By David Kopel
Volokh.com, Dec. 27, 2005. More by Kopel on Hanukkah.
Today is the second day of Hanukkah, with the third day of Hanukkah beginning at sunset. Today is also the third day of Christmas, so I hope that the 96% of Americans who celebrate Christmas, as well everyone who celebrates Hanukkah, are continuing their festivities.
Last year while guest-blogging for Glenn Reynolds on MSNBC.com, I wrote the essay "Armed Jews Week," about how the Jews who fought the Nazis embodied the spirit of Hanukkah. A previous essay for NRO told the story of the original Hanukkah--how an informal Jewish militia led a successful revolution against the Syrians who were trying to wipe out the Jewish religion, and how the Jews--then as now--were brilliant military innovators who defeated a much larger force dedicated to their extermination.
Another essay for NRO looked at the religious issues surrounding the Maccabean revolt against the Syrians. The essay explained that the new independent Jewish state survived for only about a century, because its leaders abused two ethnic groups in the state: Idumeans (who followed the Jewish religion), and Samaritans (who did not observe that standard Jewish religion, but who did observe a very similar faith, based on the five books of the Torah, without the additional holy books which are part of mainstream Judaism).
The 2004 essay on "Armed Jews Week" led to many interesting e-mails. While the majority of e-mails were positive, the negative responses fell into two broad categories. One was composed of Jews who (displaying precisely the types of attitudes which the Zionist movement was intended to overcome) were offended at the idea that Jews have been (and still are) among the world's greatest warriors.
The second type of negative response ran along the lines of "don't you agree that Israel is doing the same thing to the Palestinians which the ancient Syrians did to the ancient Jews?" To which my answer is: not at all.
Unlike the Syrians, the Israelis are not attempting to eliminate another religion. The Israelis are not trying to wipe out the practice of Islam or Christianity in the disputed territories. (Although the Palestinian Authority has done a great deal to drive Christianity out of the West Bank). Nor was Israel's response to the Intifada the creation of a ancient-Syrian-style plan to ethnically cleanse the entire area by selling the whole Palestinian population into slavery. (Even though Sudan, Libya, Mauritania, and some other nations still have an active, public slave trade.)
Rather, Israel appears to have learned the lessons from the mistakes of its Maccabean kingdom. Today, any Jew--regardless of ethnic ancestry--who wishes to live in Israel is entitled to full and equal Israeli citizenship. To the extent that non-Jewish citizens of Israel are treated differently from Jewish citizens, they nevertheless enjoy much greater civil and political rights than almost anywhere in the Arab world. How many places besides Israel and Iraq can an Arab freely exercise the right to strong criticism of the ruling government? Or vote in an election in which the national government might lose power?
As for the West Bank and Gaza, Israel has voluntarily relinquished control over the latter, and the former came under Israeli control as a result of Jordan's decision to attack Israel in 1967. On this very date in 1995, Israel gave Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian Authority control over 90% of the West Bank, with the expectation that there would eventually be an independent Palestinian state living in peace with Israel. Arafat and his gang of terrorists gave only lip service to peace, and continued to teach anti-Semitism and the destruction of Israel in their schools (funded by the United Nations), and to wage a terrorist campaign against Israel.
The Maccabees, as long as they could rule themselves, were willing to live in peace with Syria. If the Palestinians ever choose leaders who are willing to live in peace with Israel, then the independent Palestinian state will include not just Gaza, but also the West Bank.
In the meantime, the Israelis--with the support of freedom-loving people of all faiths all over the world--are not going to submit to the demands of evil-doers who seek to destroy the Jewish people and their nation. That is one of the eternal themes of Hanukkah.
Update: A commentator makes a very important point. Although many Jewish accounts refer to the Maccabees' opponents as "Syrians," the Jews were fighting the Seleucid Empire (sometimes called the Greco-Syrian empire); the Empire, at its heights, extended from Afghanistan to the Aegean Sea. Although the Empire had controlled parts of Arabia, the Empire was, unlike modern Syria, neither culturally nor ethnically predominantly Arab