Monday, September 26th | 1 Tishri 5783

December 3, 2018 1:37 pm

Hanukkah Is the Perfect Answer to BDS

avatar by Jeremy Rosen


Immigrant children from Ukraine light Hanukkah candles with Israeli Minister of Aliyah and Integration Sofa Landver (second from left) and Fellowship Global Executive Vice President Yael Eckstein (second from right). Photo: Daniel Bar On.

Boycotts rarely have the desired effects. At most, they can make the person who applies a boycott feel self-righteous. I have boycotted. In the ’50s, I boycotted Germany and its products because I believed that most Nazis were rehabilitated into the infrastructure and senior political positions after the war. No one I knew would have been seen dead in a Mercedes or a Volkswagen (Hitler’s “people’s car”) in the years after World War II. But when Israel received those cars as part of the reparations settlement in the 1950s, it seemed ridiculous to refuse to buy or travel in one.

Then I boycotted South Africa for its apartheid policies. But other than making me feel virtuous, it had little effect; the apartheid regime began to collapse for other reasons. I went on to boycott Chinese goods over its invasion of Tibet. I boycotted Turkey over its invasion of Cyprus. I even joined a Tamil boycott against the Sinhalese.

The Arab League initiated a boycott of Israel after the 1948 war, with the support of the entire Arab and Muslim world. But it had a negligible effect. Today, I boycott any organization, person, or business that boycotts Israel — because they choose to ignore all the other far more egregious mass-murdering countries and those who are engaged in true occupations around the world. I know my boycott hasn’t and won’t change anything, but it makes me feel like I am doing my part.

Airbnb clearly doesn’t understand this, which is why they’ve caved to anti-Israel pressure. But I will never use them. Boycotts are weak tools. But they do flush out the hypocrites.

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One of the reasons for the existence of the BDS movement — and its popularity — is that Israel is portrayed as an imperialist, colonial invader in the Middle East. And this is precisely why Hanukkah is the best answer to the BDS movement.

There is much debate both in religious and academic circles about the origin of Hanukkah.  The earliest sources we have are the two books of Maccabees, which were written in Hebrew around the second century BCE. They were not included in the Jewish biblical canon — and the rabbis were no fans of the Maccabees. But these books were preserved in Greek translations. They record the well-known revolt of the Judeans in 167-160 BCE against the Syrian Greeks and their ruler Antiochus, after the Greeks desecrated the Temple.

The Jewish guerrilla campaign led to the Greeks withdrawing and the rededication of the temple.

What is clear from Greek, Roman, and Jewish texts of 2,000 years ago — long before Islam — was Israel’s long and continuous presence in the land under various leaders and sects. The Dead Sea Scrolls all attest to a complex but lively religious world that was driven by Biblical texts and how they were interpreted differently by competing groups.

It is utter ignorance (and anti-Jewish propaganda) to think that the Jews and Judaism had no connection with the land of Israel before the rise of Zionism. You might just as well say there was no such thing as an Arab before the rise of Arab nationalism. And if imperialism is defined by conquering someone else’s territory, then Islam is much more imperialist and colonialist than Judaism.

The only difference between a Jewish settlement and Arab settlement in Israel is that the overwhelming majority of Israeli leaders have agreed that Palestinians have rights to a homeland too, and are happy to have Arabs living among them. The PLO and Hamas are not.

Hanukkah is the sequel to the Exodus, and part of the story of Jewish survival. Hanukkah is our original celebration of independence, of preserving our traditions and the rights to our homeland. The apparent miracle of the oil lasting eight days is a fanciful postscript to offer us the alternative to violence. But if it is claimed that we have no such rights, then we have no alternative but to emulate the Maccabees and fight.

Happy Hanukkah everyone!

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