First Person

Jewish World Review Jan. 30, 2003 / 27 Shevat, 5763

On Michael Jordan
and mustard gas

By Michael Freund | It was the day after the recent NBA All-Star game, but my nine-year old and his friend had more important things on their minds: they were busy discussing the difference between mustard gas and nerve agents.

While most children their age were probably hailing the 20 points which Michael Jordan had scored, or voicing excitement about the game's dramatic finish in double-overtime, these two kids were instead engrossed in contrasting the symptoms associated with some of Saddam Hussein's nastier weapons.

"If a missile hits, and you feel a headache, your stomach hurts and you find it harder to breathe, then that means it was nerve gas," one of them said to the other, as I listened in disbelief.

"Yeah, and mustard gas can give you those blisters," said the other, helpfully suggesting that a call to the hospital might then be in order.

After hearing this last bit about the blisters, I did what any responsible parent would do in this type of situation: I swerved the car over to the side, slammed on the brakes, and quietly asked myself what this world was coming to.

When I turned around and asked the budding chemical weapons experts sitting behind me just how they knew all this stuff, they told me that a representative from the army had come to school that day to explain the dangers of non-conventional warfare.

As part of Israel's preparations for a possible war with Iraq, the army has been visiting schools throughout the country, demonstrating the use of gasmasks and doing its best to keep the public informed without provoking a sense of panic. It was from that lecture that my son and his friend had gleaned their new and rather extensive knowledge regarding the dangers of various chemical and biological weapons.

And so, as if the ongoing Palestinian terror campaign, the slumping economy and Israel's political predicament were not enough to send us spiraling into despair, along comes the Iraq crisis and snatches away yet another bit of our children's innocence, introducing them at an all too tender age to man's capacity to wreak havoc and destruction.

Later, while reflecting on the incident, I began to confront the question that every immigrant at one point or another must contend with: did I do the right thing? Did I make the right decision when I chose to raise my children here, in a country surrounded by implacable enemies armed to the teeth with the most frightening of arsenals?

But just as quickly as the question popped into my mind, so too did the answer: yes, this is where we ought to be. For, as grave as the threats may now appear, there is no question in my mind that Israel will emerge triumphant.

It is true, of course, that Saddam Hussein and his Palestinian allies have wracked up quite a record of terrorism and violence over the years, setting new standards of iniquity in their war against the Jewish people and the West. They have patented and produced previously unheard-of acts of evil, such as airplane hijackings, suicide bombings and the gassing of one's own citizens.

But perhaps their most salient "achievement" is that they have periodically managed to shake our confidence in the justness of our cause, occasionally leading us to question what we are doing here in Israel in the first place.

In that respect, they are no different from the long litany of foes, enemies, antagonists and opponents who have dogged the Jewish people throughout our history, seeking to wear us down by eroding our national morale and will to live.

As they see it, every doubt they sow, every uncertainty they instigate, brings them one step closer to fulfilling their dream of weakening the Jewish state, by undermining its resolve and determination.

I, for one, have no intention of giving them such pleasure.

True, there are probably other places in the world where the threat to Jewish safety and well-being is less pronounced, and where nine-year olds are more conversant with basketball statistics than with ballistic missile technology.

But for the person who values his Jewish identity above all else, for the person who wishes to ensure that his child grows up imbued with Jewish pride and self-respect, Israel offers a unique sense of security unavailable anywhere else. It is the security that comes from remaining true to our past and to our destiny as a people. And that is something too precious to consider forgoing.

This past Sunday, former Israeli Ambassador to London Shlomo Argov, who was seriously injured in a Palestinian assassination attempt back in June 1982, passed away at a Jerusalem hospital.

A year before he was shot and permanently disabled by a gunman from Abu Nidal, Argov eloquently laid out the case for Israel's future.

"Small and beleaguered though it may be," he told a London audience in 1981, "Israel possesses substantial power and resilience as well as unbounded determination to survive. We have come a long way and mean to go an even longer one and we also have the wherewithal to ensure that we do so," he said.

So when I gaze at my kids and wonder whether I am doing the right thing, I need only remind myself, and them, that with all due respect to Michael Jordan and the NBA, Israel still comes out on top. It is, after all, the best game in town.

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JWR contributor Michael Freund served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Israeli Prime Minister's Office from 1996 to 1999. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2003, Michael Freund<