Israel celebrated its 68th birthday yesterday, its “independence day,” with several expressions of propaganda. Three have a military character; you will see that Israel’s ambassador to the US Ron Dermer declared that the Israeli army is now the answer to the Holocaust, and then linked new criticism of Israel in what “was once proudly called the free world” to the Holocaust, describing that continent as “the killing fields of Europe.” There’s also an American columnist explaining why an Israeli general who likened Israeli society to Nazi Germany should be fired for lacking the “basic decency” to keep his thoughts to himself.
First testimonial from Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel should revive the tradition of military parades on its independence day. Haaretz says the tradition ended in 1968, but Netanyahu recalled how inspiring those parades were in his childhood in Jerusalem:
“I remember seeing a cannon, I saw a tank for the first time. I saw soldiers. It moved me enormously.”
“You know what, I have a proposal,” Netanyahu said, turning to [Defense Minister Moshe] Ya’alon and [chief of staff General Gadi] Eisenkot. “My friends, let’s renew the parades in Jerusalem. A military parade on Independence Day in Jerusalem – that’s the basis of our independence, those soldiers.”
The Israeli Embassy in Washington held a big party for the birthday yesterday, attended by the White House chief of staff Denis McDonough, and Ambassador Dermer acknowledged “differences” between Israel and the Obama administration over the Iran deal and “the best way to advance a secure peace with the Palestinians.”
But the U.S. is not Europe! Dermer linked the growing criticism of Israel in Europe to the Holocaust:
So above all, today is a time to appreciate the great transformation that has occurred in the life of the Jewish people with the establishment of the Jewish state. After two thousand years of being a stateless, voiceless and powerless people, we have once again become a sovereign nation that can speak up for itself and that can defend itself.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Much has been said and written in recent years about the resurgence of antisemitism, particularly in what was once proudly called the free world. Many have bemoaned the metamorphosis of an ancient hatred against the Jewish people into a new hatred against the Jewish state..
But the attempt to demonize, dehumanize and delegitimize Jews is a very old story. What’s new is that today the Jewish people have a voice among the nations. What’s new is that today there is an IDF. That’s why Israel’s Independence Day is also a good time to remind our enemies that the Jewish people are powerless no more. To remind them that we have returned to our ancestral homeland from the killing fields of Europe, from Yemen, Iraq, and Morocco, from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union, and from over 100 countries around the world. To remind them that while Israel will never give up its hope for peace with all its neighbors, Israel will also never hesitate to defend itself.
Israel’s future depends on us.
Liberal Zionists celebrated the birthday. Daniel Sokatch of the New Israel Fund sent out this note on Israel’s wonderful temperament, happiness index, and democracy, with not a discouraging word. “No country is perfect,” Sokatch reminds us. Talk about looking for silver linings, this letter is a reminder that older American Jews continue to have a fairy-castle view of Israel:
On Israel’s 68th birthday, it is worth taking a minute to reflect and celebrate.
We at New Israel Fund are in the social change business, meaning that we talk a lot about what needs to be changed in Israel. Today, it’s worth thinking about some Israeli qualities that needn’t be changed, because they are what made Israel the vibrant and interesting society it is:
Temperament: Yesterday, the Washington Post ran a chart showing 20 nations graded on expressiveness and ability to tolerate confrontation. No prizes for guessing which one scored highest on both scales.
Happiness: Israelis might live in a difficult corner of the world and face a lot of challenges, but every year, independent polling shows that most Israelis are happy with their lives and proud of their country.
Democracy: Yes, there are Israelis trying to change the rules of the democratic game and damage democratic institutions. But there are just as many Israelis who believe democracy, freedom of speech, and minority rights are important and must be preserved – and those are the Israelis supported by you and the New Israel Fund.
No country is perfect. Every country has to work to establish or preserve liberal democracy, avoid demagoguery and in-group privilege, and unify its citizens into a shared society.
So let’s celebrate all that is good about Israel today. And then we’ll continue our work to make it better.
And here’s another American voice, in even greater solidarity with Israel’s rightwing leadership. Liel Leibovitz in Tablet says that Israel should kick its deputy chief of staff Yair Golan out of the army for likening Israelis to Nazis in a speech last week. Leibovitz says Golan lacked “basic decency.”
He… could’ve resigned and preached about the dangers of creeping Fascism. Instead, he fought by any means necessary, and then, enjoying the privilege of living in a robust democracy, made a shockingly irresponsible and vile statement, a khaki-clad version of virtue signaling, endearing himself to liberals everywhere at no real cost to himself…
[T]he general’s statement is reason enough to kick him out of the army, or, at the very least, insist that he and other uniformed officers kindly refrain from making incendiary political statements, a minimal courtesy tightly enforced by virtually every other free nation on earth. If there’s any real threat to democracy, in Israel or elsewhere, it is likely to occur when career soldiers begin to see it as their duty to pontificate on matters of state…
But if Israel is truly to defend itself against a slide into unreason, it must enforce a simple rule: if you’re a senior officer and you fear your nation is descending into benighted times, use your power to make change; if you feel you can’t, quit; and if you don’t, have the basic decency to shut the hell up