Gary Epstein
And now for something completely different . . .

A Stiff-Necked Nation

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We must admit that we Jews are known for stubbornness. Our own God refers to us as a stiff-necked nation and is repeatedly thwarted by our obdurate refusal to simply do what we are told or what others would have us do. We have endured centuries of oppression and even death for adamantly refusing to accept other people’s gods. And if the prophets are to be believed, we have been repeatedly punished for our obstinacy.

Recognizing a character flaw is the first step to overcoming it. Perhaps we can do better.

Given our well-earned reputation for intransigence, confronted by the displeasure of mobs on campuses and town squares throughout the world, facing boycotts and moral disapprobation in august international bodies, criticized by such moral paragons as Greta Thunberg, Emmanuel Macron, Junior Trudeau, and Recep Tayyep Erdogan, not to mention an abundance of Imams, Ayatollahs, and progressive Congresswomen, why can’t we simply face reality and go along to get along?

Maybe we could be a bit less inflexible. Maybe we could allow Hamas to achieve some of its modest objectives. No less a personage than Tom Friedman, eminent columnist for The New York Times, suggests that the Israelis simply acknowledge defeat, pack up, and leave Gaza, letting Sinwar come out and claim victory.

Can’t we just be reasonable, accept the wisdom of scores of Columbia University gender studies majors, seek some middle ground, stop being so stubborn, and move on?

Enough is enough. Let’s try to give them what they want.

Yeah, well, there’s a problem. After careful analysis, reading between the lines of highly abstruse policy statements and publicly available foundational documents, a clear picture begins to emerge as to their goals.

Here’s what they want: Surprisingly, it is not two nations for two peoples.  It is not two nations at all. They want to take our land and kill us all. No more; no less. Failing that, they are willing to accept half-measures until such time as they muster the capability to take our land and kill us all, at which point . . . they will proceed to take our land and kill us all.

Apparently this is the enigmatic subtext of the oft-repeated, highly ambiguous, phrase, “Death to Israel.” Even allowing for a measure of crowd-pleasing hyperbole, what they mean when they say that is . . . they want to take our land and kill us all.  That other crowd-pleaser, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” means that the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea (the present location of the State of Israel and about 10 million Jews) will be free of Jews. “By any means necessary” means that terror, rape, kidnapping, indiscriminate shelling of cities nd towns, and mass murder are acceptable means to achieve that end.

The language is so open to competing interpretations that it is understandable for so many observers to miss this basic truth. The aforementioned Tom Friedman has made an entire career of missing it. The United States State Department understands it, but chooses not to accept it, because, well, that is not its diplomatic approach. And the United Nations denies the reality for two simple reasons: (1) it feels guilty for having been an indispensable part of the juridical creation of the State of Israel with its 1947 vote on partition, and (2) it hates Jews.

So, perhaps, if you pause for a moment and think, our options and our decisions become a bit more clear to you. We understand that people dispute our right to our ancestral land, even though from a moral, historical, and legal perspective, our claim to the land is at least as valid as anyone else’s, and considerably more valid than most (e.g., there has never ever ever been an Arab nation of Palestine). We understand that some folks don’t believe that there should be such a thing as a Jewish State, notwithstanding the fact that there are a multiplicity of Muslim and Christian states. We understand that some folks just don’t like Jews.

We get it.

And, all things being equal, we would like to try to accommodate you. It’s no fun being hated and reviled and wrongly accused, not to mention the physical danger.

But, as with Hamlet, there is a rub. We can’t really get you or Hamas to where you want to be unless we agree to becoming dead in the process. Let me say it again, for Tom Friedman, Tony Blinken, and the gender studies people:

They want to take everything we have and kill us all.  Short term and long term, our choice is both binary and clear: we either prevail or we die.

They are quite open about their goals. They have articulated them and published them and shouted them in the streets. And even if, from time to time, they say that they are willing to accept marginally less in the short run in order to move the process forward and save themselves from defeat, they are quite clear that they will never abandon those goals.

They want to take everything we have and kill us all.

And we will either muster the will and the strategy and the means to defeat them, or they will accomplish their goals. It’s as simple as that.

Engaging in this war is exhausting and fatiguing and depressing and awful. Every week, our sensibilities–our very hearts and souls–are assaulted by pictures in the media of all those young soldiers, universes of untapped potential, smiling at the camera, contemplating lives of happiness and accomplishment, dedication, love, and service, who made the ultimate sacrifice for their people and their land. Each day another funeral, another demonstration for the hostages, more recriminations about fault.

The war is always with us. And even if it has precipitated an efflorescence of community spirit, appreciation for the defense forces, love for fellow Jews, a spirit of philanthropy and cooperation, it is nevertheless debilitating. We did not seek this war and we do not want it. We want it to end.

But not at the cost of our country and our lives. So we will not–we will never–give in.

We are a stiff-necked nation. The Bible says so.

About the Author
Gary Epstein is a retired teacher and lawyer residing in Modi'in, Israel. He was formerly the Head of the Global Corporate and Securities Department of Greenberg Traurig, a global law firm with an office in Tel Aviv, which he founded and of which he was the first Managing Partner. He and his wife Ahuva are blessed with18 grandchildren, ka"h, all of whom he believes are well above average. He currently does nothing. He believes he does it well.