Changing the World’s Perception of Israel

The WORD – 5/12/11.  As lovers and supporters of Israel celebrated Yom Ha’atzma’ut (Independence Day) this past Tuesday, Palestinians were preparing to observe a day of mourning this coming Sunday, which they call ‘Nakba’ Day (‘nakba’ means disaster or catastrophe in Arabic).  It is yet one more example of howIsrael’s detractors try to use negative language to tell a story ofIsraelthat does not reflect reality.

While it is true that Israel’s War of Independence created roughly 500,000 Arab refugees – individuals who lived in Western Palestine before the partition – we cannot forget that the Arab countries expelled 820,000 Jews in response toIsrael’s independence. Israel absorbed over 580,000 of these Jewish refugees.

This is the kind of population exchange that typically happens after wars.  Those Jews of Arab lands were never compensated for their lost property, and they have been given no right to return.

It is a tragedy that the Palestinian refugees were not absorbed into Lebanon, Syria, Jordan or Egypt.  The governments of those countries kept them segregated and they were not offered citizenship.  In recent months as we have learned more about the autocratic regimes of these countries and the way in which they treat their own citizens, we should not be surprised that they were less than welcoming to a group of refugees.

Israel’s detractors use terms like ‘apartheid’ and ‘occupation’ in order to appeal to Western countries who might intervene on their behalf.  However, we should not forget that there is only one country in theMiddle Eastwhere women have equal rights, where a gay rights rally can take place with police protection, where minority religions have legal status, where the free press can investigate and criticize the government and where an independent judiciary can charge and try the most powerful politicians.  That country, of course, is Israel.

Israelis not perfect.  No country is.  But, asIsraelturns 63, she offers much to be admired and much of which to be proud as well.

Perhaps, if we keep talking about all the good that we see inIsrael, people will begin to understand that there is more to her than the narrative created by the Palestinians.  Make no mistake about it – changing the world’s perception ofIsraelis a daunting challenge.  But, it’s not the first time we have faced such a challenge.  In this week’s Haftarah, we read the prayer of Jeremiah (Chapter 32).  As the armies of Babylonia were arraying against Judea, with the destruction of the Temple looming, Jeremiah prayed.

God’s response came to Jeremiah:  “Behold I am the Lord, the God of all flesh.  Is anything too wondrous for Me?”  Let’s be God’s partners, telling the story of Israel in the hopes that we can turn away her enemies.




About Rabbi Avi Friedman

I am the rabbi of Congregation Ohr Shalom - SJCC, a progressive Conservative and traditional congregation. I am also husband to Jodi as well as father to Gabi, Jonah, Jessica and Ilana. I have been a part of the Summit community since 2005.
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