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Right of Return

by Rabbi Avi Shafran

It’s always edifying when bigots who have managed to elude full exposure for years suddenly slip and appear in full ingloriousness.

Helen Thomas didn’t even need the alcohol that loosened Mel Gibson’s tongue and bared his sorry soul a few years back. All it took for her was an unguarded moment and an enterprising blogger.

But little doubt was left about her own soul’s state by her sneering suggestion that Jews in Israel go “home” to Poland and Germany. Presumably realizing just how honest she had inadvertently allowed herself to be, she decided to add “and America, and everywhere else,” but what seemed to please her was clearly the prospect of Jews returning to places associated with their attempted genocide.

But the idea that Jews are somehow newcomers to the Middle East, that the shtetl, not the Judean desert (despite its name), is our natural habitat, is perniciously widespread even among some politicians and pundits who defend Israel uncompromisingly. While those who harbor a bit of Helenism (a new noun, inspired by Ms. Thomas) cast Jews in Jerusalem as criminal interlopers, there are also many untouched by the virus of Jew-resentment who tend to view the Jewish presence in the Holy Land as a new development. They regard it as a sort of consolation prize for having endured the Holocaust.

Mere days before Ms. Thomas’ self-revelation was publicly revealed, a similar sentiment to hers was captured on camera on the West Coast. Among the many mass protests against Israel for having dared, in the recent flotilla incident, to actually enforce its embargo of a bad neighbor (which phrase presumably includes one who wishes to drive you into the sea) and against Israeli soldiers who had the chutzpah to shoot at people who were trying to kill them was a demonstration that took place on Memorial Day near the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles. A mob chanted angry, menacing slogans in the cause of peace.

A widely viewed newscast video of the demonstration made the rounds in subsequent days. It focused largely on a Jewish teenager who intrepidly walked alongside the unholy warriors, holding aloft an Israeli flag and calmly, eloquently and pointedly answering questions from a reportorial voice off-camera.

Whether one thinks the one-boy flag battalion foolhardy or fantastic probably depends on whether one is or isn’t his parent. But it was hard not to smile at the finger the teen metaphorically poked in the collective eye of the nearby mob. What I found most telling about the clip, though, were its final seconds, when two decidedly un-angelic Angelenos, part of the anti-Israel protest, appeared on camera to answer questions.

First came a young woman, hatred pouring from her eyes like oil from an out of control gusher. Asked if she supported a “Palestinian state alongside Israel,” she rebukes the questioner angrily, wagging her finger and contorting her face into a mask of anger. “No! No! No!” she protests furiously. “The Jews” – speaking the word like it is a disfiguring disease – “can live in a Palestinian state!” she exclaims. “There should not be an Israeli state.” Then, imagining her perfect world, she declares emphatically: “An Israeli state does not even exist!”

Although she isn’t quite done, the camera pans to her companion, a young man with a vacant expression and a baseball cap on sideways, who offers the interviewer his own sage assessment.

“The only reason Israel is doing this,” he explains, though it’s not clear if he is referring to the Gaza blockade or to existing – “is because they got kicked out from, uh, the German… uh, whatever happened to them. So they’re trying to take out their anger to someone else.”

“What about the Bible?” asks the interviewer.

“The Bible?” the young man repeats, uncomprehending.

“You know,” explains the interviewer. “Solomon? Uh, the Jewish presence in Israel in Biblical days?”

The response: “I don’t know about that.”

I’m sure he doesn’t. And, unfortunately, it would seem that he’s hardly alone. World leaders and editorialists who speak and write as if the Jewish presence in the Holy Land is some modern development, that the justification for Jews to live in Jerusalem emerged ex nihilo from European crematoria, are, if better-intentioned, equally uninformed.

And the information they are missing is truly central to the Israel-Palestinian conflict – and should be central to any discussion of the same. What they don’t realize, or choose to gloss over, is that “Israel,” in the phrase “Land of Israel,” refers not to a modern-day country but to an ancient people.

That Jews over the past century haven’t come to the Holy Land.

They have come back to it.



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