Time magazine published a cover story last month called “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace.” As I read the article, I began to feel anger. I began to feel hurt. It was not because of the incorrect accusation that the State of Israel does not strive for peace. We have only to look at the evidence of the last 30 plus years – Israel reached out to seek peace with its neighbors (Egypt 1979, Jordan 1993) and Prime Minister Ehud Barak made a generous offer in 1999 to the leaders of the Palestinian Authority.
Also it was not the simplicity of this article presenting a narrow view (of just two) Israelis and the similarity to the stereotypical anti-Semitic caricature of the “greedy Jew” that stirred my anger.
After more than two years of shlichut, more than two years learning about the Jewish and wider community in North America, what angered me about this article was mainly the fact that as an Israeli I’m expected to apologize for living my life. The author expects Israelis to be ashamed of caring about their children’s education, health care, and the environment.
Israel has been living under attack for the last 62 years. We have lived through wars, we have known peace agreements, and we have grown used to attacks on our buses and in our homes. Not only have we survived, but Israel has become a successful, modern, advanced, high-tech country.
Should we apologize for the fact that most computers in use throughout the world use technology developed in Israel? Should we apologize for trying to develop an oil-independent transportation system that runs on electricity harnessed from the sun?
Of course Israel wants peace. Israelis yearn for the same levels of normality enjoyed by their North American Jewish cousins. Yet sadly, we have learned to live without peace. We are reminded even more of this yearning at the beginning of November as the anniversary – on the Gregorian calendar – of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination approaches.
Rabin strove to achieve peace for the State of Israel in his lifetime. Fifteen years later we are still striving to achieve that elusive peace, that level of normality other peoples and countries enjoy. Fifteen years later, Israeli society is still torn over deep-rooted and ideological differences about the nature of the Jewish state and its democratic character. Rabbi Donniel Hartmann writes in his Internet column that if Rabin’s death is to have significance for the people of Israel then his yahrzeit “must be a day in which we recommit to the deepest objectives that must stand at the foundation of our society, as outlined in our Declaration of Independence, to be a society ‘based on freedom, justice, and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.'”
I live my life as an Israeli; I am proud of the decision I made more than 20 years ago to make aliyah. I am proud that I, like many, am a personal example to others in my work as a pediatric oncology nurse. My wife and I strive to nurture and advance our family. We regard our children and their education as high priorities. I am proud of Israel, a democratic country that values a variety of perspectives and freedom of speech, a country surrounded by monarchies that prohibit even a shred of opposition. I have nothing to apologize for, especially on the anniversary of Rabin’s assassination.
Yitzhak Rabin’s legacy is that many Israelis still do hope for peace, do pray for it, but will not apologize for not delaying their lives for 62 years just to wait for peace. We have nothing to apologize for.
The speaker at this year’s Yitzhak Rabin Memorial Lecture organized by UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Israel Programs Center is Liel Lebovitz, a senior writer at the online magazine Tablet, and a co-author, with Todd Gitlin, of “The Chosen Peoples: America, Israel, and the Ordeals of Divine Election.” Leibovitz was standing 100 feet from Rabin when he was shot. The lecture, “The Way Out: Hope, Rage, Apathy, and the Future of the Jewish State,” will take place on Thursday, Nov. 4, at 7.30 p.m. at UJA-NNJ headquarters in Paramus and is free and open to the community.