This week, Jews around the world celebrate the holiday of Chanukah. This story of heroism and victory took place in Israel more than 2170 years ago. It’s a triple story. On one level, it tells of a powerful nation occupying the Jewish state, oppressing the population—and how Jews resisted that oppression. It is a story of fighting for liberty and self-rule. It thrills Jews everywhere because this war was fought by brave, out-numbered fighters who struggled against all odds and then, miraculously, won. They made the impossible possible. They attained the unattainable. They achieved the unforeseeable—independence.
On a second level, this is the story of a religion facing obliteration. We see a nation struggling against those who would erase Judaism. We see Jews who believe in their Torah opposing Jews who have rejected that Torah. It is a tale of religious conflict against anti-Jewish Jews who chose Greek humanism over Judaism, just as it is the story of military battle against a brutal occupier.
On the third level, we see a tale of religious nationalism. Here, religion becomes the national rallying cry for public action, where citizens rally around G-d, not just self-interest. The miracle of Chanukah takes place in the Holy Temple, which is the core of the Jewish religion and the central focus of the Jewish state. The Temple had been violated, desecrated and left abandoned. But as the story ends, the Maccabees have beaten their enemy and restored both Temple and national sovereignty.
We celebrate all of this at Chanukah.
Some call Chanukah the world’s first ideological war, pitting the ethical law of the Jewish Torah against Greek humanism, idolatry and the worship of the human body that so characterized the Greek world-view. We see the religious fight to defend their beliefs. We see them win.
It’s a great story. But for many Jews around the world—including some in Israel—this is not the real Chanukah story.
For these Jews, the real Chanukah is also about a population that resists a brutal oppressor; and, like the original, it is also called a struggle for freedom.
The story details are familiar. The oppressor crushes. The oppressed fight back. This real Chanukah even takes place in Israel. It even includes Jews. But in this story, Jews are not the heroes. They are the hated oppressors.
For some Jews, Israel is racist; Judaism is fascism. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the new mad King Antiochus who kills and maims with impunity; and so, inspired perhaps by the first Chanukah story, these Jews join with those who fight--against Jews they call, ‘ZioNazis’. These ‘supporters of resistance’ believe that Maccabees are not Jews of old but modern Muslims who must have liberty—and the right to install their own religion as the law of Israel. You may know some of these Jews. They could include Richard Falk, Norman Finklestein, Noam Chomsky and 400 Reform Rabbis in America who, last year, signed a public letter demanding that Israel capitulate to Arab demands even though those Arabs have Charters that call for the destruction of Israel.
On Chanukah, we celebrate a miracle by lighting candles for eight consecutive nights. The miracle is about a flask, containing enough oil for only one night’s light in the Temple’s menorah, lasting eight days. It is a miracle of Light that reminds us that the impossible can be possible and the unattainable can be attainable.
Richard Falk, UN Special Rapporteur for Palestinian Human Rights, is a Jew who embraces Israel’s Arab enemy. He appears to understand the Chanukah miracle. He may have hinted at it in an essay on Al Jazeera English, on November 24, 2012 (‘Welcoming the Gaza ceasefire: first impressions’). There, he spoke of the difficulties facing his beloved Palestinians as they struggle against an Israel he calls a brutal, ultra-modern killing machine. He begins by saying that ‘an independent sovereign Palestine is slipping out of the realm of the feasible’, and, ‘two states for two peoples seems an exercise in wishful thinking.’
But after saying that, he seems to turn to the Chanukah story, with its miracle of possibility. He declares that history has shown over and over again that the ‘impossible’ is possible. The unattainable is attainable. Oppressed people can achieve the unforeseeable.
Chanukah is about miracles of survival. But if you read the Hamas and PLO/Fatah Charters, you’ll see that Richard Falk’s Chanukah is not about the survival of Jewish Israel. It’s about the destruction of Jewish Israel.
It’s the wrong Chanukah.
Even if Mr Falk’s Chanukah reference was not deliberate, its introduction into the Arab-Israel conflict teaches us that Chanukah is indeed relevant today. He reminds us that Chanukah is not about a hope to destroy the Jewish people; it’s about how the Jewish people survive a destructive threat—and make no mistake; that threat is as real today as it had been some 2175 years ago: on December 8, 2012, just as this year’s Chanukah was about to begin, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal spoke in Arabic at a rally in Gaza, where AFP news service reported that he repeated once again what Hamas has always said: “Palestine is our land and nation from the (Mediterranean) sea to the (Jordan) river, from north to south, and we cannot cede an inch or any part of it.”
That description of Palestine includes all modern Israel. The new Arab Palestine, in other words, is not to stand beside Israel; it is to replace Israel, to erase Israel from the map.
Richard Falk employs his Chanukah metaphor to express his hope for that Palestine. His language teaches us that, as in the first Chanukah story, Israel must fight and believe if it is to survive. But by bringing up Chanukah, he also reminds us that true miracle of Chanukah was not simply survival. It was also the restoration of our Holy Temple at its home, the Temple Mount—which Muslims now control and refuse to return.
When Richard Falk introduces Chanukah into the Arab-Israel conflict, he unwittingly introduces the true dual messages of Chanukah: Israel can survive--and we can restore our Holy Temple.
Thanks, Mr Falk. We’ll remember your lesson.