Wars on Israel shouldn't be fought, Remembrance Day shouldn't be on Israeli calendar - opinion

Netanyahu paraphrased former prime minister Golda Meir: “If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence. If Jews put down their weapons today, there would be no Israel."

 PRESIDENT ISAAC Herzog speaks at the state ceremony at Yad Vashem opening Holocaust Remembrance Day on Wednesday night.  (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
PRESIDENT ISAAC Herzog speaks at the state ceremony at Yad Vashem opening Holocaust Remembrance Day on Wednesday night.
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)

Jewish history is composed of fulfilled dreams and nightmares. As a people, Jews weren’t intended to be a people of such great degrees of loss. The Jewish people were meant to be a light onto the nations, modeling moral policies and behavior, with their successes a testimony to the fulfillment of their national mission. 

Unfortunately, as a people, the Israelites rarely met the challenge of their destiny and suffered the consequences. As nations didn’t perceive the uniqueness of the Jewish people, they began to persecute them. The Jewish people were left to suffer at the mercy of foreign nations. 

During the two weeks following Passover, Israel marks three national days, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars and Victims of Terrorism, and Independence Day. The proximity of these three dates send Israelis on a roller coaster of emotions, from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs. 

While there is an imperative to commemorate these three days, an argument can be made that Holocaust Remembrance Day and Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars and Victims of Terrorism memorialize events that should never have happened, and Independence Day celebrates an event that didn’t have to happen. 

THE HOLOCAUST was a single moment of tragedy that both included and surpassed all other tragic days of Jewish history. The Jewish people hope it was a culmination of their national catastrophes. Like all antisemitism, it should never have happened. 

Elie Wiesel wrote about the global indifference that allowed the Holocaust: “Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.” 

 NOBEL PRIZE winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel speaks at a special session of the UN General Assembly in 2005. The teachers were amazed that their students knew little or nothing about the Holocaust.  (credit: REUTERS) NOBEL PRIZE winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel speaks at a special session of the UN General Assembly in 2005. The teachers were amazed that their students knew little or nothing about the Holocaust. (credit: REUTERS)

The pervasive hate in Germany and Europe should never have occurred, and the indifference that permitted it shouldn’t have happened either. Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorates two tragedies: the tragedy of the dead of the Holocaust, and the tragedy of the Holocaust itself. The Holocaust should never have happened, and Holocaust Remembrance Day should never have been instituted. 

This year’s Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars and Victims of Terrorism will commemorate almost 24,000 victims. None of these victims should have been killed. The world has accepted the reality that nations must go to war and lose their citizens to violence – but this isn’t true. 

In the Israeli Declaration of Independence, Israel’s founders wrote, “We extend our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.” 

Had the Arabs accepted our hands extended in peace, there wouldn’t have been any wars and no one to remember. 

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu famously paraphrased former prime minister Golda Meir: “If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence. If the Jews put down their weapons today, there would be no more Israel.” Wars against Israel should never have been fought, and Remembrance Day should never have been put on the Israeli calendar. 

Israel’s national law states, “The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” Zionism was a movement that advocated for the right of the Jewish people to enjoy self-determination in their own historic homeland. 

Miriam Berger, a journalist at Vox, explained the Israeli national law: “Supporters of this declaration say that Jews have the right to a place of their own just like other people have, and that enshrining this principle in the law is necessary to ensure that Israel remains under Jewish control.” 

THE FOUNDING of the State of Israel was nothing short of astonishing and deserves to be celebrated daily. Within the celebration is a reminder of the wrong the Jewish people suffered before Israel was founded. Israel had to be founded because 2,000 years ago the Romans defeated the Jewish nation and exiled its people.

In a continuous act of injustice, the global community refused to grant the Jews a right to return to their land for 2,000 years. If the world hadn’t mistreated the Jews by robbing them of their homeland, there wouldn’t have been a need to establish a Jewish state or create an Israeli Independence Day.

A danger presented by the juxtaposition of the three national calendar days is the mistake of conflating the days and assuming a cause and effect relationship between them. In an address to the Arab world in Cairo in June of 2009, president Barack Obama said, “America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied. 

“Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and antisemitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust.” 

President Obama was criticized for connecting Israel’s existence to the Holocaust, implying that it was the Jewish people’s tragic history, and not their rights to their homeland, that created the State of Israel. 

Four years later, on a visit to Israel, president Obama corrected his mistake by declaring the Jewish people’s eternal right to the land of Israel, “More than 3,000 years ago, the Jewish people lived here, tended the land here, prayed to God here. And after centuries of exile and persecution, unparalleled in the history of man, the founding of the Jewish State of Israel was a rebirth, a redemption unlike any in history. 

“Today, the sons of Abraham and the daughters of Sarah are fulfilling the dream of the ages – to be ‘masters of their own fate in their own sovereign state.’ And just as we have for these past 65 years, the United States is proud to stand with you as your strongest ally and your greatest friend.” 

As Israel marks its most meaningful national days, it is important that along with the wave of emotion, there is a recognition of the unjust cause of the events that brought these days. Ironically, it’s only by acknowledging the reason these days shouldn’t exist that we can properly respect the people and events these days are meant to honor.

The writer is the senior educator at Nefesh B’Nefesh’s Zionist Education Initiative. He is the author of three books and teaches Torah, Zionism and Israel studies around the world.