Why I’m celebrating this Independence Day

Some say ignorance is bliss: I’d argue that ignorance inevitably leads to ineffable stupidity and embarrassment.

Avi Shimshi,

Illustration
Illustration
Nicky Kelvin/Flash 90

In an unprecedentedly bizarre UK story last week, Ken Livingstone (former Mayor of London and senior Labour Party MP) proclaimed that notorious murderer Adolf Hitler “supported Zionism” before he “went mad and killed 6 million Jews”. He also claimed that when elected in 1932, the fascist leader advocated deporting all of Germany’s Jews to Israel – 16 years before the State was created.

Livingstone’s remarks came following his defense of a Muslim Labour MP, who has previously shared several anti-Israel posts across her social media pages. Naz Shah shared a graphic showing the map of Israel superimposed onto an image of the US, which she captioned “problem solved”. Ms Shah has since made an unequivocal apology to the UK’s Jewish community: Mr Livingstone refuses to apologize for his virulently anti-Semitic comments, and insists that he is only telling the truth while everyone else is pandering to an “Israel lobby”.

Livingstone’s relentless anti-Semitic diatribe culminated in his suspension from the Labour Party. It seems to demonstrate the latest surge of Jew-hatred currently taking root and spreading its noxious boughs over Britain. Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu put it eloquently: “Nazi German rule was eliminated 71 years ago, but anti-Semitism and lies did not die with Hitler in that Berlin bunker”.

We live in a world where anti-Zionism is used as a thinly-veiled excuse for anti-Semitism. Where the only Middle Eastern country in which women have equal rights in every aspect of life is condemned for violating women’s rights. Where the UN’s double standards see any defensive action our government takes against terror as an attack against a marginalized minority. Where it has become acceptable to demonize and vilify a country and question its right to exist.

If there’s one thing that British politicians and UN resolutions are teaching us right now, it’s that we should be more thankful than ever for this wonderful country.

Sure, it’s not perfect. The roads need resurfacing, it costs a small fortune to fill up your gas tank, and no-one seems to remember how to use their indicators. Strikes last for months; offices still have fax machines. The postal system is dire, the bureaucracy’s a nightmare, and you’re likely to get a huge bill from your cell provider months after you thought you closed your contract. The natives will routinely serve chicken soup to vegetarians and grown men in uniform are often terrified of cats. When it rains, cities shut down; when it snows, the country comes to a standstill.

Sure it’s not perfect, but Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East. It invokes freedom of speech, religion, and expression.  It demands equal rights for everyone regardless of religion, gender, sexual orientation, skin color or any other social divider. It gives its poorest Olim the right to a free education, and its army has dedicated units for religious Jews, Druze and other minorities wishing to serve. It even allows those why decry, defame and despise the State to sit on its parliament. It doesn’t matter if you wear a headscarf or a hijab; a burka or a bekishe – you’re welcomed and protected in Israel.

Sure, it’s not perfect, but strangers leave chilled water and plastic cups outside their homes on hot Shabbat afternoons. Electronic bus signs read “Chag Sameach” around festivals. National holidays are synonymous with long mornings hiking and lazy afternoons barbequing; your neighbor always drops in a package of cookies when she’s been baking; store owners set up tabs for families who can’t pay but need to eat. Impromptu flower stalls appear on Friday mornings and sweet floral scents mingle with the fragrance of fresh challah across the city center. No-one leaves the synagogue on Friday evening without a Shabbat meal to attend. Arguing is a national pastime. Ancient ruins lay under every building, so we literally walks in our ancestors’ footsteps. Israel sure isn’t perfect, but it’s the closest thing I’ve found.

We’re in one of the most poignant times in the Jewish calendar. Last week, we commemorated millions of Holocaust victims; stood in silence and recalled the blood-soaked horrors of our people’s past. This week, we will once again stand in silence, cloaked in grief and choking on tears, and mourn the 23418 people who have given their lives in our State’s name. And then comes Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. The Israeli flag will fly high across Jewish schools and synagogues across the world, kids will dress in blue and white, and parties and parades will fill our buildings with dance and music and joy. We will stand tall and proud and united: one nation with one land, and we will celebrate Zionism.




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