Last week, we commemorated the genocidal murder of 6 million Jews – the most barbaric episode in our 2,000 years of exile which was sporadically interspersed with discrimination, persecution, expulsion and pogroms.
Today, the nation mourns those who sacrificed their lives in the course of the creation and ongoing defense of our Jewish state.
Against this somber background, tomorrow we will celebrate the 68th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel.
This period evokes mixed feelings.
Our prayers for peace with our neighbors and our desperate hope that our children and grandchildren shall not be obliged to fight wars, remain but a dream with no respite on the horizon.
Moreover, those who believed that after Auschwitz, anti-Semites would represent an extinct species, were deluded and are dismayed at the upsurge of mankind’s most enduring hatred. Prior to the creation of the State of Israel, anti-Semites accused Jews of being the source of all the evils confronting mankind. Today hatred of the Jew as an individual has been transcended by global hatred of the Jewish state, which is widely perceived as the prime source of global instability, the greatest threat to peace and one of the most oppressive countries in the world. This warped view is promoted at a time when the Dark Ages of barbarism have returned to the region, with millions being killed, displaced and denied human rights.
Moreover, even Western countries – especially Europe whose soil was soaked with Jewish blood during the Holocaust – once again stand by and either abstain or even formally support efforts to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state. It is somewhat like a déjà vu of the world’s indifference to the Nazi extermination of the Jewish people.
But, on Independence Day, while fully conscious of the evil surrounding us, we must resist the whining of the prophets of doom in our ranks.
We should celebrate that we are the most blessed Jewish generation in 2,000 years.
Jewish youngsters today graduating from schools and universities have no appreciation of the fear and insecurity that dominated the lives of Jews before the creation of the state empowered us.
As we follow the chilling anti-Semitic tsunami in Europe, including recent expressions in the British Labour Party, and observe European Jews once again being transformed into pariahs, we are angered rather than fearful. That is because a Jewish state guarantees that today Jews threatened with murder or oppression have a haven.
We should celebrate the fact that Israel has created the most powerful military force in the region. Our tiny state is one of the top 10 world military powers, with the ability to deter and defend itself against the combined forces of all our adversaries. Could Holocaust survivors, Jews oppressed in Arab countries, or Soviet Jews facing anti-Semitism 70 years ago, have even remotely dreamed that their descendants would enjoy the status we have achieved in an empowered Israel? That alone provides boundless grounds for rejoicing.
Furthermore, we have cause to celebrate the ingathering of our exiles, ranging from broken survivors of concentration camps to Ethiopian Jews – and the extraordinary success in which these Jews from all corners of the world and different levels of society have been molded into a vibrant nation.
Our political system is frequently condemned as dysfunctional and only a small percentage of our more talented citizens are tempted to enter into professional politics. Yet, the fact remains that despite being the only country in the world whose existence is constantly challenged, and facing ongoing terrorism and wars, we have succeeded in retaining one of the most democratic systems in the world.
Indeed, our freedom of expression and robust press has frequently been condemned for being over indulgent in providing platforms for elements promoting our enemies. We rightfully grant full equality to Arab Israelis, notwithstanding that their radical parliamentary representatives support our enemies and demonize their own state.
Our legal system, despite its weaknesses and the controversy over the excessive interventionist power of the High Court, ensures that all Israelis are treated with equality. Indeed the fact that a president, prime minister and senior cabinet ministers were indicted, convicted and imprisoned, highlights the proper functioning of our legal system. This, too, is an aspect of life in which we should take pride and celebrate.
We are blessed to have one of the most robust economies in the world and we must rejoice in the fact that we have more new high-tech initiatives and startups per capita than any other nation. Not to mention that over the past decade, our own desalination processes have overcome an endemic drought condition and, despite prevarications, we will in future become a gas exporting nation.
Beyond this, we can take pride in our vibrant cultural and religious life. This is a Jewish state that pulsates in accordance with the Jewish calendar, catering for religiously observant as well as secular streams. There is also positive evidence that more of the ultra-Orthodox are serving in the army and entering the workforce and there is gradual and steady progress of their integration into mainstream society. By and large, aside from the excessive influence of the ultra-Orthodox establishment and the Chief Rabbinate, there is a broad spiritual awakening and greater understanding between the various sectors of Israeli society.
The Israeli Jewish identity is still evolving, but at a time when assimilation and intermarriage are having a devastating impact on the number of Diaspora Jews, Israel guarantees the continuity of the Jewish people. This, too, is something to celebrate.
Finally, we should rejoice that, aside from parochial politics, the nation is today more united than it has been since the great divide over the Oslo Accords. Whether one supports or opposes Benjamin Netanyahu as leader, it is clear that the reason for the failure in peace negotiations is due to the Palestinian determination to bring about an end to Jewish sovereignty. We should be celebrating that today, aside from the extreme Left and Right, there is a consensus on these issues with the major Zionist political parties in accord that our objective is to separate ourselves from the Palestinians, but that for security reasons, we cannot move forward until a genuine peace partner emerges from their ranks.
So as we celebrate 68 years of statehood, we should dismiss the doomsayers and rejoice at our extraordinary achievements. If we review the progress we have made since 1967 – despite misgivings about retaining the status quo – we have every reason to celebrate this Independence Day. That in recent years Israelis have consistently polled as one of the happiest nations in the world, speaks for itself.
We pray that, with the help of the Almighty, we will continue to flourish and grow even stronger and ultimately realize our dreams for peace with our neighbors.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom