(The following is an excerpt of remarks I made at a program to commemorate Israel’s 70th anniversary at Congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia to a group of Jews and Evangelical Christians)
I want to extend my sincerest thanks to Pastor Peter Smith (of Hope Valley Community Church of Red Hill, PA) who organized this wonderful program to commemorate Israel’s 70th anniversary, and Rabbi Albert Gabbai who agreed to host the program at this historic synagogue, known as the synagogue of the American Revolution, in the heart of Philadelphia, located just across from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.
On behalf of America’s oldest pro-Israel organization, the Zionist Organization of America, founded in 1897, I welcome you and the opportunity to celebrate this wonderful occasion: Israel, a nation 3000 years old and 70 years young. And on this auspicious and amazing day, we also rejoice in the movement of the United States embassy to Jerusalem, Israel’s ancient, eternal, and undivided capital- and if you have a problem with that, take it up with God !
Indeed, Israel is the essence of God’s munificence and mercy, a light onto the nations, living under duress in a very hostile neighborhood which would have felled most peoples. But this actually gives Israel its strength and determination.
But why does it even matter what happens in a tiny country 6000 miles away, celebrating a birthday? Because Israel is no mere place, no mere address- it is God’s address and the capitol of God’s house, the founding place of ethical monotheism-- essentially where it all started and will culminate.
Israel is an asset and proud ally of the United States- it shares democratic and liberal values of civil rights, gay rights, minority rights, women’s rights, free robust press, independent judiciary, top quality health care and education. In Israel, biology trumps ideology, each life is precious. Very few other places can say this- certainly none in the Middle East.
As Ambassador Dore Gold relates: “People like to ask, is Israel closer to being a Sparta, a military powerhouse, or an Athens, a country with art, poetry, and excellent universities? Frankly, Israel has to be both. You can't have an Athens in a dangerous Middle East unless you have some qualities of being a Sparta, which is able to defend itself. Since the days of its founding in 1948, Israel developed a doctrine that it must defend itself by itself.”
As a nation and a people exiled from its homeland, persecuted everywhere, ghettoized in Christian Europe and the Muslim world, Jews have been defenseless since the Bar Kochva rebellion (132-135 CE). At the end of World War II, the Jewish people lost a third of its population in the Nazi Holocaust. Three years later, survivors of the Holocaust, alongside native Israelis, fought for independence in 1948, with deficient arms and manpower against vastly superior armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. Military contingents from North Africa, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf also participated in the drive to “push the Jews into the sea.” Israel’s triumph at the cost of 1% of its total population could be seen as a “David against Goliath” struggle.
Indeed, Israeli Jews fought and triumphed in major wars in the 1956 Sinai Campaign, 1967 Six Day War, the bloody 1973 Yom Kippur War, wars in Lebanon and Gaza and the continuous wars of attrition and terrorism since then. Using brain and brawn, Israel eliminated Iraq and Syria’s nuclear facilities, chased Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) terrorists out of Lebanon, and dealt severe blows to the Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists in recent engagements. And Israel will do the same to Iran.
Counted as one of the most effective armies in the world, Israel’s military, including its intelligence services, which is perhaps second to none, is in itself a miracle and amongst the most moral in the world.
Some more miracles:
- the revival and restoration of the ancient Hebrew language as a day-to-day language spoken by almost 9 million people.
- Israel’s cultural integration: Immigrants speaking scores of languages and coming from diverse and pre-modern cultural backgrounds have been integrated into what we is called “Israeli culture.” Ethiopian and Soviet immigrants and many Arab-Israelis have become “Israelized,” too. In fact, most Palestinian Arabs would prefer to live in Israel than be ruled by Arabs.
- Israel’s population miracle - a small country without natural resources other than the brain power and creativity of its people. Israel, from 1950 to 1952 absorbed 800,000 immigrants (from 650,000 to 1.4 million), more than doubling its population. By the end of the decade its population stood at 2 million. The arriving immigrants were mostly impoverished Jewish refugees who, during the Holocaust, were preoccupied with survival, not education. Their counterparts from Arab nations, especially those from Yemen, tended to be less educated.
- Economic miracle: the quick doubling of its population in the early years created a tremendous strain given the lack of natural resources. The desperate immigrants needed to be absorbed and integrated, and the government’s limited resources had to be directed to building infrastructure to serve the people and the military. In the intervening 70 years, Israel has transformed from a war-torn nation struggling for survival to become a technological powerhouse, which has seen economic growth for 15 consecutive years.
The OECD Economic outlook database for March, 2018 reported that “Israel’s economy continues to register remarkable macroeconomic and fiscal performance. Growth is strong and unemployment low and falling. With low interest rates and price stability, financial policy is prudent, and public debt is comparatively low and declining. The external position is solid, thanks to a dynamic high-tech sector. The average standard of living is improving, mainly due to higher employment rates. Continued accommodative macro policies and planned investments in the offshore gas fields in the coming years will spur further growth. Against this backdrop, Israelis remain on average more satisfied with their lives than residents of most other OECD countries.”
And despite all the tsuris (stress, trouble) and attempts to delegitimize it from pernicious Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions supporters-- enemies of the Jewish People and Israel who seek its destruction—and a hostile mainstream media, the European Union and the UN, Israel remains one of the happiest places on earth.
And yet Israel, a small nation the size of New Jersey, with 6.8 million Jews v. 400 million surrounding Arabs with 21 states, a land mass 1/625th size of the Arab world, makes a huge impact in the world, through innovation, discovery and technology, “punching far beyond its weight.”
Israel is the astounding ‘Start Up Nation” that shares incredible discoveries with the world and is a major humanitarian first-responder. Avi Jorisch, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council who specializes in Islamic history and philosophy and the author of a new book, Thou Shalt Innovate, How Israeli Ingenuity Repairs the World, encapsulates this:
“Israel is far more than just producing great startups. It has mature companies that are making the world better. There is no single narrative that defines the State of Israel. But there is no denying that the country has extraordinary innovators who are bound together not by religion, money and stature, but rather by a desire to save lives and make the world a better place. It is an extraordinary story that needs to be told. It is not a story people focus on; it is certainly not the first thing most people think about when they focus on Israel.”
This push to do good is entrenched in Jewish culture in the words of the Mishnah, the oral tradition: “Whoever saves a live, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” Judaism believes that the purpose of human beings is to make the world a better place, and Israel is its embodiment.
And if Israel has already contributed so much to the world, can you just imagine what the country would look like if it were not mired in war and constantly needing to defend itself and its borders?
Israel, is indeed the “light onto the nations.”
Israel, the smallest of nations but with a friend in the highest of places—so in a warning to those who curse us and wish us ill, be nice ! We are not going anywhere. God bless Israel and the U.S.
Am Yisrael Chai and Shecheheyanu for allowing us to reach this day!
Lee Bender is the co-author of the book, “Pressing Israel: Media Bias Exposed From A-Z” (Pavilion Press 2012), co-developer of the website and app, www.factsonisrael.com, and co-president of the Zionist Organization of America- Philadelphia.