Six Day War, Fifty Years Later

I am here in Washington, D.C., with many members of the congregation and the wider Chicago Jewish community, attending the annual Global Forum of the American Jewish Committee. The 2500 attendees are here to learn from top scholars and politicians on matters of world justice and continued engagement in the State of Israel. Since the Six Day War began exactly fifty years ago today (June 5), the war and its aftermath is a prevalent concern at the conference and has been a lot on my mind as well.

I remember the war, at least the religious school party we had when the war ended and the State of Israel was still standing, stronger than ever. I also remember the relief that people felt, as well as the pride. The pride was because Jews were able to defend themselves so well. The relief was because the rhetoric leading up to the war was so evocative of the Holocaust era. A great foe (Nasser) was calling for the destruction of Israel. The head of the nascent PLO warned that all Jews would be driven into the sea. The American State Department was vocally neutral and the churches of America offered a deafening silence.

Recent literature on the war tends to argue that the existential crisis was not real and that the war was waged by Israel because zealous Israeli generals wanted more defensible borders. There may be some merit to this argument but it only tells one small part of the story. Occurring some twenty years after the Shoah, it is not fair to accuse Israel of irresponsibly giving into hateful rhetoric in the lead-in the war. We still – even now – do not have the luxury of not taking the statements of our enemies seriously.

Unfortunately the aftermath of the Six Day War has led to moral and demographic challenges for a country that was not created to control the lives of non-citizens and disputed territory. As far-fetched as it may seem today I hope – as does the American Jewish Committee – that there is still a chance of a two-state solution. In short, it is in Israel’s long term best interest for there to be a Palestinian state of some kind.

As American Jews we cannot make this happen. Indeed, the hardest work will have to come from the Palestinians themselves. Nevertheless there are a few points to remember. We should feel comfortable voicing our dissent with Israel when we disagree with her policies but the de-legitimization of Israel is off the table. And, we should remember that the reason there is no State of Palestine today is because of the myriad of times their leadership refused to accept the generous peace agreements proffered, beginning as early as 1947 and most notably shortly after the Six Day War.

The best way to support Israel is to get to know the real country. I am so pleased to be leading a trip, along with Melanie, to Israel, beginning in a couple of weeks. (Please check the Sholom blog for updates.) For those without travel means or plans then please consider other avenues to support Israel through education. Read the books. Meet Israelis. Consider diverse media outlets. Educate yourself on the facts not the propaganda. Most importantly, engage in understanding the bigger story of Israel and the struggle of our people to live with both peace and security.

One of the speakers at the conference, Dr. Steven Bayme, taught that recently he was confronted with many hostile questions after suggesting that the best solution in the Middle East is two states. A Russian man, who immigrated to the State in 1990, was especially critical, calling Dr. Bayme’s view naïve. In response Dr. Bayme said that, if in 1985, someone would have said that in 5 years this man and others would be allowed to leave Russia, he would have been laughed off the dais. And yet that is exactly what happened.

The moral: fifty years after the Six Day War, let’s not forget that history has its own surprises for us. And so we Jews are permitted a little naïve hope. We have earned it.

With sholom,

Rabbi Edwin Goldberg

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