Toward a year of renewal

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There is no denying that 5767 was another awful year. But as we usher in the new year on Wednesday evening, let us restrain our masochistic inclinations and – without detracting from the very real threats confronting us – end the prevailing atmosphere of gloom and doom.

The existential threat from a nuclear Iran is very real. But New York, London and all major capital cities are no less subject to nuclear terrorism than Tel Aviv. Besides, notwithstanding the messianic delusions of Ahmadinejad, the Iranians would hesitate before employing nuclear weapons against a state that has the capacity to respond in kind. The Olmert government should perhaps place greater emphasis on the fact that that the distance between Teheran to Tel Aviv is the same as that from Tel Aviv to Teheran.

Despite daily predictions of an impending war, our position today is unquestionably better than in the years immediately following the Oslo catastrophe. And certainly there is no comparison to 1967 or 1973, when we genuinely faced annihilation.

In time, the Hamas putsch in Gaza may even prove to have been a blessing in disguise. After all, “moderate” Fatah terrorists murdered far more Israelis than did Hamas. The difference was that duplicitous Fatah leaders – including Mahmoud Abbas – paid lip service to “peace” while continuing to sanctify terror. In contrast, Hamas explicitly proclaims its objective of destroying Israel. In doing so, it deprives apologists for the Palestinians from promoting moral equivalence, babbling about cycles of violence, and obfuscating the distinctions between victims and killers.

ALTHOUGH Hizbullah has not dared to fire a single missile against us since the end of hostilities, we still remain under the cloud of the disastrous Second Lebanon War. But we must remind ourselves that the failures were due to our inept leaders, not the people, who displayed extraordinary courage and determination. And if our military leaders had become complacent, there is no doubt that the IDF is now undergoing a dramatic reformation.

Besides if, God forbid, unlike the conflict with Hizbullah, we were to face a full scale war, it would be with our enemies’ knowledge that we have the firepower capacity to pulverize them.

Indeed, history may well define the Second Lebanon War as a wake-up call which shook us from our lethargy and obliged us to restore the IDF’s place as one of the world’s most outstanding citizen armies. Had we not confronted Hizbullah, we would to this day probably still be hesitating about employing deterrence. Furthermore, an unprepared IDF would at a later stage inevitably have faced a tougher confrontation with far more advanced adversaries, which might have culminated in disaster.

IN THE Diaspora, anti-Semitism continues to mushroom. Yet we now realize that the absence of anti-Semitism in the wake of the Shoah was illusory. When the opportunity arose to demonize Israel as a surrogate for individual Jews, anti-Semites swarmed out of the closet. But to suggest that the pariah status of Jews in some Diaspora communities represents existential threats comparable to the 1930s is palpable nonsense.

Today, a Jewish state exists which has the capacity to defend and grant haven to Jews everywhere.

True, within Israel we still face serious problems. But one of our greatest weaknesses is an inclination to exaggerate shortcomings and failures.

Corruption did indeed reach obscene levels. But the tide has unquestionably turned. When a president, a prime minister and the most powerful citizens of the nation are obliged to undergo more intense scrutiny than common citizens, it signals that people power is becoming effective.

The ongoing presence of failed political leaders is Israel’s Achilles heel. But their days are numbered. More importantly, a sea change in public opinion has occurred; most notably there is a belated recognition that the greatest threat to the nation emanates from within.

Israelis are beginning to appreciate that secular draft dodgers, and the commitment and volunteerism prevailing in religious Zionist circles, are all by-products of contrasting educational systems.

The dilution of Jewish values and national pride and the infiltration of post-Zionist ideas have paved the way for post-modernism, hedonism and nihilism. Now there are calls for strengthening Jewish heritage and Zionism within the educational system. If that leads toward reinforcing Jewish identity and national self-esteem among the next generation of Israelis, it will neutralize the greatest threat to our long-term future.

ON ROSH HASHANA it is incumbent to remind ourselves that despite all our problems, we remain the most fortunate and blessed Jewish generation in over 2,000 years of exile and persecution, and that Israel still stands out as the greatest success story of our century past.

Who could have dreamed that half a century after Hitler, the descendents of penniless Holocaust survivors and refugees from Arab countries would succeed in creating a vibrant Jewish state with one of the most powerful armies in the world, not to mention a thriving metropolis and dynamic economy?

There was never a period in Jewish history when we did not face adversaries. Yet we always triumphed.

As we enter 5768 and move toward celebrating Israel’s 60th anniversary, we share no illusions about achieving peace in our time. However we can exult in the realization that we are better able to defend ourselves against those who seek our destruction than at any time in Jewish history.

Instead of groaning, we should concentrate on creating a just society based on Jewish values and endeavor to achieve our original goal of becoming a Light unto the Nations.

The writer, a veteran international Jewish leader, chairs the Diaspora-Israel Relations Committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

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