September 23, 2019

The World Has No Memory

This is a slightly abridged version of an address delivered to a crowd of 2,000 people at a rally for Israel at the Milken Jewish Community Center, April 16, 2002

I want to talk to the children tonight, because I’m concerned for your faith.

You’ve heard that we are aggressors – savagely invading, occupying, opressing a sovereign people.

You’ve heard we have brutally destroyed their cities and towns, their homes and shops, desecrating holy places, turning once-thriving centers of life into fields of destruction and death.

You’ve heard that we have committed atrocity; that we have massacred hundreds of innocents, bulldozed living people into rubble, shot pregnant women and little children, halted ambulances from attending to the wounded. They say we’ve even prevented the burial of their dead. And when we did bury the dead, it was only to cover up the mass murder.

And it seems that everyone says it. You hear it on CNN and ABC and NPR, you read it in the LA Times, you hear it from world leaders and organizations devoted to humanitarian causes.

The Portuguese Nobel Laureate, Jose Saramago, visited the West Bank and declared that “what is happening here is a crime that may be compared to Auschwitz.”

The LA Times published front-page articles describing the wanton destruction and ruthless mass murder carried out by Israeli soldiers against Palestinian civilians in Nablus and Jenin. (You had to read to the fifth paragraph to discover that none of the reports were independently confirmed or verified.)

The annual session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, last week, condemned Israel for “mass killings” of Palestinians “gross violations” of humanitarian law” and affirmed the “legitimate right of Palestinian people to resist.”

You, our children, you hear these things, you read these things. You witness demonstrations on college campuses and in the great cities of the world. And you have to wonder: Is this the truth? What kind of people are we? What kind of society is Israel? What happened to the dream that once was Zionism?

Koffi Annan, the Secretary General of the United Nations, put it succinctly: “Is it possible,” he asked, “that Israel is right and the whole world is wrong?”

I want you to remember this night. For tonight, something extraordinary is happening. Tonight, we have come, your parents and grandparents, your rabbis and teachers, leaders from every corner of the Jewish community — Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, religious and secular, right-wing and left-wing, to say one thing to you: Is it possible that Israel is right and the whole world is wrong? You bet your life it is. It is true today and it has always been true.

Because the world has no memory.

They forget, but we remember. In 1947 the United Nations voted to partition Palestine and to create two states between the Jordan and the Mediterranean: One, the Jewish state of Israel. The other, a homeland for Palestinian Arabs. The Zionist leadership, the acting government of the Yishuv, accepted the plan. In 1947, we affirmed our desire to live in peace, side by side with a Palestinian State. But the armies of nine Arab states came pouring over the borders, to extinguish the nascent state of Israel. When a truce came, the territory for the Palestinian Arab state had been devoured by Egypt and Jordan.

They forget, but we remember that thousands of Palestinian Arabs fled in the face of that Arab invasion. But when they reached the borders of Jordan and Egypt, they were not permitted to enter. Israel, tiny beleaguered Israel, managed to absorb and settle millions of Jewish refugees from Europe and the Middle East. But the entire Arab League and all 26 Muslim nations, with all their oil wealth, couldn’t find room their poor Palestinian brothers and sisters – and left them to rot in squalid refugee camps, festering in hatred and rage.

The world forgets, but we remember when they came across our border to murder and to destroy. We remember 1948, 1967, 1973. We remember the Olympics in Munich and the school in Ma’alot.

And we remember that when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat came to Jerusalem, Israel dismantled settlements, and relocated whole cities, and gave Egypt back the entire Sinai, in return for peace.

We remember Yitzhak Rabin and his dream. And we remember that his protege, Ehud Barak went to Camp David and then to Taba, and offered, for the second time in 50 years, to create a Palestinian State, comprised of 97% of the West Bank and all of Gaza with sovereignty over half of Jerusalem including the Temple Mount, and billions in world economic aid. And we remember the answer.

They forget, but we remember, just months ago, a bomber in the Dolphinarium Disco in Tel Aviv killed 21 teens. And what did we do in retaliation, what did we hit? Nothing. We practiced restraint. And months later when another bomber destroyed Sbarro’s Pizza and dozens more were killed. What was our retaliation? Nothing. And the Bat Mitzvah in Hadera the mall in Netanya, the cafes in Jerusalem, Afula and Haifa – we retaliated by destroying buildings. Empty buildings.

Then came Pesach. This year, the Angel of Death did not pass over. Whole families were murdered at the Seder table. But even now, do we bomb from the air? Risk hitting hospitals and schools and embassies like America did in Bosnia and Afganistan? No. We send our kids through the alleyways and byways – to face booby traps and snipers and mines.

Tonight, your parents and grandparents, your rabbis and teachers have gathered to testify that the whole world is wrong and Israel is right. And we will not apologize for doing what’s right – for defending our children from murderers.

We mourn for innocents, Palestinian and Israeli, who are caught in the struggle. We take no pleasure in the suffering of any human being, but we will not apologize for taking steps to survive in a vicious corner of the world so mesmerized by murder and blood, they dance and sing when their children blow themselves up. We will not apologize for demanding our land and our freedom and our security in this world. Jews no longer apologize for surviving.

You must not be apologetic for Israel or be ashamed of Israel. You must not be embarrassed by Israel or afraid to stand up for Israel.

And you must never, ever grow bitter, cynical or dark.

When the prophet Jeremiah witnessed the destruction of the holy city he loved, through his tears he wrote, “Never again will Jerusalem hear the sounds of joy and the voices of gladness.” The Rabbis who came generations later believed the prophet got it wrong. They believe we would one day return to Jerusalem. But only if we hold fast to hope and resist despair; only if we cling tightly to our dreams and refuse to surrender to bitterness. The Rabbis knew that the death of faith is a greater tragedy than the destruction of our city and the ruin of the Temple.

So they changed one word in the prophecy and bid us to sing of a time when once again the hills of Judah and the streets of Yerushalim will ring with the sounds of joy and celebration, with the music of love and melody of hope and the song of peace. May it be in your time.