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The modern State of Israel came into being in 1948 and for several decades managed to survive against all odds before succumbing to a variety of malignant internal sociological phenomena that sapped it of the resources and will necessary to endure. Historians and sociologists are still debating precisely what was responsible for the demise of this once vibrant and promising Middle Eastern miracle. They are in agreement only about one thing: it was not the hostility of Israel’s Arab neighbors that brought about its destruction.

While Iran’s atomic arsenal and the terrorist regime of Hamas that took hold in Gaza and the West Bank worried Israel for years, academics are unanimous in their judgment that ultimately it was the unraveling of the Jewish state’s social fabric that led to its demise.

Two millennia after the destruction of the Second Temple, they argue, the leaders of the Third Jewish Commonwealth proved themselves incapable of internalizing the lessons of history, though clearly articulated on the pages of their own tradition.

According to Jewish sources, it was baseless hatred and the contravention of Judaism’s ethical and moral standards that led to the long and bitter exile of the Jewish people from its homeland. Armed with this knowledge, researchers contend, those who returned to the Land of Israel might have been able to extend their newly regained sovereignty indefinitely. That this did not happen, they maintain, might be traced to events of the summer of 2012, and, more specifically, to the three weeks leading up to Tisha Be’av – ironically the season dedicated throughout the generations to reflection on the reasons for the destruction of the First and Second Temples. Experts in the field refer in particular to a number of warning signs on the one hand, and to opportunities on the other, to which the nation’s political stewardship did not adequately respond.

RELIGION AND STATE

As the summer of 2012 approached, Israel’s High Court attempted to restrain the theocratic tendencies that had been encroaching on Israel’s political system for years, alienating large segments of the Israeli public from Jewish tradition in the process.

Its judges ruled that the Tal Law, which for a decade had granted yeshiva students indefinite deferrals of military or national service, was itself illegal and could not be renewed after expiring in August.

The ruling was welcomed by many as an opportunity to ensure the national burden would finally be shared equally by all sectors of Israeli society. The committee established to draft alternative legislation, however, failed to tackle the issue head-on, resulting in internecine quarrels within Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s broad-based government coalition and its eventual downfall.

During the same period, the attorney-general, guided by another High Court opinion, ruled that the state must recognize and pay the salaries of non-Orthodox rabbis, albeit in limited circumstances.

The fierce objections to this decision voiced by Israel’s chief rabbis, and their ensuing campaign to reverse it, resulted in the further diminution of their authority and stature in the eyes of the Israeli public, leading to a collapse of the already precarious consensus regarding the necessity of anchoring Israeli society in Jewish tradition.

A number of analysts also note that this process of social disintegration was exacerbated by the failure of the Chief Rabbinate to resolve the personal status issues of the more than 300,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union who were not deemed to be Jewish according to Jewish law. It was inevitable, they argue, that a Jewish state resting on foundations that were so shaky would eventually fall of its own accord.

SOCIAL JUSTICE

During this same period, the movement for social justice that a year earlier had so electrified the Israeli public and ignited its imagination regarding the possibilities for genuine reform reached a dead end. Police intimidation of its leaders and the violent dispersal of early summer demonstrations left the rank-and-file of the crusade for the fair distribution of resources more disillusioned and cynical than ever before.

A year had gone by without significant progress being made regarding the issues that had initially driven the campaign, and more and more of those who had the wherewithal to get up and leave the country began to do so. While the increase in the number of émigrés was not immediately apparent, in retrospect it is clear that the failure of the government to seriously address the very real economic woes of Israel’s younger generation and the most needy segments of society at the time would unleash a wave of departures and a brain drain that would be crippling to the future development of the state.

STATUS OF WOMEN

Israel was further weakened at the time by its inability to decisively institutionalize gender equality. While more women than ever had reached prominent positions in government, the judiciary, the business world, academia and the military, the gap between salaries of male and female workers continued unchecked. Furthermore, the exclusion of women from the public domain championed by the ultra-Orthodox did not subside, despite an initial public outcry against the phenomenon.

PEACE PROCESS

While historians continue to debate the appropriate degree of blame to attribute to each of the parties for their failure to resolve the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is one point about which they are in full agreement: the Israeli government did not succeed at the time in putting forward the bold and imaginative initiative that might have led to a breakthrough in the peace process. Consequently, Israel’s ongoing presence in the disputed territories continued as a source of fragmentation within Israeli society that would ultimately lead to its disintegration.

NOTES

a. For additional information about the fall of Israel, see: Rampant corruption among Israel’s politicians; Issue of illegal immigration mishandled; Exploitation of foreign workers continues unabated; Traders in flesh find haven in Tel Aviv; Women of the Wall arrested.

b. It is not too late to avert the decree. Should the clarity of hindsight be applied by those charged with the responsibility for foresight, then it is this entry that will be eradicated rather than the State of Israel and this page will have never been written.

The writer is deputy chairman of the World Zionist Organization and a member of the executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel. The opinions expressed herein are his own.

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