Right of Return

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It’s always edifying when bigots who have managed to elude full exposure for years suddenly slip and appear in full ingloriousness.

Helen Thomas didn’t even need the alcohol that loosened Mel Gibson’s tongue and bared his sorry soul a few years back. All it took for her was an unguarded moment and an enterprising blogger.

But little doubt was left about her own soul’s state by her sneering suggestion that Jews in Israel go “home” to Poland and Germany. Presumably realizing just how honest she had inadvertently allowed herself to be, she decided to add “and America, and everywhere else,” but what seemed to please her was clearly the prospect of Jews returning to places associated with their attempted genocide.

But the idea that Jews are somehow newcomers to the Middle East, that the shtetl, not the Judean desert (despite its name), is our natural habitat, is perniciously widespread even among some politicians and pundits who defend Israel uncompromisingly. While those who harbor a bit of Helenism (a new noun, inspired by Ms. Thomas) cast Jews in Jerusalem as criminal interlopers, there are also many untouched by the virus of Jew-resentment who tend to view the Jewish presence in the Holy Land as a new development. They regard it as a sort of consolation prize for having endured the Holocaust.

Mere days before Ms. Thomas’ self-revelation was publicly revealed, a similar sentiment to hers was captured on camera on the West Coast. Among the many mass protests against Israel for having dared, in the recent flotilla incident, to actually enforce its embargo of a bad neighbor (which phrase presumably includes one who wishes to drive you into the sea) and against Israeli soldiers who had the chutzpah to shoot at people who were trying to kill them was a demonstration that took place on Memorial Day near the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles. A mob chanted angry, menacing slogans in the cause of peace.

A widely viewed newscast video of the demonstration made the rounds in subsequent days. It focused largely on a Jewish teenager who intrepidly walked alongside the unholy warriors, holding aloft an Israeli flag and calmly, eloquently and pointedly answering questions from a reportorial voice off-camera.

Whether one thinks the one-boy flag battalion foolhardy or fantastic probably depends on whether one is or isn’t his parent. But it was hard not to smile at the finger the teen metaphorically poked in the collective eye of the nearby mob.
What I found most telling about the clip, though, were its final seconds, when two decidedly un-angelic Angelenos, part of the anti-Israel protest, appeared on camera to answer questions.

First came a young woman, hatred pouring from her eyes like oil from an out of control gusher. Asked if she supported a “Palestinian state alongside Israel,” she rebukes the questioner angrily, wagging her finger and contorting her face into a mask of anger. “No! No! No!” she protests furiously. “The Jews” – speaking the word like it is a disfiguring disease – “can live in a Palestinian state!” she exclaims. “There should not be an Israeli state.” Then, imagining her perfect world, she declares emphatically: “An Israeli state does not even exist!”

Although she isn’t quite done, the camera pans to her companion, a young man with a vacant expression and a baseball cap on sideways, who offers the interviewer his own sage assessment.

“The only reason Israel is doing this,” he explains, though it’s not clear if he is referring to the Gaza blockade or to existing – “is because they got kicked out from, uh, the German… uh, whatever happened to them. So they’re trying to take out their anger to someone else.”

“What about the Bible?” asks the interviewer.

“The Bible?” the young man repeats, uncomprehending.

“You know,” explains the interviewer. “Solomon? Uh, the Jewish presence in Israel in Biblical days?”

The response: “I don’t know about that.”

I’m sure he doesn’t. And, unfortunately, it would seem that he’s hardly alone. World leaders and editorialists who speak and write as if the Jewish presence in the Holy Land is some modern development, that the justification for Jews to live in Jerusalem emerged ex nihilo from European crematoria, are, if better-intentioned, equally uninformed.

And the information they are missing is truly central to the Israel-Palestinian conflict – and should be central to any discussion of the same. What they don’t realize, or choose to gloss over, is that “Israel,” in the phrase “Land of Israel,” refers not to a modern-day country but to an ancient people.

That Jews over the past century haven’t come to the Holy Land.

They have come back to it.

© 2010 AM ECHAD RESOURCES

[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]

All Am Echad Resources essays are offered without charge for personal use,
sharing and publication, provided the above copyright notice is appended.

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10 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    The degree of our ingathering into Israel is an important metric of geula.

  2. Shmuel says:

    Dr. Bill:

    I read your comments carefully the first time. Granted, Israel has provided a refuge for Jews (like other countries, like the US, have done too). For that, even those who, on principle, do not consider a modern Jewish state a good thing should have hakoras hatov. But what Esther wrote – and in the name of a great rav – was that it “didn’t solve anything.” That is a different and entirely defensible position. You can disagree with it, of course. But you should not compare it with Helen Thomas’s beliefs.

    Nachum:

    Of course you can disagree with gedolim. Your free will, as you write, allows you to do anything you like. But since this is a frum site (I think), what gedolim say should have some authority. A clear exposition of the approach of most gedolim to Zionism, if you’re interested, can be found in Rabbi Aharon Feldman’s recent book “The Eye of the Storm.” You won’t agree with it, but might benefit from better understanding a different approach than your own.

    There is a clear difference between disagreeing and berating. And bringing up the Dor Hamidbor, especially when that generation’s sin was complaining about the mon and leaving Egypt, when all that Esther wrote was that a Jewish state has not solved things for Jews, borders on berating. You could have just disagreed agreeably.

    My own reference to the meraglim was not a misinterpretation of your reference. It was meant as a very timely reference to the Three Weeks (even if you think I’m too early). The meraglim’s report (characterized by the Talmud as loshon hora) caused the crying that we associate with Tisha B’Av.

    You are perfectly entitled to believe that Israel is Hashem’s tool for returning His people to their land. And Satmarers can believe that it is an impediment to the true ge’ula. Others can believe in any of a number of “middle ways.” None of the approaches is a denial of history. All are interpretations of history. And no one of us can know who is right until the end of history. So in the interim, can we all just agree to disagree, politely and with ahavas yisroel? Whatever role Israel may play in the coming geula, positive or negative or in-between or both, one thing should be clear: respect for one another, despite our philosophical differences, can only bring the geula closer.

  3. Nachum says:

    Shmuel:

    “You can disagree with her (and with Rabbi Miller and with many other Gedolim over the decades)on the value of Israel.”

    Obviously, your phrasing of it that way implies that, of course, I am not free to do so.

    Fortunately, I am. Hashem gave me free will (and, as it happens, halakhic sanction) to see and state the truth.

    “But please don’t usher in the Three Weeks by berating other Jews for their points of view.”

    I always have to chuckle at a line like that. The Three Weeks are two weeks away. When is it *right* to “berate”?

    Come to think, when is it wrong? You just told me I’m free to disagree. Can you draw a distinction between “disagreeing” and “berating”?

    I didn’t mention the Meraglim. I mentioned the Dor HaMidbar. And they repeatedly don’t say lashon hara about Eretz Yisrael; they complain about the difficulties involved in reaching and conquering it, which is exactly what Esther and R’ Miller were saying. The State of Israel is Hashem’s tool in getting us back to Eretz Yisrael; to make a bifurcation such as yours is a denial of history.

    But if you are uncomfortable with citations in Jewish sources, I will instead cite Oscar Wilde: “A cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Someone who does not see the value of the State of Israel is deliberately closing their eyes to a beautiful truth.

  4. dr. bill says:

    Shmuel, Please read my comments again. I never claimed the state of Israel did not create new problems or a way for anti-semites to hide behind i only hate israel not jews. Rather, I objected to the a claim it did solves nothing. IMHO, that is being a Kofui Tov.

  5. Shmuel says:

    Nachum,

    Before writing a comment like yours, please consider what the Gemara considers to be the sin of the meraglim — using their speech negatively. Esther was not speaking about Eretz Yisrael but about the state of Israel. You can disagree with her (and with Rabbi Miller and with many other Gedolim over the decades)on the value of Israel. But please don’t usher in the Three Weeks by berating other Jews for their points of view.

    To Thomas and Dr. Bill: Surely the problem of Jew-hating in the world has not been solved by Israel. A strong case can be made that Israel has facilitated Jew-hatred. You can be a strong Zionist and still recognize that.

  6. dr. bill says:

    Esther – for a list of 6 benefits of a state of israel – read kol dodi dofek. seeing the state of israel as solving nothing but only creating problems, as you assert in rabbi miller’s name, is either (and hopefully) out of context or not that dissimilar from ms. thomas’s “wise” remarks.

  7. Thomas Lowinger says:

    Actually Esther, those people that had to run from Europe before the war and nobody would take them in could go there. Russian Jewry after the creation of Israel that no one would take in could also go there. The Jews who had to run from Hungary after the 56 revolution could go there. People from Hungary now, who would definitely have assimilated (I know some of them) could go there now. The Yemenite Jews who had to run in the early 50’s could go there. Israel solved a problem for them. You Esther or your descendants may yet have to run, Israel will be available for you (you might, however, prefer Poland or Germany I presume).

  8. Nachum says:

    Esther: That sounds a lot like what we’ve heard from the Dor HaMidbar in the last few parshiot.

  9. Esther says:

    “Actually, the State of Israel solves nothing. All problems remain the same, and new ones are created.” Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt”l.

  10. Miriam says:

    Did anyone catch Jay Leno’s bit on Helen Thomas – “she says they should go back to where they came from….the problem is, that’s where they came from – the Middle East, it’s in the Bible, great book and a great movie….”