Yet this is nonsense. Israel is losing the battle because it aims to explain itself with arguments on the operative level, while the world is asking “what the hell are the Jews doing there?” A leading Israeli public relations expert who returned from a PR campaign overseas recently lamented that “they simply don’t understand us.” Well, why should they?
Most of the world’s citizens at this time are unfamiliar with the Jewish people’s historical connection to the Land of Israel. Many view us as refugee who have no connection to this territory and who escaped European distress to find shelter, randomly, in Palestine.
When President Obama asserted in his Cairo speech that the aspirations for a Jewish homeland originated in our undeniably tragic history, many around here were insulted. “Why did he say that? After all, we’re not here because of the Holocaust.” Yet Obama is not at fault. After all, the Holocaust is the narrative presented by Israel itself to its guests (and to its own sons.)
Wasn’t Obama taken directly to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum after landing here? Don’t we take our millions of guests there to teach them “who we are and what we’re doing here”?
The custom of bringing Israel’s guests to Yad Vashem first carries a loud message. It creates the impression that the Holocaust is the reason and justification for the state’s existence; it places Israel on a podium of victimization, refugees, and the quest for a shelter.
However, Israel’s pillars were laid dozens of years before the Holocaust. Its cornerstone is the Zionist idea. Israel is first and foremost a national revival enterprise. Historian Barbara Tuchman once wrote that Israel is the only nation in the world “that is governing itself in the same territory, under the same name, and with the same religion and same language as it did 3,000 years ago."
No easy task
Israel’s full story – national revival and a return to an ancient homeland that is the only place where the Jewish idea can materialize – is fascinating and exciting. It has “buyers” and it softens up resistance. “You have a case I weren’t familiar with” is a remark I heard dozens of times from people exposed to this story for the first time. Our right to live here is inherent in this story.
The Jewish people returned to its historical homeland consciously and righteously, not by coincidence. Israel, with all its flaws, is the amazing realization of a 3,800-year vision of Jewish nationalism. Being a nation that seeks justice and charity is the essence of Judaism and the reason for the ancient pact: “I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.”
Judaism is a recipe for the conduct of a nation and the individuals who make it up. Its application requires the existence of a Jewish national framework, and there is no place that is more natural and right for managing this Jewish state than the Land of Israel.
The State of Israel is not 100% Jewish or 100% democratic (there is no such thing in reality,) yet it is the most Jewish-and-democratic state in the world. Only in Israel the two aspects of Judaism – the religious and national – come into being, and the commitment to Judaism takes on its full significance.
This is our real story, and without it Israel has no purpose, no justification, and no hope. Imparting this story to the world is a very difficult task, yet without it we’ll be unable to restore Israel’s deteriorating position and image here and abroad.
Benny Levy is the founder of chairman of the Shivah – Being a Free Nation in our Land non-profit organization
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