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Yom Ha’atzmaut 5760-2000

“Being Judged by a Different Yardstick”

by Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald

This coming week we celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel Independence Day. Yom Ha’Atzmaut occurs on the fifth of Iyar, which, this year, is Tuesday night, May 9th, and Wednesday, May 10th. This Yom Ha’Atzmaut we will mark the 52nd anniversary since the miracle of the founding of the State of Israel. On this wonderful occasion we wish the state and its citizens a “Happy Birthday, Yom Ha’Atzmaut Samayach, l’kulam.”

Yom Ha’Atzmaut always occurs one week after Yom Ha’Shoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, which is observed on the 27th day of Nisan. I remember several years ago listening to the incredible account of an elderly survivor who had miraculously made it through the entire war literally dragging his brother on his back, only to have his brother die three days after liberation. I said to myself, “Ribono shel Olam, Master of the Universe, when will the nations of the world leave us alone? Enough is enough, we’ve suffered enough!” Yet, here we are, once again, facing the challenges of a hostile world who seek to dismember our tiny state, our beloved land.

After all we’ve endured, we Jews truly deserve a break. Nevertheless, the question remains, while we deserve a break, should we take one?

Permit me to explain what I mean. You see, not only do the nations of the world constantly attack us, but our own internal Jewish enemies are often even more vicious. Several years ago, not long after the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin, when Shimon Peres was Prime Minister, a well known Israeli columnist for the newspaper Ha’Aretz, Ari Shavit, wrote a bitter column condemning the “peacenik” Shimon Peres for ordering a full-scale attack on Southern Lebanon after the Palestinians shot rockets into Kiryat Shemona from Lebanon. Four hundred thousand refugees in Southern Lebanon fled their homes in face of 16,000 shells that were dropped on their villages and small towns by the Israeli Army and Air Force. Shavit was particularly brutal: “We killed 170 people in Lebanon last month. Most were refugees. A good number were women, children and the elderly…We killed them under the umbrella of a peace campaign. Under the leadership of a peace government and in the midst of an election campaign that features peace. We killed them so the “peace” could be re-elected. We killed them because our peace coalition needs to prove it is just as tough as the opposition.”

The irony of this attack is compounded by the fact that in the Arab world no such attack would ever be tolerated. Several years ago, Edward Said, the famed Palestinian professor at Columbia University, published a book against Arafat, accusing him of forfeiting the Palestinian homeland. Of course the book was banned in Arab countries, and few Palestinians ever read it. In contrast, poor little democratic Israel has to suffer the embarrassment of its own journalist, Shavit, who choose to publish his op-ed diatribe not in Ha’aretz, but in the New York Times (May 27, 1996).

The world has always had a double standard when dealing with the Jewish people. For instance, the Pol-Pot killed millions of inhabitants of Cambodia. There was no outrage, because there was no media coverage. Had it not been for the movie The Killing Fields, virtually no one would have known. How many are aware that the Hutus and the Tutus continue to kill each other in Africa? In Zaire and in Zimbabwe, outrageous murders are committed regularly, but the United Nations condemns no one. In Bosnia and Herzgovena, Serb murderers were elected to public office, and the world is silent.

As a young man, I quickly recognized the hypocrisy in the attitude of the world toward the Jews. On December 26, 1968, Libyan and Palestinian terrorists who claimed to be members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine killed one Israeli and wounded another in an attack on a New York bound El-Al Boeing 707 preparing for take-off at the Athens airport. One of the two attacking terrorists pulled out a sub-machine gun and opened fire on the plane’s engines, the other hurled an incendiary grenade at the engines, which caught fire. Fortunately, three other grenades did not detonate. Two days later, on December 28, Israeli commandos assaulted Beirut airport. In a 45 minute raid, 13 aircraft from Middle East Airlines were destroyed. There were no Lebanese casualties.

Nevertheless, there was a major world outcry. Israel insisted that the Lebanese government was providing a base and was responsible for the training of the two terrorists. At the United Nations, many members, including the United States chief delegate, felt that the Israeli attack was “over-kill” and out of proportion to the event that prompted it. Israel disagreed, but she stood alone. Even her traditional ally, the US, refused to support the raid. The Security Council of the United Nations unanimously condemned Israel’s “premeditated military action” without any mention of the terrorist action which precipitated the raid.

At 12:05 PM, October 6, 1973, on the holiest day of the Hebrew calendar, Yom Kippur, Egypt and Syria staged a surprise attack on Israel. The Arab armies were initially successful in advancing on both fronts due to surprise and superior numbers. Less than 500 Jewish soldiers were defending a 100 mile stretch of the Suez Canal when they were attacked by 70,000 Egyptian soldiers. Israel was almost overrun. Miraculously the army fought back. When the battle turned in Israel’s favor, Russia, which had been continually airlifting new supplies to the Arabs during the fighting, used the United Nations to intervene and stop the fighting, which had cost the Arabs 18,500 soldiers and massive amounts of arms (2100 tanks). The war ended after 20 days of fighting, but not before 2,522 Jewish soldiers had lost their lives. Israel had the Third Egyptian Army completely surrounded, and could have finished them off once and for all. But not only did Israel not destroy the Third Egyptian Army, the government stopped the battle at the behest of the United Nations, at the very moment that total victory stood only days away. Instead, Israel even supplied food, plasma and medication to the beaten Egyptians. Of course, while the Egyptians were winning, the United Nations never called for a truce. The Israeli cease-fire, and the mercy supplies that Israel delivered to the enemy were totally unprecedented in world history and in the annals of war.

In 1970, King Hussein of Jordan launched a full scale offensive against the PLO-dominated refugee camps in Jordan. The PLO was eventually forced out of Jordan and resettled in the Palestinian refugee districts of Beirut and in Southern Lebanon. There, the PLO began to use Lebanon as a launching pad for attacks against Israel. The Christian Lebanese demanded that the Lebanese army drive the PLO out of Lebanon, a demand that precipitated a civil war between Lebanese Muslims and Christians. In 1982, Israel launched the Litani Campaign, invading Lebanon, and eventually West Beirut, in order to wipe out all vestiges of the PLO. It was during this campaign that the Christian Philangist Militia attacked the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, massacring 500-600 of its inhabitants.

When news of what happened reached the world, there was a tremendous outcry. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis demonstrated and demanded an investigation. The subsequent Kahn Commission investigation found Israel Defense Minister, Arik Sharon, and Chief of Staff, Raphael Eitan, guilty of failing to discharge their duty, and recommended discontinuation of their leadership in the defense establishment. Prime Minister Begin, as well, was charged with being apathetic, uninterested, and lacking in foresight and vigilance, saying that he bore a “measure of responsibility” for the attack. Sharon was forced to step down as Defense Minister.

That’s right, Israel took the rap for the Sabra and Shatila massacre, despite the fact that it was Christian soldiers who committed the massacre. The world cried out and condemned Israel. Once again, never in the history of the world, has a Chief of Staff or Defense Minister of any country been removed because of the actions of an allied army against an enemy. Only in Israel and only the Jews.

We cry out. We say it’s unfair, there’s a double standard! The world constantly uses an unfair yardstick to judge us. Why must we suffer? Why the Jews?

My response to this unfairness is “Baruch Hashem, Thank G-d.” Thank G-d the nations of the world hold us to a different standard. Woe to the day when the world thinks that Jews should follow the moral principles of the rest of the world. After all, we are a “Mamlechect Kohanim, v’Goy Kadosh,” a nation of priests and holy people (Exodus 19:6) — we are to be held to a higher standard, otherwise we lose our uniqueness.

It’s our Torah that says that fruit-bearing trees may not be cut down in times of war. It’s our Torah that says that the enemy must first be greeted in peace before an attack, and that, when besieging a city, an exit must always be left open to allow the enemy to flee. It’s our Torah that says lo tikom, that not only are Jews not permitted to be vengeful, but lo titor, we are not allowed to even bear a grudge. When, after the Six Day War, Golda Meir said, “We can forgive you for killing our sons, but never for turning our sons into killers,” she was basically paraphrasing the verse in Genesis 32:4, where the Torah tells us: “Va’yira Yaakov m’od,” Jacob was afraid, very afraid, “Va’yay’tzer lo,” and he was greatly distressed. Rashi comments that Jacob was “very afraid”–lest he be killed by his brother Esau. But he was even more “distressed” that, in self defense, he might have to kill Esau. That is the Jewish standard. That is the Jewish yardstick. And that is what Yom Ha’Atzmaut, the State of Israel and our Torah are all about. If we fail to live by this yardstick, if we become as Kol Ha’goyim, like all the other nations, then we are no longer an Am Segula, a special people, a chosen people.

And so my brothers and sisters, while it’s difficult for us to endure the indignities put upon us by the nations of the world, let us hold our heads up high and proudly proclaim: “Mi k’amcha Yisrael,” Who is like your people, Israel? “Goy echad ba’aretz,” a unique and speial people in the world. This is what we celebrate on Yom Ha’Atzmaut. This is what being Jewish means!

May you be blessed.