At my age, 89, I remember only too well a world sans Israel.
Each of us uses her or his experience and wisdom to exercise judgements concerning Israel and the Jewish People. My capacity to do so is constrained by the experiences of my pre-1948 life. One example to illustrate. In 1944, at my age seventeen, in the midst of the War, stories started filtering out of Europe of how the Nazis were no longer content rounding up Jews into concentration camps and using them as slave labourers, but were now gasssing them and burning their sometimes not quite dead bodies in crematoria. At the very same time the British Navy intercepted those few ships that managed to escape from Hitler’s hell with its cargo of Jews and headed to Palestine, and returned them to their certain death in Europe. I was a student at Harbord Collegiate Institute in my native Toronto, whose student body was more than 90% Jewish. (And whose staff was more than 90% anti-Semitic.) I organized a protest rally. We marched down Toronto’s main street shouting, “OPEN THE GATES OF PALESTINE!”
The next day the principal summoned me to his office and demanded to know why I dared organize a demonstration on school grounds without permission. I replied that I did not ask for permission because I was sure I would not obtain it. He then demanded to know why I felt I had to take such “unauthorized action”. I replied that I was horrified that the British, entrusted by the League of Nations to administer a Mandate whose task was to “establish in Palestine a national home for the Jewish people” (I could then - and still now - recite from memory the Balfour Declaration which was the basis for Great Britain being given the Mandate for Palestine.) I told him I was concerned about the problem of my fellow Jews, and felt I had to do something. He then said to me: “You know how the Jewish problem could be solved? If the Jews were only a little cleaner, less noisy, less pushy…” He must have seen the shocked expression on my face, because he paused mid-sentence. I then made an exaggerated gesture in looking at my watch and said: “Sir, in the 30 seconds it took you to declaim the solution of the Jewish problem, Adolf Hitler managed to solve the problem of 100 Jews, by burning them in gas ovens.” He stood there speechless. We remained facing one other for I do not know how long, until he snarled, “Get out of here!”
In her recent article, “How Bibi Just Gave Liberal Jews The Finger — And What We Can Do About It,” Jane Eisner suggests that we in the Diaspora should try to influence the Israeli government to stop its agreement with the ultra-orthodox should they continue to have a stranglehold on the Western Wall. As the father of five daughters I am particularly upset by the fact that women have restricted access to Judaism’s holiest site. But also as a parent I must restrict my judgement (and accordingly my actions) of what I genuinely feel is absolutely wrong in this instance in the policy of the Israel government, no less than I must restrict my judgement and actions concerning my daughters. Just as my love of and support for my daughter is absolute, so is my love and support for the Jewish State. To quote Stephen Decatur mentioning England: “Our Country! May she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!”
Again, referring to my experience as a parent, I recall an instance when we were all watching a program on television. In it a young man borrowed his father’s car without permission, went drinking with friends, and on his return home stuck a pedestrian who was then rushed to hospital with his life hanging in the balance. The police followed him home and when they told his father why they were arresting his son, the father stuck him several blows before he was restrained. As soon as the police marched the drunken young man off to jail, the father phoned his lawyer asking him to immediately go to the jail and to begin the start of defending him. My girls turned to me and wondered at what appeared to be contradictory actions by the father. “First, he beats him, then hires a lawyer to defend him!” I replied that the father beat him for the terrible thing he did, but nevertheless he is still the son he loves, and the father feels the obligation to come to his defense despite his wrong doing. That is what love is all about, I added.
Another daughter asked if I would have done the same thing, to which I replied an immediate and decidedly definite, “YES!” A third daughter asked if there was anything she or her sisters could do that would not get my support. I replied that the one and only thing you could do to cause me to lose my support and indeed my love for you would be if Heaven forefend you became an enemy of the Jewish people.
I lived in Israel from 1979 to 2006. If I was still living there I would do all I could to defeat a government who sells its soul to remain in power, but as a Jew living I the Diaspora I must say: “Our Country! may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!” and continue to support Israel. If there was another Jewish State I might consider transferring my support to it, but as there is one and only one Israel I must love her, cherish her, support her and defend her with all my might. So long as I do not live there I feel no right to impose conditions.