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Ezekiel’s stick: putting an end to the Jewish odyssey

In the haftorah last Shabbat, the biblical narrative read in correspondence with the Torah text of Vayigash, God’s word came to Ezekiel much as Judah’s words came to Joseph as he tried to explain to his brother, on behalf of the rest of his male siblings, that the time had come to bury the hatchet. Ezekiel had barely finished exclaiming his vision of the dry bones that had come to life, those dry bones that were the remnant of Israel which Joseph himself had long ago saved for a deliverance in times to come, when the word of God again settled upon the prophet and led him to proclaim his parable of two sticks. Upon one stick, the Lord told Ezekiel, he was to write the name of Judah, and upon the other the name of Joseph, whose son Ehpraim’s descendants had ruled over the lost kingdom of Israel. Then, the Lord explained, he was to take the two sticks and they shall become one in his hand, and thence one before the eyes of the children of Israel, whom the Lord shall gather from exile and bring into their land where they shall dwell together in peace, sanctified by the sanctuary and the covenant which they shall keep forevermore.

The Jews returned from Babylon – some, not all – but the demands of nationhood escaped them and again they were exiled. For nearly two thousand years they wandered the byways of the known world, living by their wits at the mercy of powers who pushed the frontiers of what constituted the world further afield, extending the sway of men by conquest. Then, when all land and sea had become settled with human imprint, the ways of men turned inward and swept up the Jews in the process, who also clamored for their country and miraculously returned home as Ezekiel had foretold. But though Judah and Joseph seemed a thing of the past, such was not the case. There were Weizmann and Jabotinsky, Ben-Gurion and Begin, the infamous incident of the Altalena which left Rabin scarred and rattled forever, and now the pitiable spectacle of left and right, secular and religious, where governance has become name-calling and horse-trading and Israel a byword for derision among the nations.

The President of the United States stabs Israel in the back. His Secretary of State has the effrontery to claim Israel cannot be both Jewish and democratic, ignoring the fact that only the Jewish state is a democracy in the Middle East while the rest of the simulacrae of nation states in the region have Islam embedded in their constitution and are falling apart. The United Nations in all its various forums proclaims Jerusalem is a city occupied by Israel and asserts, in flagrant violation of international law, that Israeli towns and cities in Judea and Samaria are illegal. On top of hypocrisy there are and will come boycotts, commercial and legal, spearheaded by the age-old European animus against the Jews, led by a mindless Church of Rome that dares not even protect its Christian flock from Muslim depredations.

In Israel half the country embraces Kerry’s strictures, thanking Israel’s so-called friends for saving the country from itself. Its government, ostensibly nationalist, evacuates Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria while permitting illegal Arab construction funded by the European Union. It also prosecutes Israeli soldiers for killing terrorists, even as so-called Palestinians continue their lethal attacks on Jews for living in their homeland. Extreme proportional representation continues to shape Israel’s electoral system, ensuring a permanent lack of majority government and hence a permanent lack of accountability. Its Supreme Court is self-selected, ensuring a degree of judicial activism unparalleled in any democracy and one, furthermore, which hamstrings the nation’s ability to defend itself intelligently. The attorney-general is not a member of the government, holds office for a term outside that of any government, and offers another means by which the government can be held to judicial ransom. The government could put an end to all of this by annexing Judea and Samaria and disposing appropriately of the remaining Palestinian population, but it does not have the courage to do so. That would be an excellent response to the international slander of the Jewish state, but it would require a degree of covenantal unity on the part of Jews inside and outside Israel which they do not seem to share, even if they read haftorahs from the prophet Ezekiel year after year on many a Shabbat. As for those who do not, they would do well to do so. They might even change their voting habits.

The western world has become so mindless its politics runs on slogans. The Jews are not much better. They can complain all they want, but either having a country means something or it does not. The Jews have been double-dealing God ever since Sinai. We will do and we will listen, they told Moses before he even gave them the ten commandments, but as soon as he was up on the mountain, they broke the first one that led to all the rest. They shirked their duty when called upon to go up and conquer the land and paid for that with forty years of wandering in the wilderness. When they eventually made it home they allowed the idol-worshippers to stay and the champions of Baal proved a constant thorn in their side. The split into the kingdoms of Israel and Judea eventually led to their mutual collapse. Even the now much celebrated Maccabees had to deal with a Hellenist Jewish opposition, if not majority or ruling class. What has changed in two thousand years? The Jews are still more at home as members of a tribe than a nation with a country of their own wherein they are sovereign and exercise their sovereignty with assurance and ease. Perhaps that is why American Jews voted overwhelmingly for Obama even as he threw Israel under a bus and why they continued to support Clinton. Now they can complain about being betrayed. Better not to complain. Better to be clear-eyed about who you are and what you face. Better to be the one stick of Judah and Joseph and put an end to the trickster approach to life for which Odysseus was famous. Jews are not Greeks, the Maccabees taught us. We are happy about that when we light the Hanukah candles, but then quickly forget it when it comes to defending and settling our Jewish homeland. Shame on us. The time has come to prove Ezekiel right. Jews, it is not yet too late. Do not wait until it is once again.

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