Palestinians and leftists, Bibi and barebcues: Israel's messy 70th birthday

This contentious little country could not get through its Memorial Day and its 70th Anniversary Independence Day without political squabbles that qualify for the label of noisome, i.e., stinky.
The media of Memorial Day were marked, as is usual, by stories about young people cut down before they could demonstrate their potential. One doubts that there is an Israeli family — leaving aside recent immigrants — not touched by a relative or friend in a military cemetery.
In recent years a number of those suffering, and somewhere to the left of center politically, have sought to combine their politics with their sorrow by organizing a bi-national Memorial Day.
The idea is essentially good. Palestinians as well as Israelis have lost their loved ones in what is essentially a war between competing nationalisms. We can aspire to the time when such a ceremony can be held on the borders between Israeli and Palestinian areas, and attract people from both sides who lament the past and hope for a common future.
But we're not there yet. A largely Jewish, bi-national event in Tel Aviv does not do the job.
Avigdor Lieberman sought to use his status as Defense Minister to block the entry to Israel of Palestinians wanting to take part in the bi-national commemoration. The Supreme Court rejected his travel ban, and Palestinians came to the ceremony. While Israelis at the ceremony welcomed them, nearby demonstrators were loud in their denunciation of Palestinians and the Israeli left.
David Grossman is one of the country's most prominent authors, and lost a son in battle. He gave the principal address at this year's bi-national Memorial Day, and none should have been surprised by his assigning principal responsibility to Israel for the continued conflict. Passages in his speech reflected his literary renown, but he also stooped to the leftist platitudes of occupation, oppression and apartheid.
An individual in the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Lod set off fireworks at the moment when sirens throughout the country were marking the onset of Memorial Day. The man being charged is both Jewish and Arab, has different names, and may represent within himself a bizarre example of more general problems.
Independence Day was no less contentious.
The highlight was a continuing dispute involving the chair of the knesset, the prime minister, and the minister of sport and culture in her role as chair of the knesset committee on ceremonies.
It began with the Knesset Chair, Yuri Edelstein, insisting on a monopoly of the ceremony for the Knesset, without a role for his party colleague, the prime minister. Edelstein threatened to boycott the ceremony and pull out the Knesset Honor Guard if the Knesset's dominance was compromised.
Minister of Culture and Sport and Meri Regev, a Likudnik still loyal to the prime minister who is in charge of natinal ceremonies, insisted on Netanyahu's participation. Regev went too far when she also invited the president of Honduras to participate in the ceremony.
That came apart in comic fashion as critics described Honduras and its president as being even more clearly corrupt than anything associated with Netanyahu.
Regev overcame that flub by arranging a compromise between Edelstein and Netanyahu, but it weakened a day before the occasion when Regev demanded that Edelstein speak for only seven minutes and Netanyahu for five.
Despite Regev's concern for a celebration that was not overly long, it went on for more than two hours. Edelstein had cut down his prepared 15 minute speech to 11 minutes, and Bibi out-spoke him for 14. Israelis could praise or condemn the taste, excess, or kitschiness of the marching, music, dancing and pyrotechnics.
The next day Edelstein criticized Netanyahu for breaking his word, ruining the ceremony and politicizing the event. Edelstein said that Bibi had agreed to give a short speech about the Declaration of Independence, and instead spoke at length about his own contributions to Israel.
Edelstein and Regev exchanged accusations of speaking nonsense and lying.
The awarding of Israel Prizes is a traditional event at the close of Independence Day, and has its own tensions. They've appeared both as academic politics within the committees appointed to select candidates for a prize and in politicians' efforts to control the membership of those committees or the nominees for receiving a prize.
This year, the right-leaning Education Minister Naftali Bennett won some praise from the left when he made a warm endorsement of David Grossman's selection for the prize in the field of literature. However, the prospect of Grossman giving the principal address in behalf of all the recipients.was rejected and a woman prize recipient was chosen for the role. Perhaps the committee did not want to risk an another unrestrained criticism of Israel, or it sought to counter feminists' charges that not enough women are chosen for Israel Prizes.
Along with everything else, the next day came with the usual reports about air pollution produced by fireworks on the eve of Independence Day, then afternoon barbecues at parks and beaches, along with crowding on the roads, the need to close some of the key sights filled to capacity, and the trash left by celebrants.
And subscribers to the translation service Memri were reminded of problems touching us from beyond the borders. Among Memri's items was a Jordanian who wrote that historians exaggerated the actions of Hitler, and that Trump and Netanyahu were worse; that the American attack on Syria caused tensions between Egyptians supportive of Assad, and Saudis demanding his removal; and that Iranians were discussing their response to an Israeli attack on a base in Syria, debating how far they would go toward open warfare.
Comments welcome
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem