A new Israeli movie, Operation Sunflower, speculates about this plucky little country’s attempt to develop an atomic bomb in the 1960s. The movie, starring the legendary singer Yehoram Gaon as the head of Israel’s secret services, beautifully recreates the texture of a simpler, primitive, romantic time, emphasizing the chutzpah involved in believing that tiny Israel could attempt what only the biggest superpowers could accomplish.
The plot revolves around France’s failure to develop the right formula – until Israeli brainpower helped in return for France’s delivery of the required resources, including uranium.
Such audacity highlights Israel’s role as the Jewish people’s M3 – Modern Miracle Maker – while raising the question, what’s next in the mass miracle department? Yes, it is more fashionable to consider Israel the Jewish people’s central headache, misrepresenting Israel as a flawed, failing democracy, beset by problems, threatened by destruction – according to crisis-mongers on the Right – or self-destruction – according to self-flagellating hysterics on the Left. These neurotic fears overlook Israel’s extraordinary strength and stability, while granting Palestinians a propaganda victory they do not deserve.
It was Yasser Arafat’s conceit that every conversation about Israel should be about him and his people. Just as every conversation about the US is not about race, and every conversation about Canada is not about the French-English divide, every conversation about Israel should not be about the Palestinians – or Israel’s others problems.
We are all traumatized, from Left to Right, by living in the age of delegitimization. If anti-Semitism is what the historian Robert Wistrich calls the world’s “longest hatred,” today’s anti-Zionism and anti-Israelism may be the world’s “trendiest hatred.” The systematic Arab-financed, radical-fueled anti-Zionist campaign questioning Israel’s right to exist has imposed a distorting duality in the Israel debate. With only Israel’s survival questioned, too many partisans use the simplistic, polarizing language of “pro-Israel” or “anti-Israel,” in a zero-sum you’re-either-with-me-or-againstme way. There are anti-Israel voices out there; but critics of Israeli policies, even vehement detractors, are not “anti-Israel” unless they escalate from rejecting Israeli actions to repudiating Israel itself.
All this tension treats Israel as more problematic, dysfunctional and fragile than it is.
Israel is not just an extraordinary success, it is the Jewish people’s M3 – Modern Miracle Maker. Just 70 years ago, Jews were being murdered en masse, with 6,000 killed at Auschwitz- Birkenau daily. The Nazi death toll for Jews in an average week far exceeded the estimated 26,000 killed by Arab soldiers and terrorists since 1860.
Admittedly, such a sick calculus shows how traumatized a people we are, thanks to historic anti-Semitism, the Holocaust’s evil, and the new violence targeting the Jewish people and the Jewish state. Simply traveling around Israel on any given day provides a healthier appreciation of our good fortune. Watch a modern society in action, growing, thriving, expanding, offering eight million people, Jews and non-Jews, remarkable rights and a high quality of life, as a matter of course.
Israel, in all its glory, in all its dimensions, with all its complexity, is the Jewish people’s great collective project and achievement in modern times. You would have to go back millennia, to the days of the Talmud or the Israelite kingdoms or the Bible itself, to find any contenders.
North American Jewry – actually, all of Western Jewry – is filled with many individual Jewish achievers who have done remarkable things. But especially now, with rampant assimilation and intermarriage among the non-Orthodox, with a communal discourse worried about Jewish survival, Israel is the collective champ. Moreover, no other Jewish community is a focal point of all the other Jewish communities.
The mass modern miracle of Israel partly stems from the contribution of world Jewry, investing their hearts, souls, knowhow and riches to revive their altneuland, Old-New homeland. Appreciating Israel as a collective Jewish miracle need not diminish other Jewish communities, but simply puts Israel in proper perspective.
Considering how primitive Israel was when established in 1948 and how impressive it is today, inspired by one miracle after another including but not limited to Israel’s security achievements, should inspire Israel to go further.
We should ask what Israel’s next sweeping national project – as daring as seeking nuclear power – should be. The Jewish people should launch a worldwide contest, Israel should have a national contest, and the Knesset should host a big, well-publicized debate, asking this kind of inspiring question. Possibilities could include: • Initiating a scientific push to find alternatives to oil, bankrupting the Arab-fueled dictatorships.
• Making Israel go green, with greater reliance on solar and other clean energies.
• Turning Israel into a model math and science educational space, from pre-K to 12.
• Reforming Israel’s education system more broadly, focusing on four pillars – math-science, writing, personal values, and communal norms/civics – including better religious education appropriate to each respective community as well as a more binding nationalist focus.
• Launching a values revolution, especially among teenagers, making Israel a model for how to stay technologically-savvy yet grounded emotionally, ideologically and communally.
• Truly discovering what Bill Clinton and Tony Blair called “the third way,” an economic approach that enables free-flowing capitalism and hi-tech development without huge dysfunctional gaps between rich and poor.
These must be more than policy proposals – these must be dramatic game-changers, like developing atom bombs can be for a country, or like Taglit-Birthright Israel has been for the Jewish people. Zionism traditionally meant “if you will it, it is no dream” and “you and I can change the world.” We live in a world of wonders.
Let’s build on Israel’s glorious track record as the Jewish people’s M3 – Modern Miracle Maker – to make 21st-century Israel a model to the world, providing inspiration not exasperation when all look toward our Jewish state.The author is professor of History at McGill University and the author of eight books on American history including, most recently, Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism, published by Oxford University Press.
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