(January 15, 2020 / JNS) My first visit to Israel was incredible. It was a privilege to visit America’s closest ally in the Middle East as part of a delegation of state legislators from around the country. It was amazing to be able to meet with government officials, learn about the security situation facing Israel, see some of the history of Israel and the Jewish people first-hand, and learn more about the challenges Israel faces from the reprehensible BDS movement.
The meetings with government officials on the trip were an invaluable aid in learning about Israel. It was a privilege to be able to meet with Ambassador David Friedman and members of the Israeli Knesset. Their perspective on current events in the Middle East and Israel was informative.
Learning about Israel’s security situation was an extremely moving part of the trip. Our delegation visited Sderot, a city in Israel that is on the border with Gaza and is constantly under rocket attacks from Hamas. In Sderot, there are bomb shelters everywhere, even on playgrounds.
It was shocking to hear that a person in Sderot has 15 seconds from when a rocket siren sounds to take cover. As a parent, I cannot imagine driving somewhere when the siren is going off and having to get my family out of the car and to a bomb shelter in 15 seconds. I also took a tour of one of the terror tunnels that Hamas dug to attack Israel. My tour of Sderot reaffirmed my belief that Hamas is a terrorist organization, and that there is no moral equivalence between the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas.
Our delegation also visited the Golan Heights, a strategically important piece of high ground that overlooks both Syria and Israeli communities in the Galilee. Before Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967, the Syrian army used to shell Israeli farmers with artillery. Israel has received international pressure to “return the Golan Heights to Syria.” After standing on this strategic high ground, I understand why Israel is adamant about maintaining its presence there. From where I was standing, I could see the Syrian civil war raging between different terrorist factions. Imagine if Islamic State or Hezbollah was on top of the Golan Heights instead of the IDF. It would be frightening.
Seeing the history of Israel up close was eye-opening. It’s one thing to hear that the Jewish people have thousands of years of connection to the land of Israel, but it’s another thing to see it first-hand. During the trip we took a tour of the City of David. The City of David is tangible evidence of Jewish history during the time of the Second Temple. We walked on the foundation of what they believe was the palace of King David. We also saw the base of Pilgrimage Road and the Pool of Shiloah. The fact that the United Nations continues to try to erase the Jewish connection to Israel is not only morally reprehensible, it is also an affront to thousands of years of archaeological history that proves the Jewish people’s connection to the land of Israel.
Our delegation also visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum and memorial. It was sobering and frightening to learn about how the Nazis were able to combine their rabid anti-Semitism with the world’s indifference in order to perpetrate one of the worst genocides in human history. Especially now with the resurgence of anti-Semitism, the Holocaust serves as a sobering lesson that teaches us that we must aggressively confront and defeat anti-Semitism. We must not be silent.
We also learned about the BDS movement, the purpose of which is to destroy the State of Israel through economic warfare. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it best: “BDS should stand for bigotry, dishonesty and shame.”
I visited the so-called “apartheid wall” that these BDS activists continuously refer to. The security fence is a necessary measure to protect Israeli citizens from terrorism and was built in response to suicide bombers who were blowing up supermarkets, shopping malls and pizza parlors. Israel has a right and obligation to protect its citizens.
I also visited a winery in the Golan Heights and learned about the European Union’s attempt to label products made over the so-called “Green Line” as “settlement products.” The E.U. court’s ruling is also nothing short of an embrace of the BDS movement and a signal that Europe is willing to tolerate anti-Semitism.
I am proud that states like Florida are on the front lines of fighting anti-Semitism and supporting Israel. In response to the uptick in anti-Semitic attacks, the Florida legislature created a state fund that awards security grants to Jewish day schools. Florida also passed the toughest anti-BDS law in the country, which Governor Ron DeSantis enforced, causing Airbnb to reverse its policy of delisting Jewish homes in Judea and Samaria. As a state lawmaker, I look forward to finding ways to strengthen Florida’s relationship with Israel and fight anti-Semitism.
Jason Fischer serves portions of southern Duval County in the Florida House of Representatives. A Jacksonville native, Jason resides in Mandarin with his wife, Melinda, and their three young sons.
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