This week, Jews around the world celebrate the holiday of Hanukkah. This story of heroism and victory took place in Israel more than 2170 years ago. It’s a triple story.
On one level, it tells of a powerful nation occupying and oppressing Israel’s Jewish population—and how Jews resisted that oppression. It is a story of fighting for freedom. It thrills Jews everywhere because this war was fought by brave, out-numbered fighters who struggled against all odds and then, miraculously, won. They made the impossible possible. They attained the unattainable. They achieved the unforeseeable—independence.
On a second level, this is the story of a religion facing obliteration. We see a nation struggling against those who would erase Judaism. We see Jews who believe in their Torah opposing Jews who have rejected that Torah. It is a tale of religious conflict against anti-Jewish Jews who chose Greek humanism over Judaism, just as it is the story of military battle against a brutal occupier.
On the third level, we see a tale of religious nationalism. Here, religion becomes the national rallying cry for public action, where citizens rally around G-d, not self-interest. The miracle takes place in the Holy Temple, which is the core of the Jewish religion and the central focus of the Jewish state. The Temple had been violated, desecrated and left abandoned. But as the story ends, the Maccabees have beaten their enemy and restored both Temple and national sovereignty.
We celebrate all of this at Hanukkah.
It’s a great story. But for many Jews around the world—including some in Israel—this is not the real one.
For these Jews, the real Hanukkah is also about a population that resists a brutal oppressor; and, like the original, it is called a struggle for freedom. In this story, the oppressor crushes. The oppressed fight back. Like the original, this story takes place in Israel. It even includes Jews. But in this Hanukkah story, Jews are not the heroes. They are the hated oppressors.
For some Jews, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the new mad King Antiochus who kills and maims with impunity; and so, inspired perhaps by the first Hanukkah story, these Jews join with those who hate Israel. They believe that Maccabees are not Jews of old but modern Muslims.
You may know some of these Jews. They could include Richard Falk, Norman Finklestein, Noam Chomsky and 400 Reform Rabbis in America who, last year, signed a public letter demanding that Israel capitulate to Arab demands even though those Arabs have Charters that call for the destruction of Israel.
On Hanukkah, we celebrate a miracle by lighting candles for eight consecutive nights. That miracle is about a flask, containing enough oil for only one night’s light in the Temple’s menorah, lasting eight days. It is a miracle of Light that reminds us that the impossible can be possible and the unattainable can be attainable.
Richard Falk, UN Special Rapporteur for Palestinian Human Rights, is a Jew who fights against Israel. He appears to understand the Hanukkah miracle. He may have hinted at it in an essay in Al Jazeera English, on November 24, 2012 (‘Welcoming the Gaza ceasefire: first impressions’). There, he spoke of the difficulties facing his beloved Palestinians as they struggle against an Israel he calls a brutal, ultra-modern killing machine. In this essay, he fears that an independent and free Palestine ‘may be only wishful thinking.’
But after saying that, he seems to turn to the Hanukkah story, with its miracle of possibility. He declares that history has shown over and over again that the ‘impossible’ is possible. The unattainable is attainable. Oppressed people can achieve the unforeseeable.
Apparently, Mr Falk’s Hanukkah is about Palestinians. But if you read the Hamas and PLO/Fatah Charters, you’ll see that it does not allow for the survival of Jewish Israel. It describes the destruction of Jewish Israel.
It’s the wrong Hanukkah.
But even if Mr Falk’s reference was not deliberate, its introduction into the Arab-Israel conflict teaches us that Hanukkah is indeed relevant today. He reminds us that, on this Hanukkah, Israel faces a threat that is as real today as it had been some 2175 years ago:
On December 8, 2012, just as this year’s Chanukah was about to begin, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal spoke in Arabic at a rally in Gaza, where AFP news service reported that he repeated once again what Hamas has always said: “Palestine is our land and nation from the (Mediterranean) sea to the (Jordan) river, from north to south, and we cannot cede an inch or any part of it.”
That description of Palestine includes all modern Israel. The new Arab Palestine, in other words, is not to stand beside Israel; it is to replace Israel.
For Palestine to be free, Israel must disappear.
Richard Falk employs his Hanukkah metaphor to express his hope for that Palestine.
But by linking the Arab-Israel conflict to Hanukkah, he teaches us that, as in the first story, Israel must fight to survive. His Hanukkah reference also reminds us that the true miracle was not simply survival. It was also the restoration of our Holy Temple on its Temple Mount—which Muslims now control and refuse to return.
When Richard Falk introduces Hanukkah into the Arab-Israel conflict, he unwittingly introduces the true dual messages of Hanukkah: Israel can survive—and, yes, we can restore our Holy Temple.
Thanks, Mr Falk. We’ll remember your lesson.