While many differences exist among Jewish parliamentarians, the concept of ahavat Yisrael
– literally, “love of Israel” – is common to us all. It is for this reason that 55 Jewish parliamentarians from 22 countries have assembled in Jerusalem under the auspices of the World Jewish Congress. Ahavat Yisrael means not just love of the state, the country and the land, but a joint concern and affection that Jews have always shown for one another across the globe.
When we see Israel struggling with the intractable problems of peace and security, our natural response is to assist however we can. When we see pictures of Gilad Schalit, we know he is also our son or our brother, and that his redemption from captivity is our duty.
Our gathering is focused on the twin challenges of delegitimization and regional change. Despite the rhetoric, I don’t believe that increasing attacks on Israel’s right to exist and efforts to label its acts of self-defense “war-crimes” or even “crimes against humanity” are actually rooted in a belief in international law, or a principled evaluation of Israeli military operations.
What I believe is really driving most of these claims is a deep-seated and stubborn refusal to see Jews as a people. This conceptual failure – whether rooted in anti-Semitism (which it is) or ignorance (which it is) – leads to a refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state, or to accept that it, like every state, has a fundamental right to self-defense.
Only Israel, the one and only Jewish state, is subjected to the humiliation of having its right to exist routinely questioned, and the right of its people to be free from violence openly rejected. Only Israel is the permanent whipping boy of the United Nations.
So we are faced with a paradox: While the anti-Semitism and discrimination Jews have historically faced (and in some places rightfully continue to fear) are based on the view of Jews as a people apart, the ongoing assault on Israel’s legitimacy is built upon the idea that the Jews are not a separate people at all, and are thus not entitled to self-determination.
And there are other contradictions worth considering: While Israel’s armed forces and economy have never been stronger, and the country has reestablished its deterrence with Hezbollah and Hamas, and suicide bombings have all but ceased, I would argue that in some more important ways, Israel has never been less secure. Moreover, I’d suggest that Israel may be least secure in exactly those areas we consider most invulnerable.
Perhaps most critically, the global political tide seems to be turning decisively against Israel, and may produce what Defense Minister Ehud Barak has called a “diplomatic tsunami” in September. Global impatience with the peace process – already high – has been amplified by fear of the Arab Spring aftermath. Notwithstanding full-blown peace offers from the governments of prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza under prime minister Ariel Sharon, and the unilateral settlement freeze by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the current impasse has been laid at Israel’s door.
THE PALESTINIAN plan to take their case for statehood to the UN General
Assembly poses great danger for Israel. If this initiative were to
succeed– or worse, to slip out of control, – the results could be
devastating. Israel could be exposed to sanctions and pressures beyond
the wildest hopes of its worst enemies.
But in addition to these external challenges, we face a more intimate
one that we share with the entire Jewish people. How do those of us who
are representatives from all over the world and every part of the
political spectrum come together to protect and advance our common
Our task is not just to detail the problems that face us, but to figure
out how we can best coordinate our efforts. How can we share support for
certain policies, and what should we do about our disagreements?
Properly answering all these questions will not come easily, nor should
answers be the result of any false consensus. But today’s circumstances
are so dire that we cannot fail to try.
The writer is a member of the United
States Congress and president-emeritus of the International Council of
Jewish Parliamentarians of the World Jewish Congress, which convened in
Jerusalem this week.