Israeli 'exceptionalism' is nothing to apologize for

Israeli exceptionalism

By ARIELLA BERNSTEIN
October 20, 2009 22:12
3 minute read.

In The New York Times this week, Roger Cohen claimed that Israel lives in a perpetual state of exceptionalism. Apparently, it does not see itself as "normal" and the "never again" mantra (which he admits is necessary) is an inadequate way of dealing with the modern world. In other words, the Holocaust occurred 65 years ago, get over it. Yes, the prime minister spent a good deal of his UN time lecturing an apathetic audience about the horrors of the Holocaust. But understand that the "never again" theme does not only apply to last century's evil perpetuated against Jews. It is about centuries worth of persecution, of pogroms, of discrimination, of being perceived as a persistent thorn in the side of society. Israel stands now as a permanent safe haven for Jews. It was not so long ago that Ethiopians, Russians and even the French came here to escape the discrimination and persecution. Israel has not asked for, nor should it be granted the status of "exceptionalism" simply because our statehood came after our systematic annihilation in plain sight of the civilized world. No, we are not exceptional for that reason alone. We are exceptional because the cards have been stacked against us for so long, yet we have survived and indeed thrived. We are exceptional because, despite all of the wars and terrorism that plague us, we have seen steady economic growth since our birth. We are exceptional because we open our doors wide to all Jews who seek to come here, even though we don't have enough jobs, enough land or enough water for those that live here already. And we are exceptional because we don't give up easily. Unfortunately, this means that we are constantly in battle mode. I don't simply mean that we are always on terror alert, although we are. I mean that we are in battle mode every single day over nonsense. Just ask any Israeli how much he fights with his bank. The most mundane disagreements escalate fast around these parts. Maybe it's the heat. Personally, I think we are genetically wired to constantly prove ourselves, our worth, our right to exist as a people, let alone as a country. TAKE THE most recent series of events. Prince Turki al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia recently accused Israel of "illegal occupation" of Gaza, which we vacated four years ago. Do we need to prove that we no longer "occupy" the Gaza Strip? Apparently so. The long discussed Goldstone report accused Israel of crimes against humanity for defending ourselves against tens of thousands of rockets that rained on our cities since withdrawing from Gaza in 2005. Do we need to prove that attacks emanated from hospitals, mosques and schools, that we made more than reasonable efforts to avoid civilian casualties, that we actually consulted, during battle, with army lawyers and that we have referred quite a few complaints for criminal investigation? Apparently so. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, long a Holocaust denier, obscenely declared that the Jewish people orchestrated its own genocide as a pretext to create the State of Israel. Even the Germans admit their guilt, but apparently we still have to prove it to the Iranians. We have averaged a war every decade since the creation of the state, with brutalizing intifadas in between that solely target civilians. And so, for decades, we have had to prove ourselves, over and over again, begging for the right to be recognized, to prove that we have a right to be here too. Constantly having to prove yourself is very tiring indeed and that we are still here is exceptional. We'd be quite satisfied with less exceptional and more normal. Normal means we can plan for university when a child is in high school rather than praying that our boy-soldiers come home alive. Normal means that we can stop thinking about the fact that our daughter's bus line blew up not once, but twice, just around the corner. Normal means that you can actually try to plan past tomorrow. No one here does that because you can't plan tomorrow when you are still fighting today. Israel would like nothing more than to wake up one day and find itself an ordinary nation, at peace internally and externally, with the Palestinians and with the Arab world. We dream of an ordinary and mundane Holy Land, with less bickering and more tranquility that befits a country that is holy to three major religions. That day won't come easily, or without sacrifice, but the fact that we continue to yearn for it is exceptional too. The writer, a new olah, was the deputy director for public affairs at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service from 2003 through 2007. She served at the National Labor Relations Board from 1990 through 2003.


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