At kiddush on Shabbat, an Israeli friend of mine asked if I’d heard the speech by Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey from the Senate floor. I hadn’t (I live in a news-free bubble during the week) but took the opportunity after Shabbat to check out the text of his speech.
I don’t love too many politicians, but this man laid out the facts on Israel in a way that would do any Israeli hasbara professional proud. His remarks were addressed to “Mr. President,” probably the President of the Senate, i.e. Vice President Joseph Biden. But they might just as easily have been addressed to President Barack Obama, who played fast-and-loose with the facts of Israel’s history in his recent Cairo speech, repeating some of the worst anti-Israel canards circulating in the Arab world. Here is the link to Menendez’s speech in its entirety.
While the Shoah has a central role in Israel’s identity, it is not the reason behind its founding and it is not the main justification for its existence.
The extreme characterization of this mistaken view is the following: The Western powers established Israel in 1948 based on their own guilt, at the expense of the Arab peoples who lived there. Therefore, the current state is illegitimate and should be wiped off the face of the map.
This flawed argument is not only in defiance of basic human dignity but in plain defiance of history. It is in defiance of ancient history as told in biblical texts and through archeological evidence. It ignores the history of the last several centuries. Because of what is at stake, it is well worth reviewing this history in detail, and let me make a modest attempt at a very broad overview.
So to be clear, the more than 700,000 Palestinians who left Israel [during the 1948 War of Independence] were refugees of a war instigated by Arab governments, bent on seizing more land for themselves. But the Arabs who left Israel after its modern founding weren’t the only displaced population in the Middle East. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of Jews who left Europe during and after the Holocaust in the 20th century, more than three-quarters of a million Jews fled or were expelled from their homes in Arab and Middle Eastern nations—in cities that many of their families had lived in for nearly a millennium. Their possessions were taken, their livelihoods were destroyed, victims of nationalism and hatred of Israel.
Several thousand years of history lead to an undeniable conclusion: The reestablishment of the State of Israel in modern times is a political reality with roots going back to the time of Abraham. And so the way to consider the immeasurable impact of the Holocaust in Israel is not to ask whether the State would exist otherwise. It is, at least in one sense, to imagine how even more vibrant Israel would be if millions upon millions had not been denied a chance to know it. The attacks on Israel have barely stopped since 1948—not just attacks by armies but attacks by individuals, attacks by tanks and terrorists, attacks that have come in the form of stones and they have come in the form of speeches. Its enemies have attempted to assassinate its people with rockets and assassinate its national character with hateful rhetoric.
And even today, after the consequences of menacing Israel became clear in a disastrous war, weapons are flowing freely through tunnels into Gaza, Hamas has rearmed and is readying itself for the day when it is going to take on Israel again. Hamas and Hezbollah may be the head of the snake when it comes to terrorism, but the tail extends much further. The weapons terrorists use were sent from Iran. Money they received was sent from Iran. Propaganda supporting Hamas’s campaign of terror and calling for Israel’s destruction was conceived in, produced by, and broadcast from Iran.
The fundamentalist regime in Teheran isn’t just an emerging threat. It doesn’t just have the potential to be a threat to Israel’s existence. It is a threat to Israel’s existence. Under no circumstances whatsoever can we allow that conventional threat to become a nuclear one. Especially in light of the threat of Iran, and in light of the threat extremists pose to so many innocent civilians around the globe, the importance of Israel as a strategic ally and friend to the United States could not be clearer.
There can be no denying the Jewish people’s legitimate right to live in peace and security on a homeland to which they have had a connection for thousands of years. We can and must move forward in the peace process, and look for ways to reach agreement between all sides. But we cannot erase the moral distinctions between tyranny and freedom, and we must not edit history. If we stay true to history and follow our moral compass, I am optimistic that talks can lead to understanding and resolution of the very sensitive, detailed, and tough issues we face.
My only concern at this point is, Who besides the Jews was listening to the Senator?