My word: Not burned out but resilient

I could not identify last Saturday night with the 20,000 or so demonstrators in Tel Aviv who rallied against the Nation-State Law.

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August 16, 2018 23:00
Israel Border Police soldiers plant trees for Tu Bishvat, January 24, 2013.

Tu Bishvat with Magav 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

 
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It is the nature of a word like “resilience” to periodically bounce back into public awareness. The Hebrew hosen was heard with increasing frequency last week, every time a rocket was launched from Gaza on the South. As some 200 rockets and mortars were fired in a short period, a lot of resilience was required.

Residents of the Israeli communities racing for shelter with between a seven- and 15-second warning would prefer not to have to demonstrate an extraordinary ability to carry on with their lives under a barrage of rocket fire. (If it paid attention to The Situation at all, most of the world press predictably focused on the suffering in Gaza when Israel finally responded.)

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I could not identify last Saturday night with the 20,000 or so demonstrators in Tel Aviv who rallied against the Nation-State Law; my sympathy was with the smaller demonstration by residents of literally hard-hit southern communities who just want to live normal peaceful lives with everyday worries and joys.

I wish the word “resilience” could finally be redundant, and I would like to reclaim the name “Western Negev” for the area where the communities are located. Calling it the “Gaza Envelope”  allows terrorism from Gaza to define who they are.

The central demonstration in Tel Aviv, attended mainly by Israeli Arabs and the far-Left, was its own worst enemy. The organizers, a non-governmental umbrella organization known as the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, reportedly asked participants not to wave Palestinian flags, but the calls were ignored. Although only a small minority among the crowd raised the Palestinian colors, they received all the attention – which is exactly what they sought. Similarly, the chants “With blood and spirit, we’ll free Palestine” echoed loudest, drowning out the calls for equality or for the Netanyahu government to go. The prime minister responded by firing back on Twitter: “There is no greater testament to the necessity of this law.”

The calls crossed a red line and the Palestinian colors served as a red flag. This was not a rally to amend or cancel the Nation-State Law and turn the Declaration of Independence into law instead. These protesters in central Tel Aviv were visibly and vocally negating Israel’s very existence as the Jewish state.

The difference between the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee demonstration and the rally the previous Saturday night arranged primarily by the Druze community could not be ignored. On August 4, Israeli flags flew proudly alongside the Druze colors and the event ended with the national anthem, “Hatikvah.”

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Both mass protests were evidence of a perception of marginalization evoked by the Nation-State Law, particularly the determination of Hebrew as the official language of the state while Arabic was granted a “special status.”  But while the Druze protesters clearly identified as loyal citizens of the State of Israel, and the majority of Israeli Druze men serve in the military and security forces, the Arab demonstrators called for a Palestinian state alongside the Jewish one or for a binational Palestinian-Jewish state.

The call to turn Israel into a “state for all its citizens” sounds innocent and politically correct, but the underlying meaning is the end of the world’s only Jewish state. Arabs comprise some 20% of Israel’s population and, both before and after the passage of the Nation-State Law, enjoy full citizenship rights. The demonstration itself and the presence of Arab MKs were proof that Israel is a democracy and not the “apartheid state” it is depicted to be.

IT IS fashionable to depict Israel in apocalyptic terms. Most of doomsayers apparently haven’t taken the time to read the recent legislation itself. The argument is not about what was included in the laws but what was left out. In the case of the Nation-State Law, most protesters object that the word “equal” does not appear – although individual equal rights are covered by the earlier Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty.

An amendment to the Surrogacy Law last month also brought thousands to a protest in Tel Aviv. Here too there was much hype, and few facts. Nearly 650 American rabbis signed a letter calling “on the Israeli leadership to reverse its discriminatory policy in favor of equal rights for all citizens.” This week, in an opinion piece that ran in The New York Times under the title, “Israel, This Is Not Who We Are,” American Jewish leader Ron Lauder, wrote: “This summer the Knesset passed a law that denies equal rights to same-sex couples.”

No, it didn’t. The Surrogacy Law was amended so that instead of applying only to married heterosexual couples who needed a surrogate because of a medical problem with the wife’s womb it now applies to single women who have a uterine problem. Despite the hopes of male same-sex couples, and the earlier support of the prime minister, it was not extended to serve men – gay, straight, transgender or otherwise – who, naturally, do not have a uterus. The law did not take away rights, it extended them.

Had it been any more comprehensive, I have no doubt that the op-ed writers would have evoked images from The Handmaid’s Tale and questioned whether Israel was so obsessed with demographic threats that it wanted more babies at any cost.

The country is free and so is the press. Detaining journalist Peter Beinart for all of an hour at Ben-Gurion Airport is not the sign of living in a dark era. Israel, like any other sovereign state, can determine some people persona non grata, but perhaps the exaggerated fear of boycott, sanctions and divestment is granting the BDS movement more publicity and power than it would otherwise have.
All is not perfect, but neither is all rotten in the State of Israel.

The comparisons of Israel to apartheid South Africa, the divisiveness of Vietnam and the ills that turned into the global causes of the 1960s are misplaced.

Arab Israelis have full rights (including the same free fertility treatments) that Jewish Israelis enjoy. Druze schools are consistently ranked among the country’s best. Despite the rhetoric, even after the law passed categorically declaring the blue-and-white stripes and Star of David as Israel’s national flag, it is not illegal to raise the Palestinian flag in Israel. On August 11, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid tweeted, “... what would happen were someone to try to march in central Ramallah carrying the Israeli flag.” I wonder the same about the LGBTQ rainbow flag.

Over last weekend, pictures from 2014 emerged of Britain’s Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn standing with a wreath at the graves in Tunis of terrorists linked to the Munich Olympic massacre in which 11 Israelis were killed. Corbyn’s anti-Israel views are so entwined with antisemitism that recently three British Jewish papers united to run the same editorial condemning him.

I recalled how the 1972 massacre set me on the path to emigrating to Israel. It was my personal victory over terrorism. Far from weakening Israel, Corbyn will find that he is driving more British Jews to move here.

The ground in the Western Negev is scorched from the hundreds of fire balloons, incendiary kites and booby-trapped, helium-filled condoms that have been launched from Gaza, but the country is not on fire. Rockets have been launched, but the sky is not falling.

Incidentally, despite what you might have been led to believe, the egalitarian section at the Western Wall exists – albeit underused. Here, too, there are a lot of misconceptions, some deliberately fostered to bash the prime minister, others out of misunderstanding, particularly by the non-Orthodox or unaffiliated in the Diaspora.

By far the best video clip I saw this week showed thousands of people gathered at the Kotel in the early hours of the morning singing the traditional penitential prayers ahead of the Jewish New Year. Their prayers resonated with resilience, unapologetically at home among Jerusalem’s ancient stones.

liat@jpost.com

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