In Looking Back, We Must Look Ahead

Why A Strong Israel Is More Important Than Ever

Today is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day for the Jewish people. We remember those who perished in what was, perhaps, the world’s most atrocious event in history. We recall the memory of the 6 Million Jews who were murdered simply for being Jewish, alongside 5 Million others who met a similar fate for differing reasons. While, on this day, we look to the past, we also look to the future, as we renew our resolve to make “Never Again” more than just a slogan.

Wedding rings collected by Nazis from Jews

To many, the Holocaust stands out as simply a dark event of history that could not possibly be repeated. By contrast, to Jews, the Holocaust is but one chapter (albeit a large one) in a long Jewish history of misfortune, including enduring slavery, conquests, expulsions, pogroms, genocide and prejudice. The unfortunate truth is that the Holocaust does not stand alone in history; there are many times that, by all accounts, the Jewish people should not have endured, should not have survived. And yet, the Jewish people have not only endured and survived, but have thrived such that nobody can deny the innumerable contributions Jews have made to society throughout the ages. What is also unfortunately true is that, if many in the world today had their way, the success of the Jews, the very survival of the Jews, would end soon. Some attitudes don’t change with time.

Following WWII, Jews around the world, both those who endured and survived the Holocaust and those who were fortunate enough to avoid the grip of the Axis powers, realized that the threat to the Jewish people could only be met by a strong Jewish nation. Yes, the Ottoman Empire provided relative respite to Jews following the expulsion from Spain and Portugal. Yes, some countries helped shield their Jews from Nazi hands during WWII and, certainly, the Jews owe a debt of gratitude to the Allied powers who liberated the death camps. But the post-WWII realization was that, throughout the ages, Jews could only count on themselves. Without their own homeland and their own fighting force, Jews could never ensure their own safety.

This crystallization of the need for self-reliance was the fuel that ignited the Zionist fire that had sparked much earlier. Zionism began as a movement dedicated to re-establishing a nation for the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland, one that would provide safe refuge to Jews throughout the world. From this simple idea came the modern State of Israel. Lest one think that such protection is unnecessary in the modern post-WWII era, recall that the need for a safe refuge for Jews has been proven time and time again since WWII. Most notably, Israel conducted several rescue missions to save the Jewish populations from Ethiopia and Yemen and bring them to Israel. What’s more, Israel absorbed the Jewish populations of just about every middle east nation, as such populations had to flee growing anti-Semitism or were actively expelled. Even today, in 2016, Israel again serves its primary function by providing a safe haven for Jews from all over Europe, as anti-Semitism in France, the UK and other European countries runs rampant and some of the most modern, Western democracies prove incapable of protecting their Jewish populations.

The need for a safe refuge for Jews has been proven time and time again since WWII.

Despite the demonstrated need for a Jewish nation state, not everyone supports Israel’s existence. While some oppose Israel’s existence out of sheer, explicit hatred of Jews, others hide their anti-Semitism through the thinly-veiled label of “anti-Zionism.” Anti-Zionism comes in many forms, but it is, in any form, anti-Semitism. Let me be clear- criticism of Israel’s domestic policies, its military actions or its handling of the Israel-Palestinian conflict is not necessarily anti-Semitism. However, anti-Zionism is nothing more than a modern form of ever-evolving anti-Semitism.

If Zionism is the idea that Jews deserve a strong and secure Jewish state capable of protecting the Jewish people, then those who are anti-Zionist wish to see Jews have no means of defending themselves. That’s as simple and as complicated as it gets. Don’t be fooled by those who seek to draw a distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. To be anti-Zionist is to be against the Jewish people. One need look no further than the misguided Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) movement, which claims to seek pressure on Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian land. Were this the true goal, BDS would focus on Israelis, not Jews.

When Jewish musician Matisyahu, who is American and lives in the United States, was scheduled to play at a festival in Spain, the BDS movement convinced the festival organizers to condition Matisyahu’s appearance on him signing a pledge denouncing Israel (he refused). BDS also targeted SodaStream, an Israeli company that had a West Bank factory that employed almost exclusively Palestinians, causing SodaStream to shut down the factory and almost all of the Palestinian workers. As a final example, take the case of a UCLA student who, while campaigning to be a part of the student government, was asked how she could govern the student body while “maintain[ing] an unbiased view” due to the fact that she is Jewish. Examples abound of Jews being targeted with anti-Israel activities. As much as it is improper for anti-Zionists to conflate Jews and Israel, it is perfectly appropriate to conflate anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, as the two are inextricably linked.

Again, criticism of Israel is not necessarily anti-Semitism; there is room for legitimate criticism just as there is with any other nation. However, criticizing Israel under a double standard is absolutely anti-Semitism. When one holds Israel to a standard to which no other nation is held, then, one must conclude, such disparate treatment is due to the one factor that sets Israel apart from the other nations, namely, its Jewish character. Comparing a democracy to a communist country may yield disparate treatment, as might comparing a Western nation to an Eastern nation, or a first-world country to a third-word country. But when criticism puts Israel alone in one column compared to every other country in another column, the unique variable becomes clear — Jews.

When one holds Israel to a standard to which no other nation is held, then, one must conclude, such disparate treatment is due to the one factor that sets Israel apart from the other nations, namely, its Jewish character.

In every other country, the government has the right to enforce its borders through immigration policy and physical barriers and yet, when Israel enacts such policies and erects such barriers, it is labeled an “apartheid wall.”

In every other country, law enforcement is allowed to use lethal force against an assailant carrying out a terrorist attack, and yet, when Israeli police shoots someone actively trying to stab Israelis or ram Israelis with a car, Israel is accused of “extrajudicial killings.”

Any other country finding itself the target of thousands of rocket attacks is given the chance to defend itself, and yet, when Israel seeks to defend itself, the world demands that Israel “show restraint.”

Much has been written of these double standards when comparing Israel to other nations, yet very little emphasis is placed on the double standards within the Israel-Palestinian conflict itself. The world claims that Palestinians should have free reign in Jerusalem’s holy sites, but Jews are not even allowed to pray on the Temple Mount. The world claims that Palestinians should have a “right of return” to Israel proper, but not a single Jew is allowed to live in what is to become the State of Palestine. Again, it is Jews that are targeted by these policies, not Israelis.

Double standards are one thing, but perhaps worse is criticism that comes in such a perverse form that the cause can’t possibly be anything other than anti-Semitism. In the UN Human Rights Council, more resolutions have been passed condemning Israel alone than the rest of the world’s countries combined (let alone ISIS, Boko Haram and the like). Inquiries are made into Israel’s military actions, while those of its adversaries, including the use of human shields, go unmentioned. The UN even has the audacity to allege that Israel is one of the worst countries for women’s rights- a country in which women can drive, vote, participate in all facets of society and hold public office (including prime minister), while ignoring that most or all of these opportunities are denied to women in most of Israel’s neighbors.

At a time when multiple organizations such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah exist with the goal of riding the region (or the world) of Jews, we cannot lose sight of the similarities to the Holocaust. The difference between then and now, however, is the ability of the Jews to defend ourselves. Perhaps nothing symbolizes this new reality better than a photo of the Israeli Air Force flying three F-15 planes over the gates of Auschwitz.

Israeli F-15 fighter jets fly over the gates of Auschwitz

Because these existential threats to the Jewish people persist, we must remain prepared. As we look back on the Holocaust during Yom HaShoah, we must also look to the future of the Jewish people, which is dependent on the State of Israel. Only a strong, prosperous Israel turns “Never Again” from a mere slogan into a legitimate promise.