It’s reassuring to smell cowardice in opponents, but depressing to see it in friends: the quivering lips, the darting eyes, the sweaty palms. Alas, many American Jews are emitting the stink of the scaredycat these days. Too many are dodging the upcoming fiftieth anniversary of the Six Day War, and especially of Jerusalem’s reunification – or burdening what should be festive celebrations with craven equivocations and politically correct genuflections about Palestinian suffering that obscure Israel’s extraordinary June 1967 triumph.
Seeking to avoid war is noble; apologizing for winning is disgraceful. I am proud that Jews sing songs of peace, crave reconciliation and regret killing. However, true peaceniks are realistic optimists, not naïve masochists.
Had Israel lost in 1967 there would be no Israel.
“Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel,” Egypt’s dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser vowed that May. Those were the stakes: Jewish women would have been raped then slaughtered; Jewish men would have been tortured then butchered. Jerusalem would sit atop one more layer of ruins – from the 19-year failed Jewish state. Tel Aviv would be a mass tombstone, reduced to rubble like the Jewish towns Palestinian radicals destroyed after the 2005 Gaza Disengagement, but this time with corpses rotting underneath.
In 1967, barely 22 years since the Nazis had finished transforming their rantings into mass murder, every reasonable person had to take the Arabs’ genocidal threats seriously. That is why Israel had young recruits digging mass graves in Tel Aviv. And that is why American Jews finally, belatedly, rallied around their homeland, under the gun, that May.
And while Palestinians masquerade as victims, having convinced many that the Palestinian problem began when Israel won in 1967, consider two inconvenient truths. The PLO began three years before the Six Day War, in 1964, demanding Palestine’s complete “liberation,” defining the land as an “indivisible territorial unit,” and negating Zionism, rejecting all “claims of historic and spiritual ties between Jews and Palestine.” Furthermore, the PLO’s founding chairman, Ahmad Shukeiri, joined the bloodthirsty chorus that stressful spring of ’67, calling the upcoming war “a fight for the homeland – it is either us or the Israelis. There is no middle road.”
Beyond authoritatively teaching that losing would have annihilated Israel, history suggests that if Israel had not won decisively, Palestinians and the international community today would demand territory from within the pre-1967 borders.
In 1967, while the Arab defeat calmed Jews and freedom- lovers worldwide, Jerusalem’s liberation and reunification unleashed a euphoria worth replicating when celebrating today. The secular Israeli commander Motta Gur’s redemptive declaration – “the Temple Mount is in our hands” – united religious and secular Jews thrilled that Israelis were healing Jewish history’s great traumas – the Second Temple’s destruction, millennia of persecution, millions slaughtered in our powerlessness.
When the army’s chief rabbi, Shlomo Goren, blew his shofar by the Western Wall, that piercing sound stirred Jews who hadn’t realize how much they cared about Israel – and supported Israel enthusiastically ever after. When the IDF showed how the Jordanians trashed the Old City’s synagogues, Jews appreciated the victory even more – reminded again what could have happened. And when those gruff kibbutznikim who killed in the Golan Heights, bled in the Sinai, cried at the Wall and mingled delight in the victory with sadness at being forced to kill, Jews toasted their humanity.
Those kibbutznikim in that now-classic book The Seventh Day teach us how to approach this anniversary. Rejoice unabashedly. Then, the day after, redouble efforts for a secure lasting peace so Jews in the future don’t dodge celebrating everything those significant six days accomplished. In that spirit, my Jerusalem Day bash won’t bash others: I won’t intimidate our neighbors by marching in east Jerusalem through Arab neighborhoods. But I will never dishonor the memory of nearly 800 Israeli soldiers who died in 1967 by seeking refuge in Tel Aviv that day to mourn Israel’s necessary victory.
This transcends Left and Right. If Americans can celebrate crushing Japan in World War II, despite moral qualms about dropping the second atomic bomb, can’t Jews celebrate Israel’s victory, knowing war is hell but winning beats losing, especially in this case? And if Jews – Left to Right – can celebrate deliverance from Egyptian slavery with four cups of wine versus only 10 drops spilled for the Egyptians, shouldn’t joy in the 1967 deliverance from mass Arab murder be celebrated in even greater proportion?
AFTER JUNE 1967, Jews thronged to Jerusalem, ascending, relishing the aftermath, this bizarre, then-novel phenomenon of happy, proud, strong, successful Jews. The great Jewish liberal Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., captured American Jews’ mood. “The major weakness was to take the State of Israel for granted, to cease to wonder at the marvel of its sheer being,” he wrote. “We forgot the awful pangs of birth, the holiness of the deed, the dedication of the spirit. We saw the [Tel Aviv] Hilton and forgot Tel Hai.”
Too many American Jews take Israel for granted today. Looking toward this meaningful milestone, can’t we try, for once, to appreciate Israel because of a happy event, not a trauma; can’t we embrace the Jewish state out of love, not dread? We must be brave enough to cheer this victory, understanding that Israel deserves a Jerusalem “Jew-bilee” jamboree – and that our enemies are more likely to respect us and even compromise when we are resolute – not wimpy.