Why Israel Is So Special

As Israel celebrates its 66th year of independence, my mind replays a scene that could easily happen again today.
It was November 1975. The United Nations had just passed a horrific resolution condemning Zionism–-the very idea that there should be a Jewish State–as racism. Shocked, I knocked on the doors of one Christian pastor in our city after another asking for support.
Some were sympathetic, but I shall never forget one pastor’s response. “Steve,” he said, “you’ve taught me a lot about Judaism, and I consider you a friend. But I have neither interest in nor sympathy for Zionism.”
Today, on the land that made up the Turkish Ottoman Empire until the end of World War I, twenty-two Arab/Islamic peoples have realized their hopes for independent nationhood. Jews also lived in the erstwhile Ottoman Empire. Why does the world begrudge one tiny sliver of land for Jewish national aspirations when twenty-two Islamic nations have realized the same dream?
After the Holocaust, the world realized that had there been an Israel to which Jews could flee, Hitler never could have destroyed two-thirds of European Jewry. In other words had there been an Israel when Hitler came to power, there would not have been a Holocaust!
And so the United Nations voted to create two small states: One Arab and one Jewish. The tiny piece of land designated as the Jewish homeland was mostly desert, but no matter. We Jews rejoiced that our two-thousand-year-old hope for nationhood was finally a reality.
But the Arab world had other plans and vowed to drive the new Jewish nation into the sea. Azzam Pasha, Secretary-General of the Arab League, boasted that the rivers would flow with Jewish blood. “This will be a war,” he exulted, “like the Mongolian massacres, like the crusades.”
It turned out he was wrong. The Jewish nation, against overwhelming odds, did manage to establish itself, but the Arab dream to wipe her off the map persists to this day. If ever there will be peace, the Arab world in general and the Palestinians in particular must renounce this dream.
We cannot deny, nor should we, that the creation of Israel caused loss and displacement for many Palestinian Arabs. I hope that reality will always sober us. I hope Israel will make every reasonable effort to reach a peaceful accord, an accord that allows both the Jewish State of Israel and an Islamic/Christian Palestine to live side by side in mutual harmony.
When Palestinian spokespeople tell us that so many of their kinsmen lost their land when Israel came to be, they are correct. But they do not tell us that roughly the same number of Jews fled for their lives to Israel from political, economic, religious and physical persecution in Arab lands.
The difference, of course⎯and it is a crucial difference⎯is that Israel absorbed refugees from Yemen, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Morocco and integrated them into Israeli society by providing them with language training, job skills, and housing. The Arab world, despite economic capabilities that dwarf those of all the Jews in the world, chose to maintain Palestinian refugees in squalid camps, which for sixty-six years have been breeding grounds for hatred of Israel and terrorism.
I do not believe that supporting Israel means that we should relinquish the right to criticize policies of Israel’s that we think is wrong. But none of us should allow our criticism to provide aid and political ammunition for those–Jews and non–Jews alike⎯who seek to destroy the Jewish State.
We must never forget that if the Arab states renounce terror, lay down their arms, and acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, there will be peace. But if Israel lays down its arms or relaxes its vigilance, there will be no Israel. I count myself among those who would consider “no Israel” a tragedy the world should spare no effort to prevent.

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