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Netanyahu Provides Hope for Jews

PERSPECTIVES

By Justin C. Danilewitz

What struck me so powerfully during my recent visit to Israel was not the average Israeli's preoccupation with the future of the "peace process," but rather an issue which, for the Jewish people at least, is perhaps of even greater importance to Israelis and Jews throughout the Diaspora--the reconciliation between secular and more observant Israeli Jews.

During his inaugural address, the newly elected prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu stated that Israelis must first achieve peace at home before continuing negotiations with their neighbors. Netanyahu was alluding to the deep divisions in Israeli society in the wake of the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

A direct result of the assassin's actions was to spotlight a rift that has existed in the ranks of the Jews for at least as long as the beginning of the current century, if not much earlier. The act of the assassin was shocking not because Jews never knew that such fierce differences existed within our own community, but that they could ever take on such vicious expression.

The track upon which Israelis were headed until Netanyahu's election was fraught with dangers beyond the misguided concept of trading land for peace. Along with the price of giving up their land, Israelis in major cities are becoming increasingly secular and irreligious. Netanyahu's promises to end the sale of cheeseburgers, ham and pork, all of which are in strict violation of Jewish dietary laws, are sure to assist in the reunification of a country divided.

As Netanyahu makes needed changes in the influence of the Jewish religion in public life, religious minorities in the State of Israel will continue to be granted complete religious equality and freedom of practice.

This has always been a right extended to followers of other religions as long as Israel has been under Jewish control.

On two other highly important issues, security and the status of Israel's capital city of Jerusalem, Netanyahu's agenda has been very clear. Speaking before a joint session of the U.S. Congress last week, Netanyahu recalled a period during his early childhood when he and other Jewish Israelis were denied access to parts of their capital by barbed wire strung through the heart of the city. Netanyahu received a standing ovation in response to his promise that Jerusalem will forever remain the undivided capital city of the Jewish homeland. We can rest assured that here, too, Netanyahu will make good upon his promise.

British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind is fond of comparing the conflict over security to the "Chicken or the Egg" paradox. For Netanyahu, though, there is simply no disputing whether peace or security must come first. Netanyahu makes the compelling argument that the only peace that can ever be honored, the only "just and lasting peace" or "peace of the brave" is a peace that is premised first and foremost on security. If the previous government's philosophy was "peace is our only security," Netanyahu can be relied upon to demonstrate that Israeli hopes for peace depend upon security first. The philosophy of the current government is likely to become "security is our only peace."

It is ironic, but perhaps not coincidental, that the year of Netanyahu's election marks the 100th anniversary of the first publication of The Jewish State by Theodore Herzl, the father of Zionism.

Originally published in pamphlet form, The Jewish State acted as the blueprint for Jewish renewal and cultivation in Israel while Jews were still being persecuted throughout Europe. The Jewish State promised independence and sovereignty as well as an end to dependence upon inhospitable hosts for all Jews that were willing to make Aliyah (immigrate) to Israel and work hard at revitalizing the land that had become stagnant since their expulsion from it thousands of years before. Netanyahu's election promises revitalization and reunification of a different sought for the grandchildren of Herzl's generation.

The recent election proved what many have surmised since the beginning of the "peace process" in Madrid three years ago. The Israelis are justifiably weary about giving up vital land areas since the first round of negotiations. What we never knew during the governments of Rabin and Peres was exactly how great the opposition was. The cloak of secrecy was tightened by the lack of any referendum to determine support for their policies. Rabin's senseless assassination might even have been averted if his cabinet had ever had the good sense to assess the true opinion of the average Israeli on the direction of the peace process rather than simply guessing it.

The last election was the first national referendum on the process since the self-anointed, media-appointed "peacemakers" foisted their own brand of "peace" upon a people that understandably had many second thoughts about giving up what millions of them have died for over the course of so many centuries.

Plainly and simply, Rabin and Peres' peace process was doomed to failure from the outset because it was designed and implemented without the consent of their governed. Netanyahu's election was the litmus test for the process, and by all indications, the true mandate of the people has finally triumphed.

In his address to Congress, Netanyahu also drew attention to the success rate of the peace process since its first aspects were put into practice. Netanyahu said that more people have been killed in Israel in the past three years during the "peace" process than in the entire previous decade. What kind of a peace was this?

As Netanyahu said himself before Congress, "Peace means the absence of violence." A piece of paper with Yasser Arafat's signed pledge officially guaranteeing Israelis peace very quickly loses all relevance when Syrian- and Iranian-backed Palestinians launch themselves as human missiles in suicide missions. What sort of negotiations can be entered into with individuals that have no respect for their own lives let alone those of the Israelis? As Netanyahu said, "Peace without personal safety is a contradiction in terms.... It is a hoax."

These unofficial acts of war quietly endorsed by Iran and Syria, among others, seem to have been left out of the calculations of the peacemakers. The dormant state of war which continually exists between Israel and its neighbors is now much less of a threat than it once was to the fledgling Jewish State. What is the commitment to peace worth if the negotiating partners are unwilling or unable to control terrorists operating from their borders, as in the case of Lebanon and Syria?

One of the most poignant moments during my stay in Israel came during an afternoon on Tel Aviv beach. Walking up the beach towards my family I saw a group of Israeli toddlers building a sand castle with a colorful bucket and spade. Looking on protectively from a short distance was a much older man, likely a grandfather. On closer inspection I noticed upon the man's left arm the six tattooed digits which mark survivors of the Auschwitz concentration camp. I marveled at the juxtaposition of such stark contrasts which is so characteristic of the modern Israeli state. Could this man ever have conceived of this day 50 years ago? It was a simple picture I saw before me on a Tel Aviv beach that day, yet undoubtedly, its significance was lost upon the vast majority of other bathers. The message I took away from the afternoon was of the resiliency of the Jewish people. Whether or not Netanyahu's attempts to bring a secure peace to Israel are fruitful, life in Israel and for Jews the world over will continue. History teaches us that the continued existence of the Jews as it was ordained so many thousands of years ago cannot be reversed by a single election.

Contrary to the doom and gloom prophesied by the traditional pessimists, what I witnessed firsthand during my short stay in the Holy Land revitalized my own hopes for the future. The smiling faces of Israeli children on beaches their parents defend hourly belie the ominous predictions of out-of-touch journalists. Netanyahu's victory was a victory for anyone who has chosen to put their faith in security as the most important stepping stone to lasting peace and sovereignty not just for Israelis, but for all peoples in the Middle East. Netanyahu gives us faith that a new generation of Israeli-born Zionists will continue the legacy left by the Chalutzim. The far more realistic Likud party is committed to continuing their farming with a plow in one hand and, only if necessary, an Uzi in the other until the conditions of mutual respect are realized by all other Arab countries.

It is high time for the Syrians, the Iranians, the Lebanese and all others who continue to deny Israel's right to exist to accept the Israelis' sensible precondition to security. Anything less is guaranteed to catapult the Arab countries back into the center of a downward spiral into poverty, despair and hopelessness. I am tremendously encouraged by the opening gambit of the Netanyahu camp. Time will tell whether Assad and company will grasp an outstretched, yet protected, hand.

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