For the second evening in a row, some participants in my KIC sessions expressed their uneasiness at PM Sharon's long list of Biblical and religious references in the first half of his UN speech last week. Truthfully, I have some sympathy with those who do not base their Zionism on religion. Such people may well have felt uncomfortable with the references to G-d, the Creator, Abraham, Lech Lecha ("Go Forth!), Moses, the Prophets, the Splitting of the Sea, the Promised Land, the Land of Israel - all of which appeared prominently in the historic speech.
Almost none of the Haifa University overseas students had seen or read the speech which I thought was a shame. Having watched it (via the CNN version that I brought with me), the topic above became central to discussion.
I personally do not view that part of Sharon's speech as inherently religious. As I related to the Haifa students, this was an Israeli Prime Minister standing at the podium in front of countless world leaders and infinite numbers of viewers across the world. The speech (written for him of course!) took wise advantage of the situation to put Israel's case to the world.
Because much of the world sees Israel's right to exist stemming only from 1947 onwards (or if lucky, from Herzl's willing and dreaming period), Sharon stood and delivered the real version of events - events that highlight historic Jewish connections to the Land of Israel stretching back to well before the New Testament and before the Koran.
The way I see it, you do not need to be religious to see the wisdom behind these statements. Although some Israelis may not identify with religious claims to the Land, much of the world can and does relate to G-dly things and religious rights. When it comes down to it, the speech was the for the world's ears, not necessarily our own.
I will go one step further. It is my belief that if we base our rights to the land solely on UN Partition Plans and modern political diplomacy, then we are spreading ourselves a little thin. Not only are politics and diplomacy the least reliable and most unpredictable factors on this earth, but we should, like our Moslem cousins be able to express our historical and emotional connections to land without feeling ashamed or 'religious' for doing so.
Sharon spoke not solely of religion or Torah or G-d. Rather, he cemented the centrality of Jewish history in this region and in this conflict. It was important to do so because our enemies do their very best to deny that centrality.
I can accept a Jew's dislike of religious ingredients in policy building and speech making. At the same time, Jews must not deny that Jewish history has guided the Jewish people to a specific place - that place is Jerusalem and Israel. Call it Jewish history, call it religion or call it whatever you like. When it comes down to it, however which way you choose to label 'it', Sharon's words do indeed form an invaluable part of our claim to this land.