (and the Jewish people) on US college campuses from the hate that confronts them.

That the anti-Israel crowd easily slips into anti-Jewish rhetoric and imagery unfortunately comes as no surprise. As Martin Luther King Jr. put it so clearly years ago “You declare my friend that you do not hate the Jews, you are merely anti Zionist. And I say...when people criticize Zionism the mean Jews...anti-Zionist is inherently anti Semitic and will ever be so".

I get quite frustrated with American and Canadian Jewish students who tell me "There is a lot of anti-Israel and anti Jewish activity on my campus…I just stay out of it." as if this is a positive reaction! (Of course our history of the last 2,000 years or so might have something to do with our level of insecurity and fear). Sometimes we "the people of the book" become so focused on words that we forget that actions are also vital. As one of my grad school professors Dr. Elspeth Couch put it " We Jews sometimes forget that we have bodies" .

But most of these ZOA student activists are different – they do get involved, they put themselves on the line for Israel and the Jewish people. They organize, they publicize, they debate, they march, they protest, they publish etc. Often the reaction is not so friendly from their “fellow Americans”. One student related that a swastika was painted on the door of her dorm room. Others tell of verbal abuse and physical intimidation. Another related:

Quite depressing was this last semester when I was dealing with the situation with the event calling for an academic boycott against Israel. I seemed to be the lone voice calling out in the desert. Though I did have some support from several professors and students, most in the Jewish Studies department, and other local “Jewish organizations” were too afraid to speak out.

It is outrageous that in 2010 on American college campuses, Jewish students and their friends, in addition to doing the usual – studying, partying etc - need to defend themselves and the Jewish people against Jew hatred and Israel hatred. It is also outrageous that the Jewish world has somehow accepted this as the “normal” and expected state of affairs.

As a long time Aliyah activist it certainly makes sense to me that Jews in the Diaspora (even in America) will feel insecure and threatened. After all it is only here in Israel that for the first time in centuries we Jews have the ability to forge our own destiny (at least partially) and not be at the mercy of others. That is certainly a big part of the message and inspiration that they take back with them from here. But at the same time, these students fill me with hope for the future. We need courage, faith, confidence and leadership. We need to believe in ourselves…and trust in God. And in many of these student activists, I saw exactly that.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Fundemental Issues - Biblical Zionism 101

Last Shabbat we finished reading the book of Genesis which ends with the Children of Israel trapped in exile - in Egypt - ut with the hope and the promise that God will remember them and return them to the land promised to Abraham and his heirs.

Who are the heirs of Abraham? Abraham, as he is getting older (100 years old!) suggests to God that perhaps Ishmael could be his heir (Gen 17; 18-22) - What does God answer? "Sara...shall bear you a son and you shall call him Isaac , and I will establish my covenant with him AS AN EVERLASTING COVENANT TO HIS DESCENDANTS AFTER HIM. As for Ishmael... I will bless him...But my covenant I will establish with Isaac..."

The Bible later tells us that Abraham, after making provisions for the sons of his other wives, sends them away and leaves all that he has to his son Isaac (Gen 22; 5).

God re-affirms his promise over and over - for example to Isaac - "...dwell in this land (Israel) and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and I will fulfill the oath which I swore to Abraham your father, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and will give your descendants all these lands...." (Gen 26; 2-6).

Later, he re-affirms to Jacob (Israel): "I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land upon which you lie I will give to you and to your descendants. And your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth and you will spread west, east, north and south and all the families of earth will be blessed via you and your descendants... I am with you and will keep you safe wherever you go and I will bring you back to this land..." (Gen 28;13-15)

The Bible makes it clear over and over again, that God has established his everlasting covenant (brit) with the people of Israel - Everlasting - Forever -Never to be cancelled! The Bible is crystal clear about this and repeats over and over again that the covenant and the commandments apply to the People of Israel for all their generations.

The covenant of the Jewish People with God is nearly 4,000 years old. Our prophets and kings lived their lives by the words of the Torah, and we continue to do so today.

One of the nice things about Biblical Zionism is that it also resonates with many Christians - especially from the Evangelical community - allowing them to connect to and support the people and State of Israel. Like the Jewish Religious Zionist community, they find God's promises to the People of Israel still relevant and compelling.

The prophets (Isaiah and Jeremiah for example) spoke about the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. And return we have. We, the exiles who have returned - have been gathered back to the land as promised. And of course, Judea and Samaria are at the heart of the Land of Israel – the Mountains of Israel – about whom the prophets said: "And you, son of man prophesy to the mountains of Israel …because the enemy has said Aha, even (your) ancient high places belong to us….O mountains of Israel you shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to my people Israel , for they will soon be coming…and you shall be tilled and sown, and I will multiply men upon you- all the house of Israel…and the cities shall be inhabited and the waste places rebuilt…(" Ezekiel 36)

It is exciting to be living here in Israel- in Efrat – in daily fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and Jewish destiny. We are here by right - this is our historic home. Yes, our enemies say this land is theirs. (They have even given Judea & Samaria a new name – the “West Bank”.) Yes, they have managed to convince most of the world that the Jewish communities here are “illegal settlements” on “occupied territory”. We will continue to stand firm, to rebuild the ruined cities and hills (despite the "freeze") and to build a vibrant future.