Friday, March 6, 2009

Excellent Op-Ed on JPost this week

It's our history, stupid

The economy, terrorism and national defense are priorities for every country. But Israel adds an essential factor: historical memory.

Joseph's Tomb.

Joseph's Tomb.

Egypt has its pyramids; Rome has its Colosseum; Athens has its Acropolis - but, citizens of a modern state, the native populations feel little or no connection to their ancient cultures; their archeological sites are for tourists.

Jews, however, regard historical sites as confirmations of biblical references, providing intimate emotional links between present and past. Historical sites are bonds of identity, the reason that Jews are drawn to Israel, despite the difficulties, and why they struggle to survive in their homeland. Life may be more comfortable in other places; here, from the time of the Bible to modern times, it's where much of Jewish history happened. That is why this country is so meaningful.

Jewish national and religious consciousness - indisputably rooted exclusively in Eretz Yisrael - is the primary basis for the State of Israel's existence. The return of the Jewish people to its ancient homeland is the fulfillment of ancient prophesies and prayer - the core of its ethos and national identity and central to the process of redemption.

Confirmed by history, each new archeological discovery is a thrilling reminder of where and how Jews lived thousands of years ago. As if "beamed down," we are transported into that ancient world which lives again through us. The return of the Jewish people to Israel, the process of ingathering from around the world, the rebuilding and flourishing of a state is nothing less than a renaissance of the Jewish people.

But, as much as we are proud of our accomplishments, it fuels the enmity of our enemies. That our historical and legal claim to Eretz Yisrael is disputed by those who deny Israel's right to exist is understandable. Recognition of any part of that claim would undermine any alternative (Palestinian/Syrian) national/historic rights. Yet, some Jews, including Israelis, propose the abandonment of Judea and Samaria, the heartland of Jewish history, to form a second Palestinian state, which would be, of course, terror-based and Judenrein.

DENYING OUR sovereignty over any area of our ancient homeland negates our historic claims and our country's legal right to exist in any portion of its homeland. If it's "the occupation," then what's the difference between Tel Aviv and "the settlements," except location? And what makes one place holier than another? There is no authentic "Palestinian" archeology because there never was a coherent "Palestinian" ethnic, cultural or social group. Jews who lived in British Mandate Palestine used the term as a political reference; Arabs did not.

That Israel is a leader in high-tech, medicine and sciences, a nominally democratic country committed to the principles of egalitarianism, social and cultural freedom, a bastion of Western values is very nice; these are not, however, a reason to exist.

Israel's raison d'etre is its continuity as the ancient/modern homeland of the Jewish people. Without acknowledging that historical reference, Jews have no better claim to "Palestine" than any other group.

The issue is not simply over territory, or sovereignty, or the legal rights of the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael, but to create a uniquely Jewish civilization.

That challenge must be defined, grounded in Jewish history, tradition and culture. Approached from the perspective of peoplehood, and contemporary political expediency, such efforts are doomed to irrelevancy.

To deny or distance oneself from one's history is self-rejection; to embrace one's history is affirmation. The great irony in the current debate over the nature of Zionism is that those who argue for secularism deny the legacy of the past; those who argue for a Torah-based state are in danger of exclusivity.

Attacked from all sides, physically by Arab and Muslim countries, and rhetorically by much of the international community, the UN and many NGOs, Israel's struggle as a nation is rooted in its connection to an authentic revealed history and its adherence to Torah values. Paradoxically, both religious and secular Zionism thrust Jews toward an engagement with history centered in the Land of Israel. Both cling to the uniqueness of Jewish history and it is precisely this link between the Jewish people, the Land of Israel and Torah that makes Zionism different from all other nationalisms. Israel's rebirth and flourishing prove that we are not at the end of history, but rather its continuing relevance, meaning and hope for all mankind.

The writer, a former assistant professor of history, is a writer and journalist living in Jerusalem.

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