As we prepare to welcome the new Jewish year of 5774, here are a few of the numerous challenges facing Israel:
Syria and Iran
Syria commands the attention of the entire world, including the Jewish state. The outcome of the civil war could have major ramifications for Israel and the region. Will Bashar Assad maintain control and, as a result, strengthen the Shi’ite-Alawite coalition against the Sunnis in the Middle East, or will the forces aligned with al-Qaida and the Muslim Brotherhood get the upper hand? Then, of course, there is the looming threat of Iran’s nuclear quest. Iran poses a greater danger to Israel than anyone else, and Israel can only hope that the international community is more forceful in confronting Iran than it has Syria.
Ties with the US
The growing rift between the West (the US and Europe) and the East (Russia and China) over the Syrian crisis and other issues has major implications for Israel’s foreign policy.
Where does Israel figure in a clash reminiscent of the Cold War? Israel’s best, strongest and most important ally is clearly the US. But the Jewish state also has an interest in strengthening its relations with Russia and China. From a diplomatic perspective, the two countries’ non interventionist approach would be refreshing compared to the American and European tendency to try to influence Israel’s policies, particularly vis-a-vis the peace process. But warming relations with Russia and China could cause tension between Israel and the US. And how close should our relations be with countries that support autocratic regimes in Syria and Iran?
The peace process
The majority of Israelis still believes that the two-state solution is the only way to ensure Israel remains both Jewish and democratic. But as Palestinians and Israelis sat down this week for the sixth round of talks since negotiations were restarted at the end of July, the majority was also skeptical regarding the chances for success. Particularly worrying is the potential for unrest – perhaps even a third intifada – if talks break down and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas points the finger at Israel. While focusing its energies on advancing peace with the Palestinians, the government must also keep a close watch on Egypt (and especially the troubled Sinai Peninsula) and Jordan, the two countries with which Israel has peace treaties, and try to strengthen relations – especially trade ties – with other states in the region.
Maintaining the Orthodox monopoly over the allocation of state funds for religious services and on matters of personal status – marriage, divorce and conversion – will continue to be a source of tension between Israel and the Diaspora.
Reforms proposed by Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett – who also holds the Religious Services portfolio – will not challenge the Orthodox monopoly. In contrast, on a grassroots level, Israeli society has produced diverse forms of spiritual expression, both Orthodox and non-Orthodox.
There is every reason for this to continue, and for all streams of Judaism to respect one another.
The gap between the rich and the poor, the lack of competition, the bullying tactics of powerful trade unions, corruption and the high price of housing, goods and services combined with low salaries are all burning issues that need to be addressed. At the same time, the economy is expected to be boosted greatly by Israel’s fledgling natural gas industry and developed hi-tech sector.
It is our fervent hope that the next Bank of Israel governor, due to be announced shortly, will inject new energy into the economy, and lead the country into a new year of economic stability.
Rosh Hashana is a time of self-reckoning, on both a personal level and a national level. We look back, learn from our mistakes and make resolutions for the coming year. The State of Israel faces daunting threats, from outside and within.
The country has undoubtedly made mistakes in the past year. But we also are a nation of great potential and promise.
Our track record is solid and our successes outweigh our failures. We pray that Israel will continue that trend in the year 5774 and will meet its many challenges with determination, courage and pride, as it has in the past.