For Israel, a ray of sunshine through the gloom

Israel in many ways encapsulates the fate of Jews in the last century – moving fast toward modernity and accomplishment while still threatened by significant elements of the world.

November 16, 2015 20:29
3 minute read.
An Israeli soldier sits atop a tank during an exercise in the Golan Heights, near the ceasefire line

An Israeli soldier sits atop a tank during an exercise in the Golan Heights, near the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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There is a great amount of bad news for Israel these days.

Israelis are getting killed daily, largely by young Palestinians in Hebron, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the West Bank in a pale imitation of the second intifada.

On Israel’s Egyptian border there is the rising power of Islamic State (IS), which recently proclaimed that Israel should be destroyed and may have last week blown up a planeload of Russians bound for Saint Petersburg.

Next door on the western border there is Gaza, where Hamas has already fought three wars against Israel and has thousands of rockets prepared for the next.

To the north, in Lebanon, there is the growing threat of Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which has over 100,000 missiles aimed at Israel. It also has several thousand precision missiles that could reach everywhere from Metulla to Eilat.

On Israel’s Syrian border, there is ever increasing activity from Al Nusra and IS. Next to Syria there is Iraq, where IS occupies over one-third of the territory. Further east there is Iran, on the verge of having nuclear weapons and missiles that could hit Tel Aviv in 11 minutes. Beyond the Middle East, Russia has confirmed that it will deliver the S-300 anti-missile system to Iran to protect its military and perhaps nuclear program.

There is strong anti-Israeli sentiment in the world. A 2013 BBC World Services poll found that Israel is the fourth most hated country in the world, after North Korea, Pakistan and Iran. Only 21 percent of the world’s population favors Israel while 52% dislike Israel.

A 2014 British poll found that more British adults disliked Israel than Iran.

Even in the United States, the country that most likes Israel, the younger generation and the Democratic Party show considerably less support for Israel than in the past. The power of the anti-Israel BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement has grown steadily on college campuses in recent years. Relations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama, although now mildly on the upswing, have been among the worst between Jerusalem and Washington in the 67 years of Israel’s existence.

So, where is the fabled good news? Strikingly, everywhere.

Israel’s founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion in the 1950s said that Israel’s survival was threatened by the “inner circle” of Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Some combination of these three powers were involved in five wars with Israel from 1948 to 1973. Ben-Gurion could never have imagined that someday two of these countries would not only have signed peace treaties with Israel but would openly be seeking an alliance against the looming Iranian threat. Syria, once a strong threat to Israel, by 2015 was so divided up into Alawite, Kurdish, Islamic State (IS) and secular rebel sectors that it posed almost no threat to Israel.

Too, for the first 40 years of its existence Israel was not even recognized by China or India or, most of the time, by Russia. Who could have imagined that by 2015 Israel would be recognized by over 160 countries, including all three great powers and have billions of dollars of trade with each of them? The University of Lausanne in Switzerland found that Israel is one of the top hightech powers in the world. Its level of innovation in hightech rates first in the world.

It recently hosted the world’s leading conference in water technology with over 100 countries represented. Israelis in recent years have won almost a dozen Nobel Prizes, more than China or India, both countries with populations vastly greater than Israel’s eight million people.

The waning days of the Obama administration holds hope for a more friendly American administration in January 2017. Hillary Clinton, like her husband, has a long pro-Israel record while the most likely Republican candidates are as pro-Israel or even more so than Hillary.

This is even more likely as the Iranian Grand Ayatollah Ali Khameini, far from moving toward the United States after the recent Iran Deal, stridently attacks the United States and continues to call for “death to America.”

Israel then in many ways encapsulates the fate of Jews in the last century – moving fast toward modernity and accomplishment while still threatened by significant elements of the world.

The author is a professor at the Joseph Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.

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