Celebrating the 65th anniversary of Israel, one cannot help but be struck by the
incongruity of conflating an ancient people with a birthday befitting a baby
Indeed, the old and new coexist side by side in the Jewish state,
perhaps like no other country in the world. Unlike in modern Greece, for
example, citizens of Israel converse in their ancient tongue, a language that
would still be intelligible to the Hebrew prophets who lived here in the
Archeological sites that are an integral part of our
landscape are discovered regularly, giving constant, tangible evidence of the
Jewish people’s ancient ties to this particular strip of land. At the same time,
Israel is an eminently modern country, overrepresented in the number of patents
it produces per capita, in the number of PhDs, published scientific papers,
companies listed on NASDAQ, and start-ups per capita. It was nothing short of
prophetic that Theodor Herzl called his 1902 utopian novel depicting the
blueprint for the realization of Jewish national emancipation Altneuland (The
Old New Land).
The tension – and cross-fertilization – of old and new is
not the only paradox of the Jewish state. The Jews who settled in their historic
homeland have for the first time in nearly two millennia of exile taken control
of their destiny and, thanks to their military and political strength, “returned
(Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929) famously
warned that Jews’ “eternal purpose” would be thwarted by such a return to
history, though he might have had second thoughts if he had lived to witness the
Holocaust.) Though they were wildly successful at fulfilling their
state-building goals, Zionists did not put an end to persistent anti-Semitism.
It was not, it turns out, Jews’ “abnormal” status as weak and stateless that was
the cause of the enmity toward them, any more than it is Jews’ newfound power or
the “occupation” that is the root cause of “new” anti-Semitism.
those who would argue that if anything, Zionism has made Jews’ predicament even
Israelis, more than Jews in the Diaspora, are directly
in danger of facing a nuclear Armageddon if Iran get its hands on the bomb. And
the sudden changes sweeping the region, now optimistically called “the Arab
Spring,” could easily lead to an increasing dangerous geopolitical environment
Yet the Jewish state is also a bulwark against the biggest
peacetime threat to Diaspora Jewry – assimilation.
In November, the
Jewish population in Israel for the first time passed the symbolic six million
mark. In contrast, the Jewish population in the Diaspora has been steadily
shrinking. The day is not far off – experts say within two decades – that a
majority of the world’s Jews will live in Israel.
Most Israelis are also
aware of the demographic threat to democracy posed by remaining in all of the
West Bank and, therefore, support the creation of a Palestinian state, provided
this historically unprecedented entity does not threaten us military, or require
our withdrawal to the vulnerable pre-1967 lines, or flood us with Palestinian
“refugees.” And while Israel is regularly singled out for its purported bigotry
because it dares to define itself as Jewish, few societies are so diverse. Not
only has it absorbed Jews from the four corners of the earth, the Jewish state
strives to protect the basic rights of the large non-Jewish minority. Druse,
Beduin and other non-Jewish Israelis fight side-by-side with their Jewish
brothers in the IDF to protect Israel and, as evidenced once again this
Remembrance Day, they sometimes pay the ultimate price.
Israel at 65
remains a country of paradoxes and contradictions that strives to fuse new and
old, particularism and universality, vitality and vulnerability. Israel at 65
has not resolved the Jewish predicament and has even created a set of new
challenges. But its accomplishments are mind-boggling considering they were
achieved while fighting conventional and nonconventional wars, absorbing a huge
immigrant population and providing basic democratic rights to every citizen,
regardless of race, creed or religion – including those openly opposed to Israel
existence as a Jewish state.
Not bad for a country the age of the average
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