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July 30th, 2004
After I returned from 10 days of vacation, I found the usual pile of back mail. Perhaps 10 percent of it I actually needed to see.
A sizable percentage of the rest came from Jewish or pro-Israel organizations. All were, to put it mildly, alarmist in tone. The basic theme was that the whole world is against Israel (and/or the Jews) and that my contribution was needed to avert catastrophe.
They were, in fact, the kind of letters the organized Jewish community would have put out in 1939 if direct mail solicitations had existed and if the community was as focused on the unprecedented dangers then as it is on the situation today.
But the dangers we face today as Jews are not comparable to those of the previous century. Zionisms triumph in 1948 and in the 56 years since means that Jews will never again be powerless. The State of Israel puts the teeth behind the mantra Never Again.
The Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto, for instance, could probably have not even imagined a time in which Jews possessed the fourth-strongest military in the world and, according to the experts, 200 nuclear weapons. They also could hardly have imagined that Jews with access to a powerful Jewish state would act as if isolated, vulnerable and weak.
The Zionists among them would rail at the very idea of thinking that Jews in the era of Israel reborn are victims. Jews today hold their destinies in their own hands. We are not victims. To say we are negates Zionism.
But that wont stop many in our community from, as our forbears used to say, shreying gevalt (crying out helplessly) out of fear or to elicit financial or political support.
Not coming down
The latest cause for alarm is the International Court of Justice ruling on Israels security barrier, followed by the General Assembly vote affirming it. It is hard to understand what all the yelling is about.
By a vote of 150-6, the General Assembly adopted a resolution demanding that Israel comply with the ICJ ruling to dismantle its West Bank barrier. The resolution is non-binding and unenforceable.
That means that the security barrier, which has succeeded in saving hundreds of Israeli lives by keeping killers from their targets, is not coming down any time soon, no matter what anyone in The Hague thinks.
Neither the ICJ ruling or the U.N. vote was surprising. The ICJ is the legal arm of the United Nation that in recent years, with rare exceptions, has been unfriendly to Israel, and sometimes virulently hostile.
The most egregious example of that hostility came in 1975 with the Zionism Is Racism resolution. That resolution, which passed overwhelmingly, declared the State of Israel illegitimate. It represented an attempt by the world body to repeal Israels birth certificate, the 1947 United Nations resolution endorsing the states creation.
But the resolution on the security barrier, like the General Assembly vote, in no way reflected on Israels right to exist. If anything, it affirmed that right by conceding that Israel had the right to build a wall, fence or anything else on its side of the Green Line. The ruling applied only to the West Bank.
Why is it surprising that the U.N. feels that way? Rightly or wrongly, the entire world except Israel itself considers the West Bank to be occupied Palestinian territory.
In essence, the ICJ ruling tracked the decision by Israels own Supreme Court which held that the route of the security barrier would have to be altered because it separates the local inhabitants from their agricultural lands injures the local inhabitants in a severe and acute way, while violating their rights under humanitarian international law.
The difference is Israels court ruled that the fence should be moved closer to the Green Line. The ICJ ruling declared that all of it must be pushed back all the way to the Green Line.
The other difference and it is significant is that the ICJ did not address the terrorism that led Israels government to build the wall. It is not as if Israel up and decided to build a fence to produce more misery for the Palestinians or to create a new de facto border. There was no talk about a barrier until innocent Israelis started dying by the hundreds in terror attacks.
The wall was designed to keep the killers away from their targets. To a large extent, it has succeeded. Ignoring the terrorism that produced the barrier is inexcusable and gives ammunition to those who dismiss the ICJ decision and the General Assembly vote as evidence of a world turning increasingly anti-Semitic.
But, all in all, the outcry about the ICJ decision amounts to much ado about very little. Israel will change the walls route, as its court decreed, but will not dismantle it totally no matter what anyone says.
Does that mean that it is a permanent fixture in Israeli-Palestinian life? Not necessarily. In the context of negotiations, the wall may come down. That decision will not be made by the ICJ, but by Israelis and Palestinians.
But lets not go overboard in decrying either the decision or the vote. Neither was about Israels right to exist. It was about the West Bank. Those who try to erase the distinction between the two are seeking to advance their ideology, not Israel.
And what ideology insists that Jews are still helpless victims, as if it is still 1942? I dont know the answer. But I do know it is not Zionism.
After 2,000 years, the Jews have a state and, with all its problems, it remains a living miracle. What is wrong with people (mostly here in the states) who are incapable of taking yes for an answer?
M. J. Rosenberg is director of policy analysis for the Israel Policy Forum, based in New York. The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of the IPF.