There are two axioms that I believe help to
guide Jewish history along its twisting and tumultuous path. The first is that
the more things change, the more they remain the same. The second is that
nothing significant ever occurs in our national life that cannot be found in the
Torah portion we read that week.
We are now smack-dab in the middle of
the story of the Jewish experience in Egypt, which culminates in the Exodus
(read about it this Shabbat in Parshat Beshalah) and the giving of the Ten
Commandments (read it next Shabbat in Parshat Yitro). These events, recorded for
posterity so long ago, remain to this day a road map for our struggle to
overcome our adversaries and become a nation.
Pharaoh is the archetypal
anti-Semite, the dictatorial and despicable poster boy for all the Jew-haters of
Ignoring the fact that Joseph brought immense wealth
and prestige to Egypt, he rewrites history and accuses the Hebrews of being an
alien, divisive “fifth column” that must be dealt with mercilessly. To divert
attention from the real problems of his society, and to unite the populace by
appealing to its basest instincts, he tells his people that the “Nation of
Israel” (ironically Pharaoh is the first person ever to use that phrase) is
“great and mighty from us!” In other words, the Jews are parasites; they take
the land that is rightfully ours, and they suck the very life-blood out of
This approach to demonizing the Jews is exactly the course that the
Palestinians and their many sympathizers have taken. They begin by denying any
historical legitimacy to the Jewish residents of the land, maintaining that we
have no ongoing connection whatsoever to Israel. There never was a Temple in
Jerusalem; kings David and Solomon, the Prophets and the Maccabees never
inhabited this part of the world; the Twelve Tribes – if they existed at all –
lived somewhere in Europe.
And as for what to do with the mountain of
archeological evidence, the accounts of the Bible, and the overwhelming opinion
of historians that this truly is our ancestral land? That is cavalierly
dismissed as “Jewish propaganda” and disregarded by the Pharaohs “who knew not
Their national mantra, one of which their pharaonic predecessor
would surely be proud, is repeated so long and so intensely that even normally
level-headed people begin to believe it: “The Jews stole the land and usurped
its rightful owners.” From this canard flows all the evil that our neighbors
perversely perpetrate upon us, what I call the “10 Plagues of the Palestinians”:
the boycotts, the car thefts, the home invasions, the deadly rock-throwing at
our vehicles, the suicide bombings, the drive-by shootings, the firing of
rockets on civilians, the glorification of child-killers, the education to
terror, the turning of so many beautiful Israeli families into blood.
of these atrocities and more are blithely justified among the Palestinians as
the rightful reward for those who took what was theirs.
OF COURSE, the
greatest victims of all in this drama are the Palestinians
Their lives could be infinitely more rewarding and more
productive if only they chose compromise over conflict.
They know that
they – like their Israeli Arab brothers – would enjoy an immensely higher
standard of living and quality of life if they ceased their extremism and met us
halfway. But like Pharaoh, who remained impervious to the pleas of his own
people to release the Israelites – “Do you not know that Egypt is lost?” the
Egyptians said to him after the eighth plague – the Palestinian leadership is
supremely steadfast in its stubbornness.
The secret to success in
international relations – no less than in personal ones – is knowing when to let
go and when to hang on. Just as Pharaoh could, theoretically, have saved himself
and his nation from untold amounts of suffering if only he had acquiesced to
Moses’s initial demand – “Let us depart for three days into the wilderness to
serve our God” – so the Arab world, by consistently squandering its manifold
opportunities for a peaceful settlement, has “upped the ante” and brought
disaster upon itself. From their rejection of the 1947 partition plan to their
“Three Noes of Khartoum” (“no peace, no recognition, no negotiation” with
Israel) following the Six Day War, to the present- day refusal to accept Israel
as a Jewish state, the Palestinians have always taken – to their detriment – the
most hard-line positions, and this, above all, has created the self-inflicted
“Nakba” that they so often moan about.
ONE OF the more celebrated aspects
of the Exodus story is God’s “hardening of Pharaoh’s heart.” While this clearly
creates certain theological difficulties – the denial of free choice being
primary among them – it also serves to highlight the Almighty’s active part in
the equation, and His determination to see His people achieve their goal of
becoming one nation, under God, in their own land. At some point, God “allows”
Pharaoh to fall victim to his own obstinacy, resulting in his demise and our
In like fashion, the Palestinians, too, suffer from a case of
“hardening of the heart.” Just when reconciliation appears to be possible, they
make sure to thwart it by coming up with some new demand that they know we can
never meet. It might be a return to 1949 “Auschwitz borders,” or an insistence
on reclaiming the Kinneret, or a demand for the “right of return” or the
redivision of Jerusalem.
Whatever it is, it brings us back to our senses
as we realize just how far this Arab entity actually is from desiring a true and
lasting peace with its neighbors.
As Jordan learned when it stubbornly
refused Israel’s peace overtures in 1967 and belatedly entered the war,
resulting in the Jordanians’ loss – and our gain – of Jerusalem, Judea and
Samaria; and as Pharaoh learned when he reneged on his freeing of the Israelites
and attacked us at the Reed Sea, resulting in the destruction of his army and
the end of Egypt forever as a world power, there is a high price to be paid for
making the wrong choices and for trying to block Jewish destiny.
Israel’s readiness to bend – indeed, often to a fault – we will never abdicate
our God-given right to recreate our eternal homeland. And it is this steely
resolve that will win out in the final analysis. The end result of the Passover
story, quite remarkably, is that “the man Moses was great in the land of Egypt,
and great in the eyes of every Egyptian” (Exodus 11:3). Those who remain humble
yet steadfast in their mission and who believe in the justice of their cause
will not only see their efforts prevail; they will gain the grudging respect of
even their bitterest enemies.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach
Center of Ra’anana.