For a year of people power

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In an op-ed for Rosh Hashana published last year, I described the outgoing year as “annus horribilis” – an awful year. Alas, if anything, this past year was even worse!

In retrospect, the path to the Lebanon war was paved by the accumulated impact of long-term, misguided political policies, not least the disastrous unilateral disengagement and our reluctance to respond with greater vigor to terrorist encroachments on our sovereignty.

Indeed, Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah himself admitted that he would never have dared kidnap Israeli soldiers had he anticipated that we would respond with such force. But having by our action at long last moved in the direction of meaningful deterrence, the leadership of our political and military establishment robbed us of a perceived victory and thus emboldened our enemies.

Likewise, our failure to stamp out corruption at the public and governmental level climaxed this year with a proliferation of new scandals implicating the highest personages of the land, including the president and cabinet ministers.

OUTSIDE ISRAEL, the avalanche of anti-Semitism reached unbelievable levels. Today in Europe, especially in the UK, Israel and Jews, the first and principal victims of Muslim fundamentalist terror, have been turned into the scapegoats for global terrorism. Israel, the state of the Jews, is designated as the source of all the problems facing mankind. As in medieval times, the hate peddlers’ cry: “The Jews are poisoning the wells” and “The Jews are responsible for the plague” and the masses take heed.

And yet despite these depressing observations, at the risk of being accused of undue optimism, I reject the predictions of the prophets of doom and genuinely believe that Israel will see better days in the coming year.

One of our major weaknesses has always been a tendency to extreme mood swings, from euphoria to depression.

Yes, we have reason to be disappointed. But even now, despite our failed political and military leaders, we must retain a sense of perspective and recognize that we certainly did not lose the war. And our frustrations notwithstanding, we must not confuse “setback” with “disaster.”

We should also remind ourselves that despite recent leadership failures, which will soon be rectified, the IDF still represents one of the most powerful military forces in this region, if not in the world.

THE LEBANON war not only shocked, but also impelled us to take stock of ourselves and face up to critical issues previous governments failed to confront.

We should truly thank the Almighty for granting us this wake-up call now. Had matters remained in limbo for another few years, we may well have been unprepared for a much wider conflict, possibly involving a nuclear Iran.

Now – if we remain committed to responding vigorously to acts of terror – there is a real likelihood that our foes will think twice before embarking upon new acts of aggression.

A wave of anger has swept over the nation, accompanying its increasing awareness of the extent of corruption in our society. There are heated demands that leaders must give the national interest – not themselves – priority, or they will be forced to go.

Cynics may call this just another passing emotional outburst and say we will reconcile ourselves anew to the sleaze, chaos and incompetence associated with so many of our politicians. I do not think so. There are dramatic winds of change in the air; feelings of outrage are increasingly mutating into people power.

The prospects for reform are therefore meaningful, and we could be on the verge of radical change for the better, at least in the long term.

AS I WRITE, prompted by our collective experience during the recent war, internal tensions relating to the divisive disengagement have dramatically eased. The realization that we face fanatical barbarians determined to annihilate us is giving rise, paradoxically, to an internal, consensual healing process, creating greater understanding among Israelis of different persuasions.

Already the intended policy of convergence, which might well have led to civil violence, is off the table. But that does not imply a return to a Greater Israel policy. The broad consensus is still based on the premise that we remain committed to annexing only territories in areas densely populated by Jews. But that can be realized only when we have a genuine peace partner and terrorism is curtailed.

There is a saying that people get the leaders they deserve. It does not apply to the people of Israel, whose courage, fortitude and comradeship during the war few nations could surpass.

We can take pride in the manner in which Jewish values of brotherhood and humanitarianism were exemplified in the voluntary aid provided to our embattled kinsmen in the North. It demonstrates that we remain a unique and caring people and that, despite our passionate internal disagreements, during times of adversity our strength and unity always come to the fore.

THE COMING year will be crucial. Hopefully we will hear less whining and wailing and see more intensified efforts toward greater civic involvement to remedy the failures of the past and create a better future.

If we stand firm in demanding accountability and reform, if we remain resolute in our demands for an uncompromising campaign to eradicate corruption and incompetence, if we employ people power to ensure that our demands are implemented, we can – and will – overcome our challenges.

We must continue reminding ourselves that, despite all our problems, we remain the blessed generation which witnessed and participated in the revival of Jewish statehood after the horrors of the Holocaust. We must remain grateful that in this era of mushrooming global anti-Semitism we have a Jewish state which provides a haven for Jews in distress and that, unlike in the 1930s, we are neither powerless nor dependent on the goodwill of others to protect us.

We must also remind ourselves that over our long history we have faced and overcome adversity and many setbacks. Today our greatest threats stem not from external foes, but from the enemy within. If we overcome our inner weaknesses, there is little doubt that those who today seek our destruction will suffer the same fate as did their predecessors over the ages.

Above all we must greet the new year positively, with cautious optimism, moving forward and learning from the mistakes of the past to create the secure and vibrant Jewish democratic state to which we all aspire.



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