ISSUES OF FAITH: Complicated relationship between Jews and Israel

“Praise God O Jerusalem, laud your God O Zion,” (Psalm 147:2–12).

THE CONNECTION AND deep love Jews have for Israel is sometimes a very difficult thing for others to understand, especially now during the war with Hamas.

How can we continue to see Israel as our spiritual home, and envision it as our homeland throughout this complicated time?

Jews have lived continuously in what is now Israel for over 2,500 years, and the first Jewish population settled there at least 1,000 years before the founding of Islam, so the bond is deeply historical.

Jews see Israel as the only place where they know they’ll be safe from the Jew hatred that continues to infect the world.

There have been hundreds of thousands of words written about the Israel-Gaza war since the incomprehensibly horrific attack by Hamas on Oct. 7. Though incredibly difficult to watch, the powerful documentary by Sheryl Sandburg, “Screams Before Silence,” explores the horrific sexual violence perpetrated during the massacre that day.

And yet, despite all the witnesses and evidence, conspiracy theories are claiming the attack was fabricated by the Israelis as an excuse to attack Hamas. The silence of the world community for months after Oct. 7 is an example of the Jews being treated differently by groups which have always defended women who have been sexually abused.

Columbia University students wrote a widely circulated letter about being Jewish during these times, especially on college campuses. Jews are shocked by pro-Hamas slogans like “From the River to the Sea,” “Free Palestine,” calling Israel a colonizer, racist, oppressive and genocidal.

These chants give support to a terrorist group whose charter calls for the complete eradication of Israel and says the duty of Muslims is to “fight Jews and kill them.”

When protesters were asked what river and sea they were referring to or to explain what they mean about colonization, they had no idea, having no understanding of the actual history of Israel.

The vileness of chants like “Go back to Poland,” “Zionists don’t deserve to live,” “Jews: Hamas’s next target” and “Resist by any means necessary” are horrifying.

One student said the Jews were lucky they “aren’t just going out and murdering Zionists.”

Jewish students have been physically blocked from entering their campuses, and have been harassed and attacked.

Jews everywhere have been beaten just for being Jews, and many now fear wearing any Jewish symbols. It is terrifying to watch history repeat itself in the country where we thought we were safe. Knowing that the refuge of a Jewish state exists gives us solace.

Despite its problems, Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East with millions of Arab citizens and Jews from across the Middle East, Europe and Ethiopia. There are over 1 million Muslims, thousands of Christians and Druze — all Israeli citizens. They, including women, have equal rights, enjoy the freedom of religion and participate in the government with Arab Israelis sitting in parliament.

These freedoms do not exist in surrounding Muslim countries.

Over 900,000 Jews were expelled from Arab countries after the formation of Israel, and Israel took in all those refugees. It continues to accept any Jews who wish to emigrate. Meanwhile, the Arab countries refuse to accept Palestinian refugees, instead keeping them in camps and using them as political leverage.

Israel is not perfect.

There are Jewish extremists, including in the government, who call for the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, attack Palestinians, destroy their homes and refuse to consider a two-state solution.

However, it is a democracy, as witnessed by the hundreds of thousands of Israelis in the streets protesting the government for months before Oct. 7. These protests are continuing even now.

Jews are capable of holding a deep love for Israel while still being angry at its government, and horrified at the death and suffering in Gaza.

History teaches us that a rise in Jewish hatred is always the canary in the coal mine, and when it becomes acceptable, so too does hatred against others.

“Hatred is the root of evil everywhere. Racial hatred, ethnic hatred, political hatred, religious hatred. In its name all seems permitted … the end justifies the means, including the most despicable ones” (Elie Wiesel).

In order to heal our world, this baseless hatred must end by seeing that we are all created b’tzelem elohim, in God’s image.

Kein yehi ratzon … may it be God’s will. Shalom.

_________

Issues of Faith is a rotating column by religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. Suzanne DeBey is a lay leader of the Port Angeles Jewish community. Her email is debeyfam@olympus.net.

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