Sarah N. Sternis the founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a think tank that specializes in the Middle East. She is the author of Saudi Arabia and the Global Terrorist Network (2011).
(JNS) Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, has always been a time of profound reflection and soul-searching. We delve deep into our hearts and try to discover what we might have possibly done wrong in our relationship with G-d or our fellow human beings, asking each for forgiveness.
During our liturgy, we beat our chests—not only for transgressions that we, ourselves, might have committed but for those that anyone within the Jewish community might possibly have committed as well. We do this so that no individual would ever feel singled out or embarrassed. It is written in that beautiful tract from Pirkei Avot (“Ethics of the Fathers”): “If you have embarrassed one person, it is tantamount to having murdered him.”
The task of internal introspection has been facilitated by my breaking of a leg, which has given me more than one moment for penetrating and painful introspection. I know that, like every one of us, I have plenty to work on personally, but as I do this, I look towards the State of Israel, which has suffered similar wounds this year. Some of them have been physical but many have been emotional and spiritual, and have eaten away at the very moral fiber of the state.
First the physical: In the first nine months of 2023, a renewed wave of violence has emerged in Israel snuffing out the lives of nearly 40 Israelis. While everyone knows the name of Shireen Abu Akleh, the American-Palestinian journalist who was killed when she put herself in the middle of a war zone in Jenin, who knows the names of 5-year-old Yaakov Paley or 8-year-old Asher Paley, who were killed in a terrorist attack while waiting for a bus in Ramot, an area of Jerusalem. Their father, Asher 43, also was critically injured in the attack.
Why is it that no one knows their names?
In 1993, after the Oslo Accords were signed, everyone knew the name of the first victim of Palestinian Arab terrorism, Nachshon Waxman. Now, with approximately 2,000 victims of terrorism, which some left-wing governments have had the gall to call Corbonot shel Shalom (“Sacrifices for Peace”), these names have been diminished into mere statistics. What happened to the Jewish value placed on the sanctity of human life?
The anonymity of Jewish death has been one of the first casualties of the Oslo Accords.
It is the emotional and the spiritual wounds that cut the deepest. As I write this, throngs of leftist expatriate Israelis, deluded leftist, Jewish Americans, as well as known Islamic and academic anti-Israel agitators are rallying in front of the New York City hotel where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are staying. They are crying “shame” and “democracy,” “apartheid state!” and chants of “From the River to the Sea, Palestine shall be free.” (Of course, leaving no room for Israel.) They are even unfurling the Palestinian Arab flag.
It is at this point where I would like to pay enormous tribute to the vice chairs of EMET’s board of directors: Lauri Regan, together with Sarri Singer, founder and director of “Strength to Strength”; Judy Friedman Kalish; Hillary Barr; and Meredith Weiss. These five women have worked vociferously over the past few days to establish a pro-Israel rally in support of the democratically elected government of Israel.
The reason the throngs of dissenters are here, of course, is because of the opening assembly of the U.N. General Assembly.
We do not see any Israeli expatriates, American Jewish leftists, academics or Islamists rallying in front of the hotel where Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has registered, despite the fact that his country is building up a nuclear arsenal that grows daily and threatens the very existence of Israel, a U.N. member state (which contravenes article 51 of the U.N. Charter.) And despite the fact that the Islamic Republic of Iran has arrested nearly 20,000 dissidents, has shot 500 and hung seven in the town’s square.
Why does no one demonstrate against Chinese Vice President Han Zeng, despite the fact that China has detained more than 1 million Uyghurs in “re-education camps” since 2017?
Why was no one demonstrating against Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as his nation continues to execute its brutal war, to devastate and bomb Ukraine?
One of the many tragedies of Oslo is that there has been a steady erosion of the soul of the Jewish state. This modern-day miracle that has overcome so much pain and suffering simply to exist not only in the 2,000 years of our anguishing exile, but since its very creation in 1948 has become a dynamic, energetic and powerful place. A place where every time I walk into a hospital waiting room or into a mall, I see Arab women in their hijabs and Arab men in their keffiyehs, being serviced with the same respect and dignity as anyone else.
There is something within the Jewish soul that has always debating from within. Ever since the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai, we have taken a dialectical approach, where we argue vociferously in search of the correct path.
It has made for a vociferous people.
My prayer for Yom Kippur 5784 is a simple one: That we, as a people, finally wake up and see the big picture; that we understand that the consistent evil intentions of our enemies are much more lethal to our existence than anything that can possibly divide us. And that we are able to understand and appreciate the modern-day blessing of the miraculous survival of the State of Israel—a blessing that our ancestors would have sacrificed their very lives for and that the brave members of today’s Israel Defense Forces are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for.
Not to appreciate this is the ultimate sin we should be pounding our chests over.