Next year, Israel will mark landmark anniversaries of some of its greatest political, diplomatic and military milestones. It’s time for the reasonable majority to reject the people and forces bringing calamity upon us.
The State of Israel is a miracle. No other people has accomplished what we have: rebuilding a national home after 2,000 years. No other democracy has succeeded in flourishing like we have: under a volcano. Despite myriad obstacles and difficulties, vulnerabilities and shortcomings – the Zionist dream has been achieved. The people of Israel live, and the State of Israel thrives. Our sons and daughters have what our great-grandparents could only yearn for: sovereignty, liberty and progress. As an economic, technological and military powerhouse, Israel of the 21st century is a resilient, energetic nation that can choose its own course, make its own way – forward.
Sadly, regrettably, it is not doing so. Israel has lost its compass. Instead of advancing toward the future, it lists toward the past. Instead of breaking through, it dithers. Instead of fostering harmony, fraternity and fealty, it is mired in rancor, strife and fury.
Our army is the strongest in the Middle East – but we do not feel secure. Our economy is one of the leading economies in the world – but we don’t feel well-off. We are dependent on one another – but we lack a sense of togetherness. Our heritage is a heritage of virtue – but we are plagued by prejudice, xenophobia, self-hatred and sometimes even racism. The brotherly bond that was at the heart of the nation has broken. The mutual responsibility we felt toward one another has eroded. A growing economic divide, alongside intensifying tribal and political fissures, has plunged Israel into a deep internal crisis. The Israeli republic is under attack, the Israeli democracy is under siege.
The State of Israel was founded by courageous, unflinching men and women, who recognized the dangers of divisiveness, discord and discouragement. In the worst situations, in the most trying hours, they did not stray from the path. They exuded self-confidence and kept a cool head. They believed in the Jewish people and in its ability to do the impossible. They believed in Israelis and in their ability to succeed against all odds.
The fathers and mothers of Zionism were well aware of the cruel world that surrounds us. And they understood that in order to survive in this region, we had to build a powerful nation, with a decisive Jewish majority, that could guarantee the national rights of the Jewish people within a democratic framework. They knew we must maintain an irrepressible and vigorous Jewish democratic state, whose core values are liberty, equality, solidarity and justice. They insisted we have the sovereignty and force required to define and defend our borders.
But today, Israel is growing more and more distant from the historic Zionist vision, from the age-old Zionist wisdom. Today, Israel is slouching toward a binational state, where Jews will soon become a minority with no borders to protect us from our adversaries. Israel’s identity as a Jewish, democratic nation is fraying.
Because of its phenomenal success and extraordinary power, many of the dangers that once loomed over the State of Israel have disappeared. There is no longer a Syrian army that can invade the Golan Heights and menace the Galilee. There is no longer a hostile Egyptian army that can cross the Sinai Desert and threaten the Negev. No Iraqi missiles can rain down on Tel Aviv, and no coalition of Arab armies can maneuver across the Jordan River and advance toward Jerusalem. Thanks to the Israel Defense Forces, the Shin Bet security service, the Mossad, the defense industries and the Dimona nuclear reactor – our security has never been more robust. Thanks to our strategic alliance with the United States and our nascent alliances with China, India and some of the Arab states – our diplomatic situation is sound.
But just when it seems that we have achieved our goals and assured our survival, Israel faces a new twofold existential challenge: The weakening of the nation-state and the fragmentation of society tear us apart from within, while the encroaching reality of a binational state endangers our very foundations. After withstanding countless wars and overcoming countless enemies, after doing so many wonders – indecision and infighting are imperiling the future of the Zionist enterprise.
Time is running out. If the settlement process continues, by 2025, some 700,000 settlers will live in Judea and Samaria, and it will no longer be possible to separate Israel from the Palestinians. Life without separation – life in close quarters with supporters of Hamas and the Islamic State – will, sooner or later, become untenable. If the diplomatic deadlock continues, in a decade’s time, the international community will most probably turn its back on us, and Israel will become an ostracized nation. With no foreign investments and no meaningful exports, life will become miserable and bleak.
If the internal divide continues, over time, the pillars that are still holding up our society will disintegrate, our state institutions will falter and Israeli nationhood will evanesce. The ongoing chaos that is laying waste to our neighbors will engulf us and destroy our hard-won diplomatic stability and enviable quality of life. Continuing on this road means that in the years to come, we will no longer have a horizon of hope. The crisis may be graver than any we’ve experienced since 1948: Waves of terror and international sanctions may very well upend a nation whose identity has been shattered, a nation that has lost its way.
Should we despair? Absolutely not. Should we despond? Definitely not. Our history is littered with adversity: We have transcended so many hardships to build our national home. We have persevered through persecution, humiliation and degradation – and the harrowing human cataclysm of the Holocaust. Even amid a dark thicket of thorns, we did not give up. Even when the walls were closing in, we did not surrender. We are a steadfast people, dogged and determined. If we overcame the vagaries of the past, we can certainly overcome the challenges we now face. Though the new challenges are existential, they are not greater than we are. Though the mission is enormous, it is not a mission impossible. If we band together, the binational threat can be thwarted. It must be thwarted. There is no other way.
Both the right and the left have made mistakes. The right hasn’t always understood that ruling over another people is an anti-national act that jeopardizes our very nation. The left hasn’t always understood that in the militant, fanatical Middle East, there cannot be a Scandinavian peace. Instead of facing this complicated, onerous reality together, the right chose to blame the left, and the left chose to blame the right. The result is debilitating internal enmity. And the result is that small groups of extremists have hijacked the national agenda, taken control of government, and are leading Israel toward the abyss.
But the Israeli majority is not foolish, nor is it gullible. It knows that we are surrounded by enemies. It knows that our power derives from our cohesiveness, sagacity and decency. It rejects messianic ideas and messianic leaders – and understands that it cannot allow villainy to rule the day. The Israeli majority doesn’t want war. It doesn’t want reckless adventures or perilous wagers.
The Israeli majority loves Israel and is proud of Israel and wants Israel to serve its citizens and nurture its young and attend to their future. The Israeli majority wants a benign democracy. So it is high time the Israeli majority said no to extremism – no to acrimony, no to provocation, no to politics run amok. It is high time the Israeli majority rejected those people and those forces bringing calamity upon us.
The Israeli condition is unique. When we returned to the land of our ancestors, we found ourselves in the worst neighborhood in the world, surrounded by despotism, extremism, tribalism and brutality. We decided not to be like our neighbors. In this dangerous region, where yet another appalling human catastrophe is now taking place, we succeeded in creating an oasis of liberty. We built a nation whose values and capabilities are no less impressive than those of the United States, Canada or Holland. We forged a rich, diverse and creative society that garners more scientific patents and brings more children into the world than any other advanced society.
We managed to do this because the Israeli individual is resourceful and self-possessed. We managed to do this because the Israeli spirit is bold, enterprising and inventive. Being one big family – warm and dynamic – we have cleared innumerable hurdles in pursuit of the Israeli miracle. One immense problem persists: the continuing abasement of Israeli politics, which has long ceased to reflect the bright, compassionate face of Israeli society.
The year 2017 will mark five historic events: the 120th anniversary of the first Zionist Congress; the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration; the 70th anniversary of the United Nations’ resolution to establish a Jewish state in the Land of Israel; the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War; and the 40th anniversary of the rapprochement with Egypt.
Recovering theIsraeli spirit
The first Zionist Congress succeeded because Theodor Herzl had the courage to dream big. The Balfour Declaration was issued because of Chaim Weizmann’s combination of diplomatic sophistication and universal morality. The UN vote came to pass – and the State of Israel came to be – because David Ben-Gurion had the vision to combine forcefulness with fairness, single-mindedness with level-headedness. The Six-Day War ended in overwhelming victory because Yitzhak Rabin’s army was resolute, masterful and, for the most part, honorable. The peace agreement with Egypt was reached because the liberal-national leader Menachem Begin understood that a secure Israel is better than a “greater” Israel.
Ironically, in recent decades, while Israel’s economic and military circumstances have improved markedly, its political leadership has forsaken the unique Israeli spirit that shepherded the stunning achievements of 1897, 1947, 1967 and 1977. The gap between Israel’s remarkable individual capabilities – the richness of its society – and the failures of its shambolic political body has become an intolerable chasm.
In the months leading to 2017, we must rediscover the Israeli spirit. We mustn’t lose hope, sink into cynicism, or lapse into despair. Every Israeli family has traveled such a long, arduous road to the homeland — from Baghdad and Cairo, Casablanca and Warsaw, Moscow and Budapest. Each and every one of us has invested so much and received so much from the unique country we have created.
Israel is a land of seemingly limitless human treasures and lodes of goodwill. Israel is a small nation, whose small number of dedicated people can make a real difference, enact real change. If we stand together, shoulder to shoulder, we can save the Jewish democratic state. If we stand together, shoulder to shoulder, we can renew our sense of nationhood, secure our sovereignty – and at long last define our borders. With a loving heart and a common purpose, we can return Israel to its rightful role – an admirable, enlightened nation.
Reprinted from Ha’aretz with thanks to them and Avi Shavit