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In plain language: Pharaoh and the Palestinians

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In plain language: Pharaoh and the Palestinians

01/09/2014 14:10   By Rabbi STEWART WEISS, jpost.com

Like Pharaoh, who remained impervious to the pleas of his own people to release the Israelites – ‘Do you not know that Egypt is lost?’ the Egyptians said to him after the eighth plague – the Palestinian leadership is supremely steadfast in its stubbornness.


There are two axioms that I believe help to guide Jewish history along its twisting and tumultuous path. The first is that the more things change, the more they remain the same. The second is that nothing significant ever occurs in our national life that cannot be found in the Torah portion we read that week.

We are now smack-dab in the middle of the story of the Jewish experience in Egypt, which culminates in the Exodus (read about it this Shabbat in Parshat Beshalah) and the giving of the Ten Commandments (read it next Shabbat in Parshat Yitro). These events, recorded for posterity so long ago, remain to this day a road map for our struggle to overcome our adversaries and become a nation.

Pharaoh is the archetypal anti-Semite, the dictatorial and despicable poster boy for all the Jew-haters of future generations.

Ignoring the fact that Joseph brought immense wealth and prestige to Egypt, he rewrites history and accuses the Hebrews of being an alien, divisive “fifth column” that must be dealt with mercilessly. To divert attention from the real problems of his society, and to unite the populace by appealing to its basest instincts, he tells his people that the “Nation of Israel” (ironically Pharaoh is the first person ever to use that phrase) is “great and mighty from us!” In other words, the Jews are parasites; they take the land that is rightfully ours, and they suck the very life-blood out of it.

This approach to demonizing the Jews is exactly the course that the Palestinians and their many sympathizers have taken. They begin by denying any historical legitimacy to the Jewish residents of the land, maintaining that we have no ongoing connection whatsoever to Israel. There never was a Temple in Jerusalem; kings David and Solomon, the Prophets and the Maccabees never inhabited this part of the world; the Twelve Tribes – if they existed at all – lived somewhere in Europe.

And as for what to do with the mountain of archeological evidence, the accounts of the Bible, and the overwhelming opinion of historians that this truly is our ancestral land? That is cavalierly dismissed as “Jewish propaganda” and disregarded by the Pharaohs “who knew not Joseph.”

Their national mantra, one of which their pharaonic predecessor would surely be proud, is repeated so long and so intensely that even normally level-headed people begin to believe it: “The Jews stole the land and usurped its rightful owners.” From this canard flows all the evil that our neighbors perversely perpetrate upon us, what I call the “10 Plagues of the Palestinians”: the boycotts, the car thefts, the home invasions, the deadly rock-throwing at our vehicles, the suicide bombings, the drive-by shootings, the firing of rockets on civilians, the glorification of child-killers, the education to terror, the turning of so many beautiful Israeli families into blood.

All of these atrocities and more are blithely justified among the Palestinians as the rightful reward for those who took what was theirs.

OF COURSE, the greatest victims of all in this drama are the Palestinians themselves.

Their lives could be infinitely more rewarding and more productive if only they chose compromise over conflict.

They know that they – like their Israeli Arab brothers – would enjoy an immensely higher standard of living and quality of life if they ceased their extremism and met us halfway. But like Pharaoh, who remained impervious to the pleas of his own people to release the Israelites – “Do you not know that Egypt is lost?” the Egyptians said to him after the eighth plague – the Palestinian leadership is supremely steadfast in its stubbornness.

The secret to success in international relations – no less than in personal ones – is knowing when to let go and when to hang on. Just as Pharaoh could, theoretically, have saved himself and his nation from untold amounts of suffering if only he had acquiesced to Moses’s initial demand – “Let us depart for three days into the wilderness to serve our God” – so the Arab world, by consistently squandering its manifold opportunities for a peaceful settlement, has “upped the ante” and brought disaster upon itself. From their rejection of the 1947 partition plan to their “Three Noes of Khartoum” (“no peace, no recognition, no negotiation” with Israel) following the Six Day War, to the present- day refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state, the Palestinians have always taken – to their detriment – the most hard-line positions, and this, above all, has created the self-inflicted “Nakba” that they so often moan about.

ONE OF the more celebrated aspects of the Exodus story is God’s “hardening of Pharaoh’s heart.” While this clearly creates certain theological difficulties – the denial of free choice being primary among them – it also serves to highlight the Almighty’s active part in the equation, and His determination to see His people achieve their goal of becoming one nation, under God, in their own land. At some point, God “allows” Pharaoh to fall victim to his own obstinacy, resulting in his demise and our redemption.

In like fashion, the Palestinians, too, suffer from a case of “hardening of the heart.” Just when reconciliation appears to be possible, they make sure to thwart it by coming up with some new demand that they know we can never meet. It might be a return to 1949 “Auschwitz borders,” or an insistence on reclaiming the Kinneret, or a demand for the “right of return” or the redivision of Jerusalem.

Whatever it is, it brings us back to our senses as we realize just how far this Arab entity actually is from desiring a true and lasting peace with its neighbors.

As Jordan learned when it stubbornly refused Israel’s peace overtures in 1967 and belatedly entered the war, resulting in the Jordanians’ loss – and our gain – of Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria; and as Pharaoh learned when he reneged on his freeing of the Israelites and attacked us at the Reed Sea, resulting in the destruction of his army and the end of Egypt forever as a world power, there is a high price to be paid for making the wrong choices and for trying to block Jewish destiny.

Despite Israel’s readiness to bend – indeed, often to a fault – we will never abdicate our God-given right to recreate our eternal homeland. And it is this steely resolve that will win out in the final analysis. The end result of the Passover story, quite remarkably, is that “the man Moses was great in the land of Egypt, and great in the eyes of every Egyptian” (Exodus 11:3). Those who remain humble yet steadfast in their mission and who believe in the justice of their cause will not only see their efforts prevail; they will gain the grudging respect of even their bitterest enemies. 

The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana. www.rabbistewartweiss.com.
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