In the aftermath of the terrible events in Paris in January when Jews were deliberately targeted by Islamist terrorists and five lost their lives, one of the most noted – and criticized – Israeli responses was the call for French Jews to make aliya.
In the context of the Zionist project, such a response is hardly surprising. (Though, not inevitable. There are authentically Zionist perspectives which far from negating the Diaspora, envisage successful and proudly Jewish communities around the world, granted self-confidence by the existence of a flourishing Jewish state.) What is intellectually unsustainable however was the supporting statement, made by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, among others, that Israel is the safest place to be a Jew.
It should be self-evident that this is not the case. For all the justified concern at increased antisemitism in Europe, there are still many more terrorists intending to harm Jews living in Israel than Jews living in any other country. A Jew waiting for a bus in London, Chicago or Berlin – even if he is dressed in obviously Jewish garb – has no particular cause to worry that a passing car will deliberately swerve off the road to kill him; for those of us living in the historic Jewish capital of Jerusalem, it’s a real concern.
Tomorrow night is Yom Haatzmaut. We will not (sadly) be celebrating the creation of a state that can ensure that all Jews within its borders will be safe; but, (wonderfully) we will be celebrating Jewish independence. Specifically, 67 years of Jewish independence following an interval of two millennia. For 2000 years, there was not a Jew in the world whose safety and security was not ultimately in the hands of non-Jewish governments and security forces. In some places and at some times, those authorities were benevolent and well-disposed to their Jewish residents. In other places and at other times, Jewish history was written in blood, and last week we marked the years when, for the Jews of Europe, the non-Jewish world seemed divided only between the genocidal and the indifferent.
Here in Israel, a Jewish government, chosen by an electorate with a large Jewish majority is responsible for our safety and security. Anyone making aliya today should not kid themselves that they are entering the safe refuge for the Jewish people. But they are becoming part of the only Jewish population in the world that is not dependent on the goodwill of others for its protection.
But before we celebrate we remember the fallen soldiers. The many thousands of men and women on whom – in our independence – we have depended. And the juxtaposition of tonight’s somber memorial with tomorrow night’s celebration does make sense, because without tonight we would not have tomorrow.
Israel’s victory in 1948 saved the Jews in the Land of Israel from a second Holocaust three years after the culmination of the first (and that’s an assessment based on the stated intentions of the Arab leaders of the time and the experience of what happened to Jewish communities in Palestine in areas that the Arabs did conquer). The extraordinary events of June 1967 may have left the divisive legacy of Israeli control / occupation of the West Bank, but let no one forget that the alternative to Israel’s victory would, again, have been its extinction.
And what is true historically, is no less the case today. The Middle East is collapsing around us, and amidst the maelstrom, the one constant is that ethnic and religious minorities are in serious danger of being driven out – or wiped-out.
The horrors of ethnic war in Syria and the genuinely genocidal barbarity of Islamic State are unavoidable reminders that, like Christians, like the Kurds, and like the Yazidis of Iraq – who were unknown to most of us until they were literally threatened with extinction by Islamic State – we Jews are a minority in the Middle East. Except, we have Israel. And we have the Israel Defense Forces.
The framework deal tentatively agreed between the world powers and Iran tells us that even our greatest allies cannot be relied upon to always act in our best interests. If the United States remains on this path of placating the exporters of terror and Islamist fascism in the Middle East, we may well have to depend again on the bravery and expertise of our sons and daughters in the military to protect us from catastrophe.
There are plenty of days in the year for debating and criticizing this or that military action, or government policy carried out by the army. Today we should be pondering the inescapable fact that, in today’s Middle East, without the IDF, we could well be the Yazidis.