It is far too easy to sour on Israel – if you only read about it in the newspapers. We hear constantly about Israel’s earned isolation and the Palestinians’ progress. This week, New York Times reporters labeled Israel a “populist ethno-religious state” like Turkey, and “Adrift at Sea Alone.” But here’s a subversive thought – maybe the Israelis are winning and the Palestinians are losing. The State of Israel is thriving and livable, while the state of “Palestine” only exists in the UN’s imagination. This holiday season, with honey ads competing with heartburn remedy ads on Israeli radio, with Jerusalem pierced by the shofar’s toot every morning and serenaded with Jewish liturgical poems from the Piyyut festival nightly, I am betting on the real Israel not the pretend “Palestine.”
People are so accustomed to hearing bad news about Israel that even good news sounds bad. This summer, concerned American Jews asked me about “the riots” in Israel, even though Tel Aviv’s social protests were peaceful – unlike London’s. This September, the worry exaggerates Palestinians’ success in manipulating the UN to bypass negotiations and avoid compromise. But in preferring cheap UN theatrics to substantive state building, trying to embarrass Israel not engage it, the Palestinians have extended their losing streak, and seem no closer to a state.
On the ground, in the Middle East, many Israeli Arabs and East Jerusalemites are all for a Palestinian state – as long as they get to live in Israel. And on the ground, Israel is ending this Jewish year 5771 as a safe, stable liberal democracy boasting a massive, newfound natural gas source offshore, a newly-raised S and P bond rating to A+ shortly after America’s downgrading, and a homicide rate more than fifty percent less than America’s, but a birthrate a third higher – reflecting communal cohesion, commitment and optimism.
Zionism has made Israel flourish because it is pragmatic, humanistic, democratic – all traits Hamas misperceives as weaknesses. Palestinian political culture, by contrast, has been extremist, nihilist, autocratic – yet like that old definition of “chutzpah,” expert at killing parents then demanding the world’s sympathy as orphans. Zionists have always focused on valuing life, empowering individuals, building a state; too many Palestinians are just stuck trying to punish us for building ours.
Despite the criticisms and conflicts, natural disasters like the Carmel forest fire along with grotesque crimes like the Fogel family massacre and the terrorism against Eilat tourists, Israel’s creativity, generosity, spunk and spirit yielded a remarkable year. Last fall, Carmel Winery won the 2010 Decanter World Wine Awards, England’s wine Oscars – a remarkable turnaround given Carmel’s goopy, syrupy past. I ended this year tasting from the first batch of “Bat Shlomo” Sauvignon Blanc, a new winemaking initiative by my friend Elie Wurtman based in an original pioneering village from 1889, as a project of Zionist renewal.
In the winter, the Knesset held its first “Jewish Identity Day,” hosted by the wonderful Tzohar rabbis, who want Israelis to love Judaism not fear it. Emphasizing “social values” not religious practices, Rabbi David Stav said “Our goal is to help our lawmakers show that Jewish identity can serve as the ultimate guidepost in making Israel an international role model of integrity and values.” Kobi Oz performed at the event, one of many Israeli musicians synthesizing traditional texts with modern sensibilities – and beats.
Of course, in Israel, every day is Jewish Identity Day, as 32,000 Birthright Israel participants from over 712 North American universities learned this year. This winter, Birthright welcomed the latest data showing that participants were 51 percent more likely than non-participants to marry someone Jewish, 46 more likely to feel "very” connected to Israel and 28 percent more likely to feel confident explaining Middle East issues.
Israel’s collective commitment to embodying Jewish values was demonstrated this spring as Israel dispatched “search and rescue teams” followed by its legendary IDF field hospital to Japan after its earthquake. Two weeks earlier, Israelis celebrated two big Oscar night wins – for Natalie Portman and for “Strangers No More.” The documentary celebrates Tel Aviv’s Bialik-Rogozin school, teaching children from 48 countries – who use Hebrew as their common language, and benefit from a collaboration between amazing educators and generous benefactors in Israel’s high tech community.
Israel’s high tech community continued producing many scientific and technological miracles too. Over the summer -- reading ISRAEL21c, a source of so much great news – we could learn about one Israeli invention that helps disabled people send emails by thought alone. On a lighter note, Arava Power continued pushing for a solar revolution by tapping both artistic and scientific creativity. The company’s latest music video has lovestruck, often middle-aged, couples lip synching “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” – interspersed with messages urging the government to get smart and go solar. “This year was a bad year for Egyptian gas, a great year for Israeli gas” and a productive year for Israeli solar power, Arava Power’s Yosef Abramowitz reports.
In his song “Elohay,” My Lord, Kobi Oz, the headliner at the Knesset’s “Jewish Identity Day,” sings a duet with a recording of his late grandfather singing one of his piyutim (hymns). “Look how people are slowly leaving behind the tension and in the end just want to be united in this great synagogue called the Land of Israel….,” Oz sings. His chorus proclaims: “I have so so so so so many thank yous standing in line at your door, but my thankyous always come out corny. I have so so so so so many requests to ask of you, though I’m basically fine.”
This conclusion ruins the mainstream media’s Israel-as-sinking-ship narrative, but Oz is right. Israelis have much to praise. And although there is always more to seek, this country is “basically fine.”
Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of “Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his latest book is “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.” email@example.com