Opinion

A Crucial Election in Israel

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Posted: Apr 19, 2019 12:01 AM
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A Crucial Election in Israel

Source: AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, Pool

Benjamin Netanyahu won his fifth term as prime minister of Israel. He's not the most beloved in the pantheon of Israeli leaders. As a patriarch, he has no aura. In this re-election he was haunted by allegations of corruption, and his political rhetoric of expediency lacks trustworthiness. He's not loved, or even that well-liked.

The election was close, with diminished jubilation. But if you talk to Israelis and read what they write, there's a great sense of gratitude that he's still standing tall. You can hear sighs of relief from many of his countrymen and from Jews around the world because he's a man who can keep Israel safe.

Young voters in particular voted for him, with the 18-to-34-year-olds a key bloc, those young enough to remember serving in the military, aware of the dangers to their country and who appreciate a hang-tough attitude.

During this time of rising anti-Semitism in the Middle East emanating from the left and the right in Europe, it's visible even in America and in the Democratic Party, once champions of Jewish safety and security. Jews who have grown up and grown old since the Holocaust are feeling a chill they haven't felt since the death camps were liberated at the end of World War II. The Israelis see in Netanyahu a strong leader of a strong Israel, sending an important message against anti-Semitism in their midst and abroad.

When the United Nations recognized the state of Israel in 1947 there were dissenters, but across the globe you could hear support for a Jewish homeland where Jews could feel safe from the evil of anti-Semitism set loose by the Diaspora. It was the right time for the wandering Jew to secure his own roof.

Moses had led an exodus out of Egypt when Jews were slaves. That exodus is observed as part of the Passover holiday, celebrating the flight to the Promised Land. After their temple in Jerusalem was burned, the Jews were scattered again, forced to depend on their own ingenuity and the kindness of strangers. When a civilized country in the modern world killed 6 million Jewish men, women and children, a majority of the United Nations concluded that it was right for Jews to have an independent state.

No nation is perfect, including Israel, but it's nevertheless the only democracy in the Middle East, and a firm ally of the United States. In Western Europe as in the United States, Jews have broken down barriers in institutions that once excluded them. They're civic leaders, entrepreneurs, artists and writers, citizens who have grown in confidence knowing that there's a homeland they can turn toward, even if they never go there. No small thing.

Modern Israel has been threatened by its neighbors since its founding, but even Jews in France, Germany and England, who felt a minimum threat from anti-Semites after World War II, have become concerned that these haters are moving from the fringe to the midst of civilized territory. Many of these Jews, like the majority who voted for Benjamin Netanyahu, appreciate that Israel has a leader who talks tough and presents an image of Jews as warriors. The Jew as a symbol of strength was not popular before the Holocaust and the establishment of Israel.

Anti-Semitism of the present day is nothing like that of the 1930s. But a shadow no bigger than a fist capable of grasping a gun, sometimes becoming the size of a mob, has seized public attention as bigotry becomes evermore brazen. The New York Times recently catalogued growing incidents under the headline "Anti-Semitism Is Back, From the Left, Right and Islamist Extremes."

France, where swastikas frequently mar Jewish tombstones, has seen a 74 percent spike in anti-Semitic incidents since 2017, with more than 500 incidents. President Emmanuel Macron says it's the worst outbreak since World War II. In Paris, a torrent of hate speech was hurled at Alain Finkielkraut, the distinguished philosopher, when yellow vest rioters accosted him on the streets of Paris. They screamed a cacophony of left-wing and Islamist slogans, some filthier than others.

In Germany, anti-Semitic incidents have risen 60 percent. In Poland, a far-right newspaper reportedly ran a story explaining "How to Spot a Jew." Politicians and their supporters on the left blame Jews for the failings of capitalism.

The Jewish Chronicle finds that 85 percent of British Jews think -- with good reason -- Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the British Labour Party, is an anti-Semite. Some members of the party have bailed over it.

The Jewish Seder this week begins with a feast celebrating spring and new beginnings. The feast is marked by a mix of bitter herbs and sweet fruit. There's an abundance of food for thought.