As we launch into our 65th Independence Day celebrations it is timely to review and rationally assess the extent to which our Zionist objectives have been achieved.
When the Jewish state was proclaimed in 1948, the 650,000 Jews who constituted the Yishuv were totally engaged in a desperate battle to repel the combined military forces of our Arab neighbors who from the outset were determined to deny Jewish sovereignty. In their wildest dreams, the founders of our State fighting a war of survival could never have envisioned the dynamic and thriving nation of eight million citizens that would emerge from that maelstrom.
Indeed by any benchmark, taking into account numerous wars, failures and disappointments, this extraordinary Jewish nation state will indisputably be recorded in the annals of history, as one of the greatest successes of the past millennium.
There is no historical situation which remotely compares to the Jewish people’s renaissance and transformation into a Jewish nation. After being exiled for 2000 years to all parts of the globe and having suffered endless cycles of discrimination, persecution, exile and mass murder culminating in the genocidal horror of the Shoa, we reconstituted ourselves into a nation state.
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, an ingathering of the exiles took place with Jews from all over the globe flocking to find haven in the newly established Jewish state. There, against all odds, they bonded together into a melting pot of Shoa survivors, refugees fleeing persecution in Arab countries, Jews escaping from the underdeveloped societies of Ethiopia, discriminated Jews from the former Soviet Union, and others undergoing oppression – and succeeded in creating one of the most vibrant and resilient societies in the world.
The ancient and sacred Hebrew language has been revived as a living and pulsating cultural force and lingua franca for Jews uniting those from totally different cultures. There has been a renaissance of Torah studies with greater numbers of Jews familiar with the traditional texts and teachings of Judaism than at any period in our history.
Who could possibly have imagined that a people, subjugated and powerless for 2000 years, would emerge in a very short space of time, as a dominant regional military superpower able to deter and defend itself against the vastly numerical military forces of its combined regional adversaries?
Who could have dreamt that this tiny arid strip of land would become the fulcrum for a dynamic economy and emerge as the second-largest high-tech startup nation in the world, exceeded only by the United States?
And as a special gift, on the eve of our 65th anniversary, this country, devoid of the oil reservoirs which have empowered some of our adversaries, virtually overnight became energy self-sufficient and is now even exploring markets to export its surplus gas resources.
Our spectacular success far exceeded the expectations of our idealistic founders. By any rational benchmark it would be deemed a modern day miracle.
And yet despite this, there are those in our midst who constantly whine about our failings and transform self-criticism into masochism. Instead of celebrating they predict doom and gloom.
There is also a tiny, but highly vocal minority who disparages our achievements and complains about the sacrifices required to ensure our security and existence, some of whom even mock Zionism and challenge the merits of Jewish statehood.
Also there are some young Jews, never having experienced the dehumanizing impact of powerlessness on the Jewish psyche, who take the State of Israel for granted. . They never underwent the chilling experience of their European antecedents in Europe who in the 1930s sought desperately sought – mostly unsuccessfully – to obtain entry visas to countries to escape the impending Nazi genocidal onslaught. And nor do they appreciate the soul destroying impact of living in an environment of anti-Semitic incitement where Jews are considered pariahs and the mainstream media shamelessly promotes frenzied anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic stereotypes.
However, despite the prevailing belief that after the revelation of the horrors of the Shoa, anti-Semites would become an extinct species, the world’s oldest hatred has returned with full vengeance, particularly in Europe whose soil had been drenched in Jewish blood only a few years before Israel’s independence.
The extent of the current European malaise is exemplified by youngsters in some public schools seeking to hide their Jewishness in order to avert torment or face social exclusion. In many European cities there is also a growing reluctance to outwardly wear Jewish symbols like a kipah to avoid random violence from hooligans in the street.
In Europe, especially in France, the UK, Scandinavia, Hungary, Greece, Ukraine, and throughout South America there are daily reports of increasing anti-Semitic violence, of incitement and even murder. Whereas, in North America, public opinion is strongly pro-Israeli, the campuses have been transformed into launching pads for visceral anti-Israelism anti-Semitism.
But even in these dark areas, Jews are comforted in the knowledge that today there is a State of Israel which will defend the Jewish people. A Jewish state which will always provide a haven for them if their world collapses
Of course we face challenges and genuine threats. The dream of peace for which we all yearn remains a distant vision and future generations of youngsters will continue to carry the burden of defending the nation against its adversaries.
And yes, there are still many problems in Israeli society which must be overcome. There are too many poor people and we suffer internal divisions between religious and secular and between Ashkenazim and Sephardim. We all agree that we must continue striving for a better society in order to achieve the ultimate goal of becoming “a light unto the nations”.
But today, almost half the Jewish people are happily domiciled in Israel. The word happily should be stressed because despite our masochistic self-criticism and endless complaints, all polls show that Israelis are numbered amongst the happiest and most satisfied people in the world.
Our numbers will increase and an ever-growing proportion of global Jewry will return to live in its homeland, increasingly out of choice rather seeking a haven.
Thus, as we celebrate Israel’s 65th anniversary, notwithstanding all the challenges and threats confronting us, we should remind ourselves of our humble origins and give thanks to the Almighty for having enabled us to be the blessed generation that is privileged to live in freedom in this extraordinary country, our ancient homeland.
The writer may be contacted at [email protected]
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom