A "New Exodus" to promote Jewish national identity
[From the Jewish Speakers Bureau "Musings for Passover Seder", page 39]
One of the wonderful things about our tradition is the focus on our religious beliefs, principles, and practices. Yet as spiritually uplifting as our prayers and ceremonies are, let alone the detail-oriented observance of a festival like Passover, we lose something of the forest for the trees.
This year, with anti-Jewish online, verbal and physical attacks at an all-time high, Pesach is the perfect time to remind ourselves of the most basic response to antisemitism, whether expressed by Pharoah in ancient Egypt and Haman in ancient Persia, or by college professors or politicians in America, Europe, and Persia.
A decade ago, I accompanied Natan Sharansky, then minister of Diaspora a airs for Israel, to over 60 campuses across the US and Europe; since then, I’ve spoken at hundreds more, and in communities around the world. We heard then, and hear today, the same voices we heard as a people in Egypt 3000 years ago, shouting many of the same canards: Jews are “different”; we are a “threat”; we are “immoral”; we “don’t follow the rules”.
And today, of course, it is Israel – the nation-state of the Jewish people – rather than individual Jews or Jewish groups, which is targeted for attack. Even when Jews on the street are yelled at, or JCCs across America are terrorized with bomb threats, Israel is o en cited as the basis for the animosity. And even in less physically menacing assaults, supposed “criticism” of Israel is often simply a front for a basic animosity towards Jews and our state.
In Egypt, when the persecution of the Children of Israel as an ethnic minority became too great to bear, we not only escaped, with the help of God and led by Moses: From the cauldron of our slavery, we emerged as more than just a family or clan or tribe: we became a People. The first reference to us as an “Am”, a people, or as a “Goi”, a nation, was in Exodus. Our unity, our self-confidence, our identity as a nation, was solidifed as we escaped from suffering and walked across the desert into freedom. And there, at Mt. Sinai, God took that newly-minted national cohesion and forged a covenant which gave meaning to our character as a people-with-a-mission.
The legitimacy of Jewish peoplehood is at the center of our seder night commemoration of the miracle of our deliverance. We are all commanded to internalize that we were there; that we took part in this liberation and thus are grateful for the redemption – not only for our forefathers/mothers but for ourselves. When we conclude the seder singing “Next Year in Jerusalem” we are not only looking for a return to our ancestral homeland, nor merely for an “aliya” to the spiritual heights of heavenly Jerusalem, though both are hoped for. We sing as a member of a global community with Jerusalem at its heart, as a member of the people and nation of Israel.
With the constant attacks, in academic and political circles (left and right), in church groups and trade unions, by the media and cultural elites, on the legitimacy of Israel’s founding and our connection to the land where we are the indigenous people, we can look to Pesach’s commemoration of our creation as an ancient civilization as the basis of our response.
Pesach affords an opportunity to review Sharansky’s now-famous “3-D” approach to recognizing anti-Israel rhetoric. Sharansky introduced the “3-D” lens over a decade ago, and it has been adopted since then by the EU and the US State Department, among other governments and organizations, as an essential element in understanding modern antisemitism. Using it, we can distinguish between reasonable debate over Israeli policies (of which there is much, in Israel itself of course as well), and hostility reflecting the new antisemitism.
It is relatively straightforward: The three “Ds” are Demonization, Double Standards, and the De-legitimization which on its own, or as a result of the other two, is a central motif of today’s anti-Israel campaign.
Vilification of Israeli leaders or the IDF, depicting them as Nazis or beasts (reminiscent of medieval and Der Sturmer tropes), is demonizing and dehumanizing. Holding Israel to a different standard than that used for other countries – whether in defensive military operations, human rights issues, or domestic social or legislative developments – is discriminatory, unreasonable, and illogical. And suggesting that of the 70+ new nation-states created in the post-colonial period and following WWII, the founding of Israel – the re-establishment of a sovereign nation of the Jews on their ancestral homeland (the people of Israel returning to the land of Israel, or the Jews to Judea, as it were) – is somehow not justified, is de-legitimization.
These were the themes of traditional religious, cultural, and intellectual antisemitism – much of which has been eradicated in the Christian world, though it still permeates Muslim and Arab societies. Applied to the Jew-among-the-nations, these are understood now to be the key features of the ‘new antisemitism.’
None of these definitions were intended to stifle reasonable debate over issues, nor need they. But they provide a clear-cut, easy-to-remember mechanism to apply in any discussion, whether with presidents and prime ministers, college professors or news anchors, to ascertain whether critiques of Israeli policy are just that, or are unsubtle reflections of an underlying hostility to the nation-state of the Jewish people.
And the most fundamental core of those discussions should be what our seder and Pesach celebrations remind us: We Jews – we Israelites – are members of a people, Am Yisrael, who have returned to our ancestral home- land by right, redressing the historical injustice perpetrated in our expulsion from our land (and its renaming by the Romans in their genocidal attempt at ethnic cleansing and ‘statocide’). It matters little what our religious or political squabbles may be: our peoplehood, as understood in our sources and as expressed by all streams of our religious thought, is the original and underlying element of our identity.
This was understood by the world – and by all Jews – a century ago, not least as expressed in the League of Nation’s recognition of the validity of the Jews’ desire to re-create their “national homeland” in our land. As Greeks living around the world a affiliate with Greece, and Chinese who’ve never visited China viscerally under- stand their connection with the land of their ancestors, Jews sitting around our seder table, at whatever level of observance, can and must re-assert our bond with our ancient and modern homeland.
We need a psychological “Exodus” today, to renew our appreciation of our national identity. We became a nation as we escaped Egyptian bondage and walked through the desert toward our promised land. e People of Israel, escaping and combating persecution in every age including ours, have a tie to our Land of Israel, expressed in our modern miracle of our State of Israel. And re-asserting the legitimacy of that state’s founding and very existence is the rst step in combating the demonization, discrimination and de-legitimization which is the new antisemitism.
Author of My Israel Trail: Finding Peace in the Holy Land (www.myisraeltrail.com), Aryeh Green has an extensive background in the public & private sectors and was a senior advisor to Minister Natan Sharansky. He is an inspiring speaker with unique perspectives on Israel and Jewish issues. For more information on Aryeh Green, see: