Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, raises
some fundamental questions about the scapegoating and demonisation
of Israel in his 'Yom Ha'atzmaut' address, delivered 11th
May 2005, at Finchley Synagogue
For more than 2000 years the Jewish calendar
went without significant addition, whether of new Holy days
or new fast days, whether of remembrances of grief or of
Four new days have been added, all in the period of Sefirat
Ha'Omer, between Pesach and Shavuot, between the Exodus
and revelation - two days of grief, two days of joy; Yom
Hashoah and Yom Hazikaron on the one hand, Yom Ha'atzmaut
and Yom Yerushalayim on the other.
The American writer Milton Himmelfarb once said that we
are a tiny people, but great things seem to happen around
us and to us. Already before the 20th century Jewish history
was recognised as unique: by Pascal, Jean-Jacques Rousseau
and Tolstoy. Little could they have known that some of the
most dramatic of all chapters of Jewish history were yet
to be written: the Shoah, the attempt once and for all to
silence the Jewish voice and eliminate the Jewish presence.
Rachmanah litzlan, from the face of the earth.
Yom Hazikaron, when we remember those who fell in Israel's
defence as they discovered that the Jewish people still
has to fight for the right to be, to exist, to have one
place on earth where we can defend ourselves.
Yet out of the very depths of those very tragedies came
two of the greatest moments in 2000 years of history, Yom
Ha'atzmaut - the restoration of Jewish sovereignty after
1900 years, and Yom Yerushalayim, the return to the ancient
and holy city, Jerusalem, home of the Jewish heart, focus
of all our prayers, embodiment of all our hopes.
Yet Israel is again under attack, after four years of a
savage, ceaseless, brutal terror.
At the very moment that terror is being contained, Israel
is facing a new attack - a systematic campaign of delegitimization
and demonisation among the media, non-governmental organisations,
university teachers, and perhaps even among the churches
- as if the cause of peace, or justice, or reconciliation,
or coexistence were served by listening to only one voice
in the conversation, only one side, the other side, in the
No-one summed up the irony of our present situation better
than the Israeli writer Amos Oz. "In the 1930s our
enemies said: Jews to Palestine. Now they say: Jews out
of Palestine. They don't want us to be here. They don't
want us to be there. They don't want us to be."
Why, after 57 years and more of seeking peace, is Israel
still seen as the aggressor?
Why, after ten years of negotiation, in which the Palestinians
were offered their own state in all of Gaza, 97% of the
West Bank, with a capital in East Jerusalem, is Israel still
seen as the sole obstacle to peace?
Why, in a world in which there are 57 Islamic states and
something like 100 Christian ones, is the desire of the
Jewish people to have just one state of its own seen as
- God forbid - racist or exclusionary?
Why, when Israel occupies a quarter of one percent of the
land mass of the Arab world, is it deemed to be Goliath
Why, alone among the almost 200 nations that comprise the
United Nations, is Israel the only one whose very right
to be is still called into question?
Why is the Israel- Palestinian conflict seen by one European
public after another as the greatest threat to world peace,
when anyone with the most rudimentary understanding of the
contemporary world knows full well that were - God forbid
a million times -Israel to cease to be, not one of those
problems of the world would be changed by a millimetre.
There would still be conflict in Kashmir, Chechnya, Bosnia,
Kosovo, Indonesia, the Philippines, China, Sudan, Algeria,
and Zimbabwe. There would still be global warming, poverty,
illiteracy, disease. Most people of the world would still
be deprived of the most basic freedoms and human rights.
All that would have happened is that the bravest experiment
of modern times - the introduction of freedom and democracy
into a corner of the Middle East - would have failed, and
with it the hopes of many peoples, not just our own.
Why is Israel blamed for almost every problem affecting
the 21st century? Why is Israel held up as the explanation
for the underachievement, inequality, and lack of human
rights in other countries? This afternoon I attended the
service of remembrance for the victims of the Tsunami. with
its devastating loss of life throughout the Indian Ocean.
The Tsunami. A tidal wave. I thought, here was a disaster
for which Israel could not be blamed. I was wrong. Within
days a religious teacher, in another part of the world,
let it be known that the Tsunami was caused by Israel's
programme of nuclear testing. When it comes to hate, the
capacity for self-delusion knows no bounds.
Why, when the whole history of the 20th century tells us
what happens when hate is unchecked, when lies are told
in the media as truth - as they were in the case of Jenin
-when universities discriminate against this or that one,
we know what happens at the end of that path that begins
that way. Why do these things still happen?
Do we still - after 60 years of Holocaust education, 60
years of anti-racist legislation, 60 years of inter-faith
activity - have to defend the right of the Jewish people
All too often, in defence of Israel against defamation,
we, the Jewish people have had to stand alone. No people
should be left to face hate alone. As Martin Luther King
said, "In the end we will remember, not the words of
our enemies but the silence of our friends."
Ki sarita im elokim ve'im anashim vetuchal
You shall be called Israel, for you have wrestled with God
and with men.
Consider the five overriding problems that will face all
humanity in the 21st century:
First, the environment: Israel was the first country in
the modern world to plant trees, not cut them down, to reforest
not deforest. Long before ecology had entered the moral
imagination, the Jewish people were turning a land that
for centuries lay desolate into a fertile landscape of farms
and forests and fields.
Problem Two: Asylum seekers: Israel is the only country
other than the United States built out of asylum seekers.
They came from 103 different countries, speaking 82 different
languages, and out of that global mixture of refugees a
great nation was born.
Terror: Israel's security fence, so often described as
a wall, is the only effective non-violent protection against
terror yet devised in this age of global terror.
Fourth, economic divisions: according to Harvard University's
Professor of Economic History, David Landes, only one country
in the world has moved in 50 years from being a third world
economy to a first world economy: and that is Israel.
And fifthly and lastly, democratic freedom: Not only is
Israel the only genuine democracy in the Middle East, but
it has sustained its democratic freedoms under strains and
stresses that would have broken the back of weaker cultures.
If there were justice in the world, Israel, a tiny country
of indomitable courage, would be seen as the role model
among the nations, not the pariah among the nations.
Ki sarita im elokim ve'im anashim vetuchal
The struggle continues and is part of what it means to
be a Jew.
Yet today, this evening is a religious moment, and of all
the words in the religious vocabulary of Am Yisrael and
Torat Yisrael the key one is the word emunah.
Emunah it is normally translated as faith, but it does not
mean faith. What it means is faithfulness, loyalty, not
walking away when times are tough. It means being steadfast
in our loyalty to our people and our land, the home of all
our hopes, the place where long ago the Jewish people was
born on, and where, within living memory, it has been reborn.
Ve-erastich li be-emunah. We are betrothed to Israel in
unbreakable, unshakable loyalty. Nothing will stand between
Israel and our love.
Not for nothing were our people and land called Israel.
Throughout more than a hundred generations of our history,
we have known that to be a Jew involves struggle - sometimes
with our fellow human beings, sometimes with God, sometimes
with both. Yet in that very name, the name the State has
borne for fifty seven years, a momentous hope, a promise,
was born - that though the people Israel must struggle,
Vetuchal, it will always prevail. That, for the State of
Israel, on this its 57th birthday, is our faith and our
prayer. Israel is our hope, our people's freedom and our
And so it will be forever. Amen.
Chief Rabbi Sacks should not keep asking why the Jews are
suffering. I already told him the answer when he invited
me to his Succah 19 months ago.
Genesis records that when God saw the violence on the face
of the world at the end of the Ice Age, it repented Him
that he ever created Mankind. He offered the Torah to the
nations who all rejected it when they read the small print.
God then decided to offer it to the fledgling Jewish nation,
still in the pangs of birth. Flattered by the honour, the
Children of Israel did not bother to read the small print.
What was in the small print? The Chosen People have to
suffer for God the wickedness of mankind until the coming
of the Moshiach!
you would like to make any comments or contribute to The
Scribe please contact