The Story of Israel’s National Emblem

Sept. 18 2017

Shortly after declaring independence, the Israeli government ran not one but two contests in its search for an official seal. The winning design, submitted by the Shamir brothers, featured a menorah with an olive branch on either side and the Hebrew word “Israel” beneath. The committee tasked with choosing an emblem asked the Shamirs to make one change: replace the stylized, modern-looking menorah with one modeled on the menorah depicted on the Arch of Titus in Rome. Saul Singer writes:

Many, including particularly then-Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog, vociferously objected to the use of this design because the menorah, which the Romans had proudly paraded as the ultimate symbol of Jewish defeat and degradation, represented the expulsion of the Jews from the land of Israel and the destruction of the Second Temple.

But the members of the committee and Israel’s provisional government, both of which unanimously adopted the design, believed the use of the Titus menorah would serve as an important metaphor for the rebirth of Israel: that after itself joining the Jews in exile, the menorah would now stand as testimony to the ultimate victory and eternal survival of the Jewish people. . . .

Because the ultimate design does not seem to reflect religious practice or belief—no verses from the Torah, no reference to the God of Israel—many argue that secularists prevailed [in choosing the seal]. In fact, however, the national emblem reflects one of the great . . . visions of the prophet Zechariah, [in which an angel shows him a menorah flanked by two olive trees].

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More about: Art, Israel & Zionism, Menorah, Second Temple, Zechariah

 

By Recognizing Israeli Sovereignty over the Golan, the U.S. Has Freed Israel from “Land for Peace”

March 25 2019

In the 52 years since Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria, there have been multiple efforts to negotiate their return in exchange for Damascus ending its continuous war against the Jewish state. Shmuel Rosner argues that, with his announcement on Thursday acknowledging the legitimacy of Jerusalem’s claim to the Golan, Donald Trump has finally decoupled territorial concessions from peacemaking:

[With] the takeover of much of Syria by Iran and its proxies, . . . Israel had no choice but to give up on the idea of withdrawing from the Golan Heights. But this reality involves a complete overhaul of the way the international community thinks not just about the Golan Heights but also about all of the lands Israel occupied in 1967. . . .

Withdrawal worked for Israel once, in 1979, when it signed a peace agreement with Egypt and left the Sinai Peninsula, which had also been occupied in 1967. But that also set a problematic precedent. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt insisted that Israel hand back the entire peninsula to the last inch. Israel decided that the reward was worth the price, as a major Arab country agreed to break with other Arab states and accept Israel’s legitimacy.

But there was a hidden, unanticipated cost: Israel’s adversaries, in future negotiations, would demand the same kind of compensation. The 1967 line—what Israel controlled before the war—became the starting point for all Arab countries, including Syria. It became a sacred formula, worshiped by the international community.

What President Trump is doing extends far beyond the ability of Israel to control the Golan Heights, to settle it, and to invest in it. The American president is setting the clock back to before the peace deal with Egypt, to a time when Israel could argue that the reward for peace is peace—not land. Syria, of course, is unlikely to accept this. At least not in the short term. But maybe someday, a Syrian leader will come along who doesn’t entertain the thought that Israel might agree to return to the pre-1967 line and who will accept a different formula for achieving peace.

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More about: Donald Trump, Golan Heights, Israel & Zionis, Peace Process, Sinai Peninsula, Syria