Rosh Hashana is the season of Tshuva – of soul searching and reviewing events of the past year in order to improve our conduct and raise our moral standards for the coming one. Unfortunately, reviewing the “annus horribilis” of 5771 is a disconcerting and gloomy exercise.
We are probably more globally isolated than ever before.
The Iranian nuclear threat looms ominously; the Arab Spring, as many of us predicted, has been transformed into a vicious populist Islamic anti- Israeli hate fest; the UN continues beating up on us; we have been all but abandoned by the Europeans; global anti-Semitism is mushrooming; and despite formal expressions to the contrary, our relationship with the Obama administration was far from ideal.
Sounds grim, but without discounting the dangers arising from the deterioration in relations with Erdogan’s Turkey and post-Mubarak Egypt, little has really changed.
The mantras we chanted in the past about peace with our neighbors were always delusionary.
Even during the Oslo accords, while making unilateral concessions in pursuit of the “irreversible peace process,” terrorism and suicide bombings remained the order of the day, and global anti- Israel hostility was merely temporarily suspended. The threat of a nuclear attack on Israel is very real, but probably no greater than that of such an attack against any major Western city. The sad reality is that the entire world has become a daunting place.
On the positive side, we should note that the IDF is today more powerful than it has ever been before. It may have displayed flaws in the conflicts against terrorists in Lebanon and Gaza, but the Arab world is fully aware of the potentially devastating response Israel is capable of should it be confronted by a genuine existential threat.
In relation to the US, we seem to have forgotten that long before Obama, we faced formidable problems with former administrations – Republican no less than Democratic.
Indeed, our current standing with the American people has never been so good, despite having been abandoned by many liberals. This is crucially important, because notwithstanding its global decline under the Obama administration, the US remains the world’s greatest superpower and our principal ally. And Obama’s stunning pro-Israel speech at the UN General Assembly last week demonstrated that Netanyahu’s policies, combined with protests from Jews at a grassroots level and gentile friends of Israel, succeeded in at least temporarily reversing the anti-Israel tide.
We can also take satisfaction in the fact that by and large Netanyahu’s crisis management of foreign affairs, despite continuous media criticism that he was either too tough or too weak, proved to be responsible and above all, highly effective. In spite of ruling over a right-wing coalition he achieved a consensus throughout the country and succeeded in moving the government toward a centrist position.
Another positive factor is that our economy is extraordinarily robust. In stark contrast to the massive global economic upheavals, unemployment and falling ratings, our economy is thriving, unemployment stands at its lowest levels and our international credit ratings were even raised.
Our hi-tech industries stand second only to the US.
BUT DURING such tumultuous times, there is a desperate need for greater unity. To achieve this, our dream is that the mainstream Zionist political parties set aside their trivial political differences and form a national unity government. In the short term, especially with Labor’s new leader, Shelly Yacimovich, probably eroding substantial support from Kadima, this is unlikely to happen. But the formation of such a government would be in the national interest and we must keep striving to bring it about.
We could fantasize that ideally such a government could impose cabinet responsibility obligating ministers to accept majority rule and enable our government to speak with one voice. It could deal expeditiously with the structural weaknesses in our electoral system which enable small, one-dimensional parties to exercise excessive leverage to the detriment of the nation.
It would enable people power to reward and punish candidates who are currently exclusively accountable to their political party, and also induce more talented people to consider entering politics.
A unity government could also dispassionately and constructively focus on the socioeconomic concerns which have been raised throughout the country in public protests over the past months. It could devise long-term strategic plans rather than band-aid solutions, including long overdue reforms in the educational system, which desperately requires upgrading. The current appalling remuneration of teachers, doctors, nurses and public sector workers could be reviewed to reflect the critical role they contribute towards society.
On the eve of Rosh Hashana 5772, we are indeed isolated on the international scene and facing major challenges. But we must restrain our masochistic inclinations, dismiss the whiners and wailers and not succumb to the prophets of gloom and doom.
We certainly share no desire to revisit the 1967 era prior to the Six Day War, when we enjoyed the “sympathy” of most of the world, which believed that we were about to be annihilated. Today the reverse applies, and much of the resentment against us stems from the fact that we are perceived as being too powerful and well equipped for the task of resisting existential threats from our adversaries. If the price of popularity requires that we be weak, we would all unquestionably prefer to forgo global public support.
One would also hope that our prime minister would speak more frequently directly to the nation. He should take a cue from his mentor Menahem Begin and predecessors like David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir, whose addresses to the nation and calls for unity during times of crisis were important contributions towards raising public morale and self-confidence.
Netanyahu is possessed with superior communication skills, which he demonstrated to Israel’s advantage during a recent extraordinarily successful visit to the United States where he received enthusiastic bipartisan congressional endorsement, and again last week when he so effectively made the case for Israel at the UN General Assembly. He should be employing these skills to communicate directly to the nation.
Those born after the establishment of the State of Israel are the first generation of empowered Jews in 2,000 years. It is important for us to convey to younger Israelis the atmosphere which prevailed during the Holocaust prior to the existence of a Jewish state, when European Jews were desperately begging countries to open their gates to enable them to escape the Nazi extermination.
In the absence of a Jewish state, we would still be reliant on the goodwill of others.
Let us be grateful that we and our offspring are the most privileged generations of Jews to emerge since the dispersion 2,000 years ago and responsible for our own destiny. We must remind ourselves that this miraculous country with all its weaknesses and faults represents one of the greatest success stories of all time.
For this we should thank the Almighty, pray for unity, strengthen our Jewish heritage and look to the future with determination and pride in the knowledge that Am Yisrael Hai.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post