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Why I'm Not Giving Up on Israel
Last week columnist Joseph Farah told his readers on the Internet that "I give up on Israel."
Farah, founder of the popular conservative WorldNetDaily. com site, is, as he puts it, of "Arabic descent," yet counts himself as one of "Israel's staunchest supporters."
But Farah writes in a piece that has been widely circulated beyond his usual readership that he has had it with the Israelis because they have elected a leader whom he considers a "coward." Farah has no use for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's "convergence" plan because he considers it a "compromise with evil," which will create a terrorist state. This "suicidal" plan is, in his view, not merely wrongheaded, but a sin.
"Israel has made the mistake many times throughout history of turning away from their God," writes Farah. "Israel has made the mistake many times throughout history of putting faith in kings and men over the promises of Heaven."
Though critics of Olmert's "convergence" plan have salient points to make about the consequences of withdrawal from Gaza, what comes through here the loudest is the tone of disgust with what Farah - and those who agree with him - consider to be Israel's lack of fighting spirit.
On the other side of the ideological spectrum, the continued rumblings of the so-called post-Zionists is also troubling. Those on the left who no longer believe in the justice of Israel's cause have helped to fuel not only an academic assault on the Jewish state's legitimacy, but have given cover to the campaigns to disinvest from firms that do business with Israel or to boycott Israeli scholars.
Add these trends together, and you can paint a picture of trouble that has given heart to Israel's foes and discouraged its friends.
But for all of the gloom and doom you can hear or read about Israel these days, there is a very different story that can be told. It's something that I saw in a few different places while attending the International Conference of Jewish Newspaper Editors there earlier this month. It's one of idealism and dedication to the country's values.
I saw it in a Jerusalem classroom run by the Jewish Agency for Israel, where I met five young immigrant soldiers serving in the Israel Defense Force.
What the five had in common was the fact that none of them were considered Jewish under religious law, but all wanted desperately to be considered part of the Jewish people.
'Non-Jews' Who Love Israel
Enrolled in a special program of the Joint Institute for Conversion that seeks a consensus approach to the touchy issue of conversion, these kids were involved in an intensive program of learning about what Judaism and Jewish identity meant. For them, the complex permutations of the "Who is a Jew" controversy that has roiled Israel-Diaspora relations were very personal.
Twenty-year-old Maya Nahor is an immigrant from Madrid, Spain. She had a Bat Mitzvah on a kibbutz, and always thought of herself as Jewish - and left a country where she was told to hide her Jewish identity as soon as she could.
But though she was eligible for citizenship under Israel's Law of Return, she only learned that her status as the daughter of a non-Jewish woman did not make her halachically Jewish when she made aliyah. Undeterred, she joined Israel's army, and is now working to "find my place" as a Jew in a country where she can "be Jewish."
Evgeny Shevlev is in the same predicament. He came to Israel from Kiev seven years ago with his Jewish father and non-Jewish mother. Today, he serves in an elite IDF rescue unit.
In Kiev, he was considered a Jew, but in Israel he's classified as a non-Jew on his identity card. But his reaction to this ironic predicament isn't bitterness because he loves Israel.
"I want to feel as Jewish as my friends in the army," he says.
Even more, he adds, "I want my children to be Jewish. I live here. I would die for Israel."
The same was true of the other three members of the quintet. And despite the problems they faced as "non-Jews" from a religious bureaucracy that still contests the program to give them the Jewish status they're earning with their faith and service, there was no quit in any of them. Their uniforms testified to their willingness, unlike some Diaspora kibitzers, to give their all for it.
In the Negev Desert, next to a moshav called Ashalim, some 45 minutes south of Beersheva, I met another group of idealists. They were "pioneers" at a student village called Kfar Adiel. Built by young Israelis who want to recapture the spirit that created this country, it's part of the nation's plan to plant more Jewish life in the Negev.
Rather than take off traveling the world after their army service, these Israeli kids are creating a new community. But instead of laboring on the land, they are giving of themselves.
Theirs is a pioneering spirit of social activism that seeks to heal as well to build. Each of the participants in the Ayalim movement receive college scholarships in exchange for community service with children-at-risk in Jewish development towns in the south, as well as in Bedouin villages. There was no quit in any of them either.
Strength, Not Weakness
Outside of Ashkelon, near the border of Gaza, I also found a different group equally dedicated to the country.
Behind a gas station was a tent city where 120 former residents of Eleh Sinai lived. Eleh Sinai, part of the Gush Katif bloc of Gaza settlements, is no more, and now many of its people wait for the government to give them permission to settle together somewhere else.
When the time came to leave last summer, they marched out of their homes peacefully, carrying with them a memorial to one of their children who had been murdered by Palestinian terrorists.
But they weren't giving up either. They hope to join Kibbutz Palmachim a few miles away from their old homes, where they will find themselves not far from Israel's new front lines. Though still angry at the government, the sense of community spirit and sacrifice that animated both their protest and their desire to resettle elsewhere in Israel spoke volumes about the nation's strength, not its weakness.
Israel has many problems, and there's no guarantee that its leaders won't be steering it into more trouble in the future. But if you look for them, you will find people who love their country, and who will not quit on it no matter what foolishness or hardship they are forced to endure.
As long as Israel is filled with such people, you won't hear me giving up on it. Neither should Joseph Farah - or anyone else who cares about it.