The modern State of Israel is celebrating its 74th year of miraculous, incredible, independence. And this year, Israel is celebrating with an unprecedented number of new, regional allies.
What exactly does it mean to celebrate independence? What are we celebrating? We take a day off in gratitude for having a Jewish state—one with sovereign rights to protect our citizens.
This is what sets Israel’s Independence Day apart from celebrations in most countries and perhaps hits home more this year than any other.
While it is true that Israel now has an alliance and truly peaceful relationship with new Middle East partners, we also find ourselves fielding more criticism than ever over the way in which we maintain peace and security for our citizens. When Israel must endure attacks on Jews attempting to worship, our allies—and the world—must respect our right to decide how and when to protect our own citizens to ensure that we live in peace and security.
Those willing to acknowledge the truth rather than regurgitate “the narrative” know full well that since Israel reunited Jerusalem in 1967, it has since become the only time in modern history that full freedom of worship exists for the world’s religions.
We recently witnessed a spate of brazen attacks in Jerusalem’s Old City—just streets away from the Aish World Center—that specifically targeted religious Jews on their way to worship. In the past month, 15 innocent people were killed in Arab terror attacks in one of the worst waves of violence in years. The recent police response to violence on the Temple Mount was a necessary response to the highly orchestrated and premeditated attacks on worshippers at the Western Wall, as proven by videos of rioters camping out in the mosque, stockpiling rocks and even wearing shoes in desecration of their own holy place. Providing security for the Temple Mount compound, including its walls and gates, is carried out according to the original 1967 agreement between the Israeli government and the Islamic Waqf, Jordan’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Holy Places. Yet even our newest “allies felt compelled to make official statements criticizing Israel in a knee-jerk reaction without first checking the facts.
The independence we celebrate is self-rule. This means looking out for ourselves, governing ourselves, and yes, protecting our citizens at all costs. Independence means not bending to the will of distorted public opinion that creates a through-the-looking-glass version of reality that has a far more serious impact than creating world opinion.
What concerns us, first and foremost, is the impact these distortions have on young Jewish adults around the world, whether on hostile college campuses and at everyday workplaces. This misinformation leaves them speechless because they lack the basic background and history to know that Israel is simply defending itself with restraint and justice. Sadly, these young Jews feel that attacks on Jews for perceived moral failings are somehow justified. They can’t defend what Israel is doing because they all too often simply swallow whole propaganda that is not based on fact.
As a people, we have come to tolerate a certain level of judgment and scorn from those who claim allegiance and friendship to the Jewish nation. No, we cannot control what our enemies say in the media. We can, however, decide our level of tolerance to slander as individuals, communities and as a nation, especially from those with whom Israel has peace.
Timeless Jewish wisdom teaches that slander is akin to murder because of its devastating, destructive power. We are commanded not to stand “in the blood of our brother.” This means that a passive innocent bystander is not actually considered innocent but is complicit in the harm that befalls those he/she did not help. So, too, each of us must take personal responsibility for the permanent destruction the slander of Israel causes and never remain a bystander.
How do we assert our independence and remind the world that sovereignty means Israel decides what is best for Israel? How do we assert—and celebrate—our independence by standing up and insisting that we be given the same room for decision-making other nations enjoy?
It starts with education. We can write to politicians, and we can shout on social media. The outcry is important, albeit reactive. Our first steps must begin at home, for every Jew and every Jewish family. When we invest time to understand the importance and centrality of the Land of Israel to the people of Israel, and what it means to have the right to self-defense; when we understand that the approval of the outside world is less important than remaining steadfastly guided by what the Almighty wants from us; only then can we stand up with pride to the insidious attackers who will only be happy when we allow Jews to be murdered for expressing their Jewishness.
Every Jew has the right to self-defense—to protect their life and the lives of the Jewish community. This can only be guaranteed in the Jewish state, even if there will always be those who will do everything in their power to teach the world that Jews do not have or deserve that right. We are reminded of this fact every year at our Passover seder: B’chol dor v’dor, omdim alenu l’chaloteinu—“in each and every generation, there are those who are dedicated to our destruction.”
Celebrating Israeli independence means standing up with knowledge and pride, and the power that comes from it. It means saying that we will always secure the right for Jews to live and worship freely in our homeland: the Land of Israel.
Rabbi Steven Burg is the CEO of Aish and also serves on the board of governors of the Jewish Agency.