On Israel’s Birthday

Throughout the world, Israel continues to be vilified as the enemy of humanity; the nation where apartheid, discrimination and the most egregious human rights abuses are manifested in the most vile form. On a daily basis, we hear the voices emanating from the UN Human Rights Council; supporting yet another baseless resolution against Israel. Meanwhile, the leaders of Syria, Russia, and Iran commit war crimes and are absolved without serious debate (not to mention North Korea). Although we cannot magically dissolve an anti-Semitic world, we can-and must- reach out to people who need to hear about the Israel they do not know.

We can start with a simple document, which reflects Israel’s ultimate vision: Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Yes, many of the ideals recorded in this document are still not realized. Israel must own its share of responsibility for Palestinian statelessness, for the haredi hijacking of Judaism and for the social divisions which still plague the nation. However, for a country just sixty nine years old, it has done remarkably well in striving to fulfill the visions expressed in the Declaration:

The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

In significant ways the State of Israel has lived up to the ideals of this remarkable Declaration.

* The Ingathering of the Exiles is reality and not merely an ideal or hope expressed in our daily prayer. Israel is a home to Jews who lived in peril throughout the world; in Arab lands, in the former Soviet Union, in Ethiopia and in Venezuela just for example. Homes were erected in the desert and on steep hillsides where housing seemed more like a fantasy. In contrast, Israel’s Arab nations talk with bravado about the Palestinians; but had they opened doors to Palestinians (even with the declared intention of supporting a future Palestinian state) there might not be refugee crisis or state of terrorism as exists today.

* In terms of freedom, justice and peace; one can visit an Israel where Jews, Arabs and Christians co-exist; even if at times in an uneasy relationship. There are Christians living in Arab lands who do not enjoy the benefit of equal rights. There are many Arab people of all ages-women, young people- whose voices are suppressed and whose social and political freedoms are restricted.

* It is noteworthy that even as Israel was founded as a secular state; its Declaration invokes the prophets. The prophets not only symbolize a link between past and present history, but underscore the centrality of individual and national ethics in an ideal Israeli society!

* In terms of social and political rights: The Knesset includes Arab representatives alongside Jewish ones (can you envision a similar reality in any neighboring Arab country?). Israelis enjoy freedoms of press and assembly unique among nations in the Middle East. Gay rights parades are among the most celebrated in that part of the world. In terms of women’s rights; there have been international conferences where Israel was sanctioned for treatment of Palestinian women. Yet anyone undertaking a comparative study of women would immediately discover that the acute suppression of women in Arab lands stands in contrast to the rights women enjoy in Israel.

* In terms of the Holy Places; I recall a tape recorded account made by a soldier as the Israeli army approached the Old City during the Six Day War. Even in the heat of battle, that soldier was emphatic about protecting the Holy Places of all religions. When the Jordanians marched through the Old City in 1948, they were not as respectful of the many synagogues they destroyed along the route.

* Finally, in terms of honoring the UN Charter: The mere fact that Israel stays within the UN after decades of hypocrasy, is a credit to Israel’s commitment to being included in the family of nations. I dare say that Israel upholds the UN Charter to a degree unmatched by many (if not most) of the world.

In 1977, an Israeli cargo ship nearing Japan spotted a leaking boat crammed with 66 Vietnamese men, women and children. They were among hundreds of thousands of “boat people” fleeing their war-ravaged country following the end of the Vietnam War. Despite desperate SOS signals, the refugees, who were out of food and water, had been ignored by passing ships from East Germany, Norway, Japan and Panama. The Israeli ship picked up the passengers and took them to Israel. There, Prime Minister Menachem Begin authorized their permanent admission. From his own odyssey, Begin understood what it meant to be wandering and homeless; as a Jew he acted as he wished others would have responded to the Jews of Eastern Europe.

Yes, Israel faces many problems, but it has fulfilled many of the ideals expressed in its Declaration. In the coming year, we hope that most of the Israeli vision will be fulfilled in an environment of peace and security.

Rabbi Klayman