Cel­e­brat­ing Is­rael’s sur­vival at 59

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Suzanne Fields

This is the sea­son of cel­e­bra­tion in Is­rael, com­mem­o­rat­ing sur­vival first of all. There’s re­mem­brance of the Holo­caust, re­mem­brance of those who died fight­ing for in­de­pen­dence and re­mem­brance of those who have fallen since in de­fense of the na­tion’s right to ex­ist. Re­mem­brance was bit­ter­sweet the other night in the great ball­room of Wash­ing­ton’s Shore­ham Ho­tel, trans­formed for the night into “Jerusalem Hall,” but with a flour­ish of trum­pets as well. Fifty-nine years of sur­vival as a na­tion in the caul­dron of the Mid­dle East is no small feat.

Noth­ing has been easy for Is­rael since Pres­i­dent Tru­man or­dered the recog­ni­tion of the na­tion only 11 min­utes af­ter its dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence in 1948, and the Soviet Union fol­lowed three days later. Is­rael’s neigh­bors still vow to de­stroy it, and the virus of anti-Semitism still flour­ishes, not only in the Mid­dle East but in Europe as well. Jews, en­vied and of­ten re­sented for the habits of dis­ci­pline and hard work ad­mired in oth­ers, are of­ten held to a dif­fer­ent stan­dard.

Anne Frank, the lit­tle girl whose diary of life in a cramped Am­s­ter­dam at­tic be­came some of the most poignant lit­er­a­ture of World War II, ob­served the phe­nom­e­non with­out un­der­stand­ing why. In an ad­mis­sion that Jews (like oth­ers) do not al­ways live up to their ideals, she re­peats a tru­ism that per­plexes her.

“Oh, it’s sad, very sad, that the old adage has been con­firmed for the umpteenth time,” she wrote in the spring of 1944. “What one Chris­tian does is his own re­spon­si­bil­ity, what one Jew does re­flects on all the Jews.” This was an in­sight of sur­pris­ing clar­ity in a girl of such ten­der years, writ­ten shortly be­fore she was dis­cov­ered with her fam­ily and sent to her death in a Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camp.

Times have changed only a lit­tle since Pres­i­dent Tru­man, a South­ern Bap­tist, de­fied ad­vice from his State De­part­ment to or­der swift recog­ni­tion of the Jewish state. Now fun­da­men­tal­ist and evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians are among Is­rael’s staunch­est friends. But anti-Semitism has be­come the fash­ion not only of the street thugs and skin­heads, but of the in­tel­lec­tual elites in Europe (and even some­times here). In Eng­land pro­fes­sors in sev­eral univer­si­ties have urged a boy­cott of Is­raeli aca­demic con­fer­ences, and Bri­tain’s Na­tional Union of Jour­nal­ists voted for a boy­cott of Is­raeli fruits and veg­eta­bles to protest Is­rael’s “ag­gres­sion” against Pales­tini­ans. Pales­tinian ter­ror against Is­raelis goes unre- marked. The jour­nal­ists’ call to boy­cott was par­tic­u­larly per­verse be­cause it was sounded in re­ac­tion to the kid­nap­ping of a re­porter for the BBC by Pales­tinian ter­ror­ists in Gaza.

There are oc­ca­sional en­cour­ag­ing signs. A Bri­tish par­lia­men­tary in­quiry re­cently rec­om­mended that steps be taken to com­bat in­tol­er­ance and an­tiSemitism on univer­sity cam­puses, and here at home the U.S. Com­mis­sion on Civil Rights de- clares that “anti-Semitic big­otry is no less morally de­plorable when cam­ou­flaged as anti-Is­raelism or anti-Zion­ism.” Spe­cific ev­i­dence ex­poses sev­eral univer­sity de­part­ments of Mid­dle East stud­ies as in­hibit­ing au­then­tic de­bate, and even curb­ing free speech, by dis­cour­ag­ing de­fense of Is­rael.

Anti-Semitism was in­jected into the first round of the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in France. Jean­Marie Le Pen, the can­di­date of the ex­trem­ists on the right, ex­pressed re­grets that Pres­i­dent Jac­ques Chirac had fi­nally ac­knowl­edged the French gov­ern­ment’s cul­pa­bil­ity in de­port­ing French Jews to the con­cen­tra­tion camps of the Holo­caust.

Other French­men asked why their gov­ern­ment had waited so long to rec­og­nize atroc­ity. Mr. Le Pen, who once paid a fine of $250,000 for say­ing that the Nazi gas cham­bers “were only a small de­tail in his­tory,” made the run-off in the French elec­tions four years ago. This time he did a dra­matic fade, win­ning barely 11 per­cent of the vote in the first round.

This year has not been one of Is­rael’s finest hours at home. Sev­eral of­fi­cials have been shamed by per­sonal scan­dal, and through no fault of the or­di­nary sol­diers last sum­mer’s war in Le­banon was not the usual tri­umph of Is­raeli arms. But like Amer­ica, Is­rael is a young coun­try at 59, with the strength, wit and self-con­fi­dence to crit­i­cize what’s wrong and the ea­ger­ness to set out to fix it.

When Amer­ica was 59, in the year 1835, there were only 24 states and con­sid­er­able grow­ing pains lay ahead of us. The “cho­sen peo­ple” have never claimed per­fec­tion, and are a long way short of achiev­ing the best that is to be. But it’s a democ­racy in a re­gion where gov­ern­ment of the peo­ple, by the peo­ple and for the peo­ple is an alien and of­ten de­spised con­cept, a flour­ish­ing oa­sis in the desert, flex­ing its mus­cle against pow­er­ful en­e­mies that wish it only ill. It de­serves the happy birth­day wishes from its friends.

Suzanne Fields, a colum­nist for The Wash­ing­ton Times, is na­tion­ally syn­di­cated.

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