In Inside Sources, David J. Michaels, Director of U.N. and Intercommunal Affairs at B’nai B’rith International, writes about Israel’s 75th anniversary. This op-ed also appeared in The Daily Progress, the Daily Alert and the La Crosse Tribune.
May 14 marked Israel’s 75th birthday. For many of us, Israel is simply a fact of life — and, amid renewed fighting with terrorists in Gaza, a subject of recurrent controversy. The debate has been especially pronounced as protests have overshadowed Israel recently.
Israel’s milestone anniversary presents an opportunity to reflect on what that country means to Jews, to America and to the world.
—For Jews, Israel is history coming full circle.
Ninety years ago, Adolf Hitler assumed power in Germany. As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, I know how blessed I am to call America home — but also the importance of Jews’ restored ancestral homeland.
From Poland to Spain to Iraq, one can encounter places where Jews once thrived spiritually and materially but which now have at most a shadow of that presence. Since their dispossession by Roman colonizers 2 millennia ago, Jews experienced frequent persecution in exile. Even today, Jews are a primary target of bigotry and violence.
The birth of Israel represented the fulfillment of a yearning for Jews to be able to return to the center of their religious and historical saga — but also of their right to independence, defense and equality.
—Israel’s aspirations are our aspirations.
The recent Israeli demonstrations have laid bare the ideological differences in many countries. But Israelis overwhelmingly support their nation’s preservation as a democratic Jewish state. Indeed, Israel is not only the world’s sole Jewish state — joining dozens of countries whose symbols are Christian or Muslim — but the only functioning democracy in the Middle East.
As a critical partner in the fight against terrorism, a foremost center of technological innovation and a bridge between Europe, Asia and Africa, Israel is an indispensable ally to the United States. It is also the rare Middle Eastern country where minorities, including Christians, enjoy fundamental civil liberties and have grown continually.
—Despite everything, Israel has strived for peace.
Israel is one of the world’s only parties to conflict whose adversaries seek a country’s complete destruction. This is the explicit doctrine of Iran, which has sought nuclear capabilities, and groups it supports, including Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad. By contrast, Americans, Irish and Indians sought independence from Britain — not its eradication.
But Israel has made incomparable overtures and sacrifices for peace. It has established peace and partnership with every willing Arab interlocutor, including Egypt, Jordan the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco. It has repeatedly agreed to creating a Palestinian state — and offered Palestinians nearly 100 percent of the territory they claim. Israel has even maintained the Islamic administration of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site. But Palestinian and other extremists have answered every Israeli peace proposal with rejection and relentless violence.
Israel withdrew unilaterally from the Gaza Strip — removing every Israeli soldier and settlement — but Hamas seized that territory and used it for intensified, indiscriminate terror.
—Popularity and perception aren’t everything.
Israel receives an extraordinary amount of international criticism. But this can be misleading. Although Israel is one of the world’s smallest countries, it is condemned at the United Nations more than all others — because nearly 60 Arab and Muslim governments enjoy practically an automatic majority there. Israelis are also often shouted down on social media — but there are fewer than 10 million Israelis and more than 1 billion Muslims globally.
Few people realize that far more Muslims have died in one decade of Syria’s civil war or in the last Iran-Iraq war than in fighting Israel over 75 years. Some allege that Israel — and Israel alone — is guilty of “apartheid,” even “ethnic cleansing.” But Israel has maintained a citizenry that’s more than one-fifth Arab — while Palestinian leaders threaten death over the sale of property to Jews and systemically dehumanize them. Israel works to avoid civilian casualties, while Palestinian fanatics aim for maximum carnage.
Since 1948, the Arab population in Israeli-controlled land has increased by millions, while the Jewish population in Arab lands has plunged from 800,000 to under 4,000. One need only visit Israel’s parliament, courts, universities, hospitals or shopping malls to see how false the claim of Israeli “apartheid” is.
Ultimately, there is so much to celebrate as our closest Middle East ally has survived and thrived at the dawn of its 75th year.
No country, including Israel, is perfect. But Israel’s circumstances are exceptionally imperfect — and it has remained a humane, diverse democracy nonetheless.
Israel’s values are our values. Its quest for acceptance is vital to the interests of America and our world.
Read in Inside Sources (DC Journal).
David J. Michaels is Director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs at B’nai B’rith International. He previously trained at the Foreign Ministry of Germany, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Embassy of Israel in Washington, Ha’aretz and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. A Wexner Fellow/Davidson Scholar, and winner of the Young Professional Award of the Jewish Communal Service Association of North America, he holds degrees from Yale and Yeshiva University.