The Six-Day War Didn’t Change Israel—At Least, Not in the Way the Israeli Left Claims It Did

At the war’s 50th anniversary, many in Israel and abroad have commented on how it transformed the country. For those on the left in particular, this was the moment when the Jewish state became “the occupier of another people” and—in this interpretation—inaugurated the era of Israel’s decline. Yoaz Hendel will have none of it:

Three wars shaped the state of Israel—the most important war was in 1948. The big “occupation” starts there. The Six-Day War only changed the borders, not the essence of the battle [between Israel and its Arab neighbors]. . . . Finally, in 1973, came the big victory of the Yom Kippur War (yes, I know that people usually look at this war from its starting points rather than through the great achievements of its ending). . . . These three wars turned Israel into a regional power with greater economic and military strength than any other country in the region. . . .

Whoever claims today that the Six-Day War changed us is talking out of wishful thinking, out of a childish dream in which we could have existed within the borders of small Israel and made peace with everyone around us. If only we had won and pulled out, according to this dream, everything would have been fine. The years before 1967 were painfully beautiful, [goes the refrain]. The most beautiful songs, the most beautiful outfits, the most beautiful girls, the most silent rabbis. . . .

And the best clichés. . . . [In fact,] Israel lived under the danger of extinction for nineteen years before the Six-Day War. Its laws were emergency laws. Its democracy was shaky. David Ben-Gurion, the man without whom we wouldn’t have a state, spied on opposition members. Israeli Arabs lived under tough military rule and Shin Bet supervision. The government Judaized the Negev and the Galilee without thinking twice. . . . The only restrictions on corruption were internal ethics and the values of the [Zionist] youth movements.

Our situation [now] is much better than in those nineteen years—not just from a security and economic perspective but also by the criteria of those who are lamenting [the supposed collapse of Israeli] democracy. Israel, contrary to their claims, is not marching toward a binational state; it is marching toward a separation from the Palestinians as much as it can. In Gaza, we have completely separated from them (we still pay for the electricity and water), and in Judea and Samaria there is a demilitarized semi-state with a political separation, but with no military separation.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli history, Palestinians, Six-Day War

The Proper Jewish Response to the Pittsburgh Massacre

Nov. 21 2018

In the Jewish tradition, it is commonplace to add the words zikhronam li-vrakhah (may their memory be for a blessing) after the names of the departed, but when speaking of those who have been murdered because they were Jews, a different phrase is used: Hashem yikom damam—may God avenge their blood. Meir Soloveichik explains:

The saying reflects the fact that when it comes to mass murderers, Jews do not believe that we must love the sinner while hating the sin; in the face of egregious evil, we will not say the words ascribed to Jesus on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We believe that a man who shoots up a synagogue knows well what he does; that a murderer who sheds the blood of helpless elderly men and women knows exactly what he does; that one who brings death to those engaged in celebrating new life knows precisely what he does. To forgive in this context is to absolve; and it is, for Jews, morally unthinkable.

But the mantra for murdered Jews that is Hashem yikom damam bears a deeper message. It is a reminder to us to see the slaughter of eleven Jews in Pennsylvania not only as one terrible, tragic moment in time, but as part of the story of our people, who from the very beginning have had enemies that sought our destruction. There exists an eerie parallel between Amalek, the tribe of desert marauders that assaulted Israel immediately after the Exodus, and the Pittsburgh murderer. The Amalekites are singled out by the Bible from among the enemies of ancient Israel because in their hatred for the chosen people, they attacked the weak, the stragglers, the helpless, those who posed no threat to them in any way.

Similarly, many among the dead in Pittsburgh were elderly or disabled; the murderer smote “all that were enfeebled,” and he “feared not God.” Amalek, for Jewish tradition, embodies evil incarnate in the world; we are commanded to remember Amalek, and the Almighty’s enmity for it, because, as Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik explained, the biblical appellation refers not only to one tribe but also to our enemies throughout the ages who will follow the original Amalek’s example. To say “May God avenge their blood” is to remind all who hear us that there is a war against Amalek from generation to generation—and we believe that, in this war, God is not neutral.

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More about: Amalek, Anti-Semitism, Judaism, Religion & Holidays