Remembering May 1967

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Only once during my childhood did a television ever violate the sanctum of our family dining room. For the two weeks leading up to the Six Day War, a small TV stood on the buffet, and we all sat riveted during dinner listening to the U.N. debates. (Abba Eban’s speeches at the U.N. no doubt contributed to my lifelong fascination with the power of the well-spoken word.) The presence of a TV in that place from which it had heretofore been barred alerted my brothers and me to the tension in the air, like that of the Cuban Missile crisis six years earlier.

When my mother came into awaken us on the morning of June 5, she was crying. ” Israel is at war, and I’m taking all the money out of your bank accounts to buy Israel bonds,” she informed us. Our paltry savings were not likely to turn the tide, but the lesson was clear: All were expected to contribute to Israel’s survival.

That day in high school, I could not think about anything other than getting home to listen to the news. I debated asking my driving education instructor whether he would mind turning on the car radio. And I marveled that my fellow students seemed to be getting through the day pretty much as usual.

Thinking back, I find it strange how much more vivid are my memories of the tension during the two weeks leading up to the War than of the War itself. Certainly I don’t remember any of the euphoria described in Israeli accounts of the post-War period.

It would be another year and a half before our family visited Israel to survey the results of the war. Our first night in Jerusalem, we went to the Kotel, but nothing about that visit is etched in my memory. I remember far more clearly looking out of a window in the King David Hotel seven years earlier and my aunt describing how the Jordanian soldiers used to urinate on the Wall.

Visiting Hebron there was no sense of having regained our Biblical patrimony. My father commented that he had never experienced such an intense hatred as he felt coming from the Arabs in the city, and vowed never to return. He never did.

I WAS MADE CONSCIOUS of contrast between the intensity of my memories of the tense pre-War period and the vagueness of those of the War and its aftermath by something that Yossi Klein Halevi said this week at a panel on the Six Day War and sponsored by the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center. The world, he said, remembers only the Israeli victory of 1967; Jews remember May 1967 as well.

The waiting period leading up to the War resurrected Jewish fears of a second Holocaust within the space of a quarter century. News clips of howling Arab mobs in Cairo and Damascus vowing to make the streets of Israel run red with blood filled our TV screens, and were reinforced by Nasser’s explicitly genocidal rhetoric..

May 1967 made American Jews fully aware of how much they cared about Israel, and of the degree to which their ability to sleep at night depended on Israel’s security, says Halevi. Anti-Zionism as a pillar of one branch of American Reform was buried, at least temporarily, in May 1967.

Israelis were spared the images of Arab mobs baying for their blood, since Israel did not yet have TV, but the tension was unbearable. The papers reported that 10,000 graves were being dug in Tel Aviv to receive the war dead. The reserves were fully mobilized for two weeks before the war, at a cost of $20,000,000 daily to an economy already in a severe recession. IDF Chief of Staff Yitzchak Rabin had a temporary breakdown brought about by a combination of sleeplessness and the emotional strain of preparing and waiting for war.

Prime Minister Levi Eshkol was accused of placing the entire future of the Jewish people in danger by his refusal to order a pre-emptive strike against the Egyptians. When he stumbled and stuttered, while reading from a poorly prepared text, a few days before the outbreak of fighting, troops listening by radio were reported to break down crying.

Jews in Israel and around the world are again feeling jittery today. Ahmadinejad’s genocidal rhetoric reminds us of Nasser’s. The European boycotts and endless U.N. condemnations once again arouse the primordial Jewish fear of being totally isolated, with the whole world against us, just as DeGaulle’s announcement to Abba Eban that France was switching its allegiance to the Arabs, and his subsequent sneering about “domineering” Jews, left Israelis feeling cast off by their closest friend in the international arena.

Last summer’s war in Lebanon and the rain of missiles on the South, with no obvious response, have left us all feeling vulnerable, and the threat of a nuclear Iran has returned Holocaust metaphors to the national debate.

But the world acknowledges nothing of Jewish fears and grant them no legitimacy. June 1967 allowed Europeans, guilt-ridden by their complicity in the Holocaust, to deny any ongoing responsibility for ensuring Israel’s survival – a role in which it never felt comfortable. With 1967, the Palestinians were recast in European eyes as the new Jews, the Other, and the Jews as the new Nazis.

That inversion, Alain Finkielkraut constantly reminds us, has hardened into a theory so powerfully held that it remains impervious to any empirical evidence. The Other is always innocent, always blameless for his plight. It is pointless, in his view, for Jews to talk about the Arab attempts to wipe out Israel long before 1967, or of their failure to build a life for themselves today. No point either in pointing to the care received by Arabs in Israeli hospitals, or the rapid Palestinian population growth under “genocidal” Israeli rule. Where theory has entered, fact dare not tread.

So while Jews continue to remember May 1967, the rest of the world sees only the results of June 1967.

Appeared in today’s Jerusalem Post.

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6 Responses

  1. Garnel Ironheart says:

    To Rejewvenator,

    Israel is not mighty economically. It’s a one trick pony that will collapse if high tech undergoes another recession like the one it went through only 7 years ago.

    Israel is not mighty militarily. Our enemies shoot low-tech rockets that have already killed several people and caused entire cities (eg. Sderot) to stop functioning normally, and the Tzahal has been unable to stop them.

    Egypt today has more troops and firepower in the Sinai alone than the entire Arab world possessed in 1967. Jordan is already working to undercut Israel at every international forum by floating the idea that they should get the West Bank back free of charge, or they won’t be responsible for the consequences.

    Iran moves closer to a nuclear bomb and although it’s unlikely they’ll actually ever use one, just the threat of it will change the balance of power.

    The most pro-Israel US administration since Reagan has also turned out to be so incompetent and corrupt that even Rupublicans are quietly admitting Clinton was a better leader. The next administration will not be nearly as friendly.

    We need to pray that Hashem completes our redemption soon by transforming the first flowering into the final emanation.

  2. Steve Brizel says:

    Rejewenator-try spending some time in Sderot. Perhaps, if you lived there or on the Lebanese border and your government had failed to root the cause of the attacks, your view would be less sanguine.

  3. irhakodesh, Sima says:

    Excellent article. Hope that many will have the opportunity to read and learn the facts & maybe remake the theory.

  4. rejewvenator says:

    Today is not May of 1967. For all the rhetoric, Israel does not face an existential threat today, not from Iran, and certainly not from the Palestinians. While the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran is scary, nobody is digging graves in Tel-Aviv today.

    We need to stop being slaves to our fears. We are a powerful state bothe economically and militarily. Our greatest enemies, Egypt and Jordan, have been subdued, and won over. Our enemies today shoot low-tech rockets with such poor accuracy that they usually miss the city that they are aimed at. We need to recalibrate our threat detectors and acknowledge that we are no longer in mortal danger and we need to control our fear.

  5. Bob Miller says:

    Our historical mission has been to shock the world.

  6. One Christian's perspective says:

    “So while Jews continue to remember May 1967, the rest of the world sees only the results of June 1967.” Jonathan Rosenblum from Jerusalem Post

    I think that is a true statement for many but I am reminded that Christians have been watching Israel since 1948…….but, perhaps not with the same eyes as a Jewish person and the terrible Holocaust not far behind in their memory.

    To get back to your closing statement, I remembered Moses’ words describing the first Passover and the events leading up to the exodus. Mussing, if I were there, would I remember the past 400 years of being in the furnace of affliction or the deliverance from it ? I don’t know, but I think my focus would change as my faith ebbed and waned.

    I think G-d wants us to hold onto His promises at all times and stand firm in the faith. Isaiah said “if you don’t stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all”. I think when we turn away from G-d, our legs begin to get shakey – at least, mine do – and as we turn, our perception and hopes change.

    Yesterday, a friend and I were discussing the situation of Iran’s leader and his rhetoric of hatred. She feared for Israel. In mussing, I remembered that Iran recently experienced a rarity in their lands – a typhoon named Gonu. I asked my friend, “doesn’t that name sound very yiddish to you ?”. See, G-d hasn’t forgotten His Chosen people.