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Avi Benlolo: Israel is the only answer to antisemitism

Israel at 75: The miracle of today's Jewish state was borne of necessity

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Israel marks the 75th anniversary of its founding this year, and the National Post is launching a five-month celebration of the Jewish state, telling the remarkable story of its rebirth and resilience against all odds. We’ll toast its food, its multiculturalism, its world-leading innovation, its most intriguing people and more. Look for commentary, video, podcasts and more feting the “startup” nation.

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An increasing tide of antisemitism around the world is proving that Israel is needed now more than ever. Theodor Herzl, the founding visionary of the modern Jewish state, was right about re-establishing the Jewish homeland as the answer to antisemitism. The only way for Jewish people to truly escape this infectious disease of hatred is by seeking refuge in Israel.

Israel might not be able to eradicate antisemitism, but after 2,000 years of persecution, finally there is shelter. The recent surge in violent antisemitism in France for instance and even in Russia and Ukraine has brought a torrent of Jewish immigration to the Holy Land. Instability in Chile, Venezuela and Argentina is also leading more Jews to the safety and security of Israel. Even in Canada and America, the continued rise of antisemitism is making many Jews contemplate their future.

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Israel’s existence is no longer in peril. Antisemitism and internal satisfaction is pushing its population closer to 10 million. Its GDP per capita stands as among the highest in the world, matching most western nations, and just last week, it was ranked among the 10 most influential and powerful nations on Earth by U.S. News & World Report. The same report ranked its military among the top five. Exports have increased dramatically in the past few years, with exports to Canada rising by 95 per cent in 2022. The Abraham Accords have opened new markets for the Jewish state with massive trade deals signed daily with the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Bahrain.

Consequentially, even when living in the shadow of pernicious antisemitism, members of the Jewish diaspora find strength and confidence knowing that Israel has their back. What other nation would conduct a stealth raid on a Ugandan airport to rescue citizens held by Palestinian terrorists? None. Israel is our insurance policy — and this is why every single Jewish person and every friend of Israel, no matter of what political or religious persuasion (and there are many), must relentlessly defend it.

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Every single Jewish person … must relentlessly defend it

This old-new-land is turning 75 years old but it has really been a part of the Jewish nation for more than 3,500 years. In one of the first recorded accounts in the Bible, Abraham purchased a burial place in Hebron for our patriarchs and matriarchs, laying a Jewish stake in the Holy Land. Centuries later and following our enslavement in Egypt, we returned to our homeland and twice built (and rebuilt) our temple in Jerusalem to worship in freedom. Over the centuries, our freedom was taken away by the Assyrians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Crusaders, the Ottomans and the British — as our people were repeatedly expelled or taken as slaves and our land became desolate.

But we never gave up on our dream to return home, suffering discrimination in Europe and in Arab lands where we were forced to live in ghettos. The past 1,000 years were especially brutal, particularly during the Spanish Inquisition of 1492 when thousands of Jewish people were forced to convert or were slaughtered or expelled from Spain and Portugal.

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In the Eastern part of Russia and in Poland as elsewhere we were subjected to pogroms. These were episodes in which our neighbours turned against us by virtue of whatever conspiracy rumour was circulating in our village. Sometimes it was an unfounded assertion that we had murdered a Christian child to make matzo for Passover. Other times, we were accused of spreading the Black Death (not dissimilar to modern antisemitic tropes about COVID).

In all this, it’s clear that our loyalty and dedication to the countries in which we resided proved pointless against antisemitism. The story of Col. Alfred Dreyfus moved Herzl to act against the assimilationist model. Dreyfus was a dedicated Jewish soldier falsely accused of treason and humiliated, stripped of his medals in public and sent to prison following his trial in 1894.

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During the enlightenment period in Vienna, Berlin, Paris, Budapest and throughout Europe, Jewish people assimilated and contributed to their nation states — in the military, sciences, academia, law, government and the arts. There were thousands of such Dreyfuses, Freuds and Einsteins producing and contributing to the social good, with complete fealty.

This did not matter. The Holocaust still happened. Herzl was one of the first Jews to realize that antisemitism cannot be overcome by assimilation. The Jewish State of Israel was the answer. Sadly, many Jewish people today, particularly in academia, have forgotten the lessons of the past. Every generation hopes their time is different and that humanity has somehow advanced — the Holocaust, they say, cannot happen again. But with antisemitism rising by 34 per cent to more than 70 per cent annually in western nations, how can we be sure?

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In my recent documentary, The Future of Israel and its Defenders, I pointed out that Israel at 75 is an incredible achievement not only for the Jewish people, but for humanity. The land that used to export Jaffa oranges is now the solution-making factory of the globe. Israelis are working on some of the most important medical initiatives in the world and may yet find cures to many of the ailments (including cancer) that plague mankind.

The miracle of Israel today was borne of necessity. Herzl was right. Israel is the only answer to antisemitism. But as it happens, when Jewish people are given the freedom of self-expression, the rest of the world benefits. Can you imagine what gifts Israel will offer humanity in the next 75 years?

National Post

Avi Abraham Benlolo is the founding chairman and CEO of the Abraham Global Peace Initiative.

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