Published in the Long Island Jewish World/ Manhattan Jewish Sentinel 4/16-22/2010.
By Howard Teich
America’s Jewish leaders must be ‘outspoken in our support of Israel’
Months ago, President Obama told a group of 15 Jewish leaders invited by him to the White House that Israel would need to engage in some “serious self-reflection.” I interpreted his words to mean that I, as well, should self-reflect on my position. I voted for him, and I wanted to follow his lead. I did and I have, and here’s what I have to say.
Our responsibility now as Jews in America is to be outspoken in our support of Israel, particularly when we see an apparent shift in policy by our president, which is neither in America’s nor Israel’s interest. And particularly when it may have a negative backlash against Jews in many parts of the world.
Silence has never served us well. Appeasement has never served us well. The fate of Israel may be in our hands, and too many of our leaders have been quiet or conciliatory. This is unacceptable. We must believe in ourselves, and count on ourselves.
When I self-reflected, a number of thoughts came to mind that are worth retelling for I considered several perspectives, and came to very decisive views which I now share with you.
I am a Jewish American of the generation of the State of Israel. Unlike my ancestors, who could only pray for the return to Israel and Jerusalem for nearly 2,000 years, my responsibility has been to do what I can to ensure that we maintain the continued existence of Israel, with Jerusalem as its eternal, undivided capital.
During Pesach, we retold the story of the Exodus from Egypt as if it happened today, and we renewed and celebrated our freedom obtained after many years of slavery. And in how many other societies, and how many other eras could we retell how our people were kept in perceived, or actual slavery and loss of freedom? And as Moses did in Egypt, we saw the importance of standing up for our people.
If there is one lesson we learn from Pesach, it is that you can never take your freedom for granted and you must always fight for freedom. That includes the right to be in the land of your choosing, as a Jew. We have a long way to go for that freedom. How many countries today have a Jewish community in exile because they were forced out of their homes and communities? And it’s not just our past. During my lifetime, whether it was in Arab countries or other countries where great Jewish civilizations have ended, the exile continues.
In Israel, I saw it in Yamit in the Sinai nearly 30 years ago when Jews were removed as part of an agreement that returned Sinai to Egypt, and again in Gush Katif in Gaza just a few years ago. Both sacrificed our people’s growing, wonderful communities in the hopes of peace. Yes, Jews were forced out of their homes and made to leave their property, uprooted from their lives in an attempt to secure peace with their neighbors. So, please, don’t tell us that Israel has not committed itself to peace.
Today, the Arabs continue the fight to take Israel away from us. I see the world telling us that we cannot live and grow in Judea and Samaria, and now in Jerusalem, lands that are part of our destiny going back thousands of years and, more recently, were given to the Jewish people in the Balfour Declaration, lands that were fought for against an enemy that attacked Israel on numerous occasions, attempting to annihilate her so she would no longer exist.
How outrageous to be told that Jews must not build for it is an obstacle to peace, on what amounts to a few percents of the land of Judea and Samaria and, just recently, in Jerusalem. This is not the land of the so-called Palestinians, it is the land of my Jewish people. And I see communities of thousands emerge out of barren land, with universities not only for Jews, but also for Palestinians, restoration of biblical centers and religious sites, and the potential for a growing civilization in our land to carry out the continuing legacy of my people.
And I cannot, and will not stand by silently as I see calls that limit where Jews can live or how they can expand their civilization on their rightful, and historic, land. And I cannot remain silent when anyone restricts our human right to have land of our choosing, most recently when there is an uproar over plans for Israel to expand building for its citizens in Jerusalem.
So, yes, I will continue to self-reflect, as requested. I will speak out and urge others who I believe have been a silent mainstream of the Jewish community in America and in Israel. I will tell them that not only are so-called settlements not an obstacle for peace, they are a mainstay of a future peace and our Jewish civilization.
I will stand with those pioneers and heroes who are carrying out for so many of us the front-line commitment to our history’s compelling destiny, not as enemies of others, but as developers of a civilization to create a longtime future for us, and for our neighbors. And I would recommend to everyone that if you cannot go there, go on the Internet and learn first-hand about them, and be in communication with them, and join in unity with them.
Remember, we don’t have to be shy about our own people who are standing up for us, and not turning our land over to those who only want the termination of our people. We must be supportive and outspoken in favor of the present government of Israel, which faces increasing pressures and tough choices. And we must let the American leadership know that we stand 100 percent with Israel, and will not let them denigrate Israel any more.
The real story of Judea and Samaria for our Jewish community is similar to how I recently heard Buzz Aldrin, the first man to step on the moon, describe the importance of our space exploration — from pioneers to settlers to developers of new civilizations — with pride in the process.
We must look at Judea and Samaria with the same pride, to achieve our Jewish dream of returning to our Jewish, biblical and historic roots. A new wave of our Jewish community returned in the late 19th to early 20th century as pioneers, faced obstacles, brought more settlers to create out of nothing what are today modern Jewish communities and cities.
We’ve brought agriculture, industry, life and developed a civilization, been a light, with a great future ahead. And it doesn’t have to be about displacement, it could be about living side-by-side in a Jewish State of Israel with prosperity and peace. That’s a choice that the Arabs and Palestinians have to make.
In that regard, I am proud and supportive of Israel’s recent actions.
A tree planting is an extraordinarily important symbol, for it represents the planting of roots for future generations of Jewish children. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu planted trees over the Green Line for Tu B’Shevat, in the communities of Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim, thereby erasing a fabricated line in order to unify these communities into a future Israel. Realize that Ariel is a city of 20,000 residents and 10,000 university students; Ma’ale Adumim is a city of 40,000 people.
It’s a sign of renewed vigor for a society that has been held to a higher standard and, I might add, one it has maintained against all odds. Surrounded by 100 million Arabs, most of whom still call for her to be driven into the sea, Israel has developed as a leading light in the world, and a country deserving of praise.
Shaul Goldstein, chairman of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, had it right when he said that the tree planting represented “a clear statement to the world that we are going to stay there forever.”
I commend Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Cabinet for approving a National Heritage Plan to connect Israelis and others to their national, cultural and historic history. The plan includes 150 sites in Israel, including two very significant sites — the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem. Yes, there has been criticism for including the two sites over the Green Line, and I say it’s one more example where they are saying to us, “No, you cannot maintain your holy sites,” just as they have said to us, “No, you cannot live there.” I reject both those premises.
Groups such as JStreet try to criticize Israel at every turn, and try to equate the actions of Israel with those of Hamas and Hezbollah. While they may be a peace group, they are not a pro-Israel organization, as we would term it.
Why even mention them? President Obama gave them a seat at the table, but they’re a false group. Public officials are using them as a charade for casting votes and voicing opinions, whether it’s on the Goldstone decision or so many others that are antithetical to Israel’s interests. Realize that the Israeli government does not recognize them as a legitimate pro-Israel group. We must remain outspoken about their disruptiveness and divisiveness.
It’s time for JStreeters to see what we all see. Israel sent one of the first contingents of medical aid to Haiti, and was a model of one country helping its neighbors in need. Israel’s economy is a shining light in the world and its cultural institutions far outstrip any country comparable in size. Israel has made a difference in hi-tech, in science and in medicine. It has literally created a dynamic country out of a desert. And there is so much more.
Yes, Israel is endangered by enemies. And it has faced down those enemies who still continue to fire missiles into Israel, who hide behind their civilians when they fight and who feed future generation of Arab children with messages of hate in their classroom books.
Does Israel have more to do, and can it do better? Sure, that’s true of every person and every country. We must stand up for the entirety of Israel. And all of our leadership, and our major organizations must speak out now, for the good of Israel, for the good of America and, candidly, for the good of the world.
I reject silence in the face of recent verbal attacks on Israel. I will continue to self-reflect, Mr. President, and with it I will become even more certain of the leadership role that I, and others like myself, must play in the Jewish community. We stand up proudly for what we believe and for our commitment to the 5,000-year heritage of our people.
We shall bow down to no one.
Howard Teich, a practicing attorney in New York, has held many leadership positions in the Jewish community. To contact him by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.