RHETORIC AND REALITY
When he addressed a gathering of the Jewish Community Relations Council in New York City this past summer, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made an interesting proposal that has not been given much attention. "To reinforce and reinvent Jewish education in the Diaspora," he said, a special fund should be created "to give every Jewish couple that gets married a small library of ten basic Jewish books." Which ten? "The first book is easy, it's the Bible," the prime minister said. "We can argue about the other nine...But think of the Jewish people without the Bible."
The prime minister is correct that Jewish education in the Diaspora needs to be "reinforced and reinvented." Zionist education, in particular, is in need of urgent repair. Too many young Jews, including many in Jewish day schools, are ignorant of even the most basic facts about Zionist history and have only the most superficial knowledge of contemporary Israel. Earlier this year, a poll found that substantial numbers of American Jews believe that Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu belong to the same political party!
The prime minister is also correct about the importance of the Bible. Even those who are not strictly observant of religious laws understand how crucial the Bible is to Jewish identity and Jewish history.
But if the prime minister expects Jews in the Diaspora to take the Bible seriously, he is going to have to set the example, by taking it seriously himself.
After all, when that "young married couple" opens up the Bible that they received as a wedding present from the Prime Minister's Jewish Literature Fund, it will not be long before they reach the section about Abraham buying a cave in Hebron where he buried Sarah. Then they will read about Abraham himself being buried there, as well as Isaac, Jacob and their wives, in the Cave of the Patriarchs. Later they will read about King David choosing Hebron as his first capital, long before Jerusalem became the center of Jewish life. And then they will open their morning newspaper and read about Prime Minister Netanyahu preparing to surrender most of Hebron to
Yasser Arafat and the PLO.
That young couple will read about the Biblical matriarch Rachel, and wonder why the Tomb of Rachel, today, is in the heart of a PLO-controlled region, where Jewish access could be cut off at any moment by armed PLO "policemen." They will read about the Biblical patriarch Joseph, and wonder why Prime Minister Netanyahu failed to send the Army to crush the Arab mobs that ransacked the Tomb of Joseph during the September riots, murdering six Israeli soldiers and burning Bibles and prayer books.
The prime minister's rhetoric is inspiring. He articulates Jewish pride and Zionist principles in a manner that has not been heard from an Israeli prime minister in many, many years. He speaks forthrightly about the Jewish right to the Land of Israel. He announces to the world that Israel is not a banana republic, that it will not be pushed around or pressured.
But the time has come for the prime minister to turn that rhetoric into policy. If Jews have a right to the Land of Israel, then the government should actively encourage Jewish development of Judea and Samaria. If Jerusalem is truly the sovereign capital of Israel, then the PLO's headquarters in Jerusalem, Orient House, should be shut down. If Israel is not a banana republic, then the prime minister should not feel compelled to run to Washington every time he is summoned, and should not permit State Department envoys to take part in Arab-Israeli negotiations, which they will manipulate to suit the State Department's interests, not Israel's.
Herbert Zweibon is Chairman of Americans For a Safe Israel.