Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, is always marked by a mixture of joy and reflection. This year is no different, though a touch of malaise is putting a damper on the former, while taking the latter in the wrong direction.
Among the minority currently in power are members of the Left, who have always held Israel accountable for the plight of Palestinian Authority denizens and for international condemnation. This group still blames the entire Right for the 1995 murder of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. Neither nationwide horror surrounding that unprecedented event, nor the fact that assassin Yigal Amir has been sitting in prison since then, has made a dent in the Left’s view that anti-Rabin incitement from the opposition — led at the time, as today, by Benjamin Netanyahu — was directly responsible.
That Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s family recently received threatening letters with live bullets in them has brought the old accusations to the fore, providing the “anybody but Bibi” crowd with proverbial ammunition.
The above camp’s go-to position whenever Arab terrorism spikes, as it is currently doing, is the one that was voiced ad nauseam by gung-ho supporters of the disastrous Oslo Accords: that we cannot allow the “enemies of peace” to win.
This bloc, which now has important ministerial portfolios, contains politicians who call for Israeli “soul-searching” at every opportunity, including during Holocaust Remembrance Day and Yom Hazikaron, our Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism. Their message is that if Israel isn’t careful, it will become like Nazi Germany.
AMONG THESE paragons of virtue-signaling are Knesset members who proudly announced that they would be attending the annual alternative Yom Hazikaron ceremony to mourn the loss of Israeli and Palestinian lives alike. In other words, they believe that the perpetrators eliminated while killing Israelis — or those used by Hamas as human shields — are equivalent to the Israeli soldiers and civilians targeted by them.
Thankfully, the majority of the populace does not waste time thumping its chest with moans of mea culpa. It is too busy trying to steer clear of shootings, stabbings, car-rammings and rocket launches.
This completely diverse sector has one important thing in common: the understanding that the problem does not lie with “enemies of peace,” but rather with enemies of Israel and the Jews. Indeed, most Israeli citizens have a healthier outlook than the people governing them and the pundits shouting over one another on TV.
All one needs to do to recognize this reality and receive a boost of optimism is walk the streets, ride the buses and frequent the shops in and around the country. In between the acts of antisemitic violence endured on a regular basis, everybody goes about his and her business as usual.
Yes, we Israelis like to “get back to abnormal” as soon as possible. You know, fretting the small stuff, such as what to cook for Friday-night dinner, how to fix a broken faucet or where to find a parking space.
ONE WOULD not get this sense by listening to lectures from on high about our lack of “unity.” It’s a word that’s always bandied around when tensions arise over politics, social issues and religious observance. The trouble is that it’s an elusive concept that has very little meaning, particularly where conflicting worldviews are concerned.
But it was necessary for the ideologically disparate parties to tout it while forming the coalition a little more than a year ago. To persuade the public that the beauty of the new government lay in its ability to get along in spite of its deep divisions, required a lot of pronouncements about change on the one hand and “restoring unity” on the other.
It didn’t work. Aside from the hype, the hope and the amnesia that it initially generated in certain circles, the feeling that all disagreements can be settled without rancor did not trickle down in the way that Bennett and his cohorts had fantasized.
In the first place, the arguments in the halls of power have been loud and clear, so much so that the coalition is falling apart at the seams. Secondly, “unity” is never a lasting phenomenon in any case. It is achieved occasionally, under certain conditions. Furthermore, it is fleeting.
THE QUIP “two Jews, three opinions” is funny precisely because it’s true. In his Yom Hazikaron address at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Tuesday, Bennett himself described the very infighting that has characterized Jewish history.
“[This] is the third time that there has been a sovereign Jewish state here in the land of Israel. The previous two times, we did not succeed at reaching the eighth decade in peace,” he said. “This is the most important lesson in our history, and I do not tire of repeating it. In the first instance, our first state, in the days of David and Solomon, survived 80 years as a united and sovereign kingdom. In its 81st year, because of internal conflicts, the country split in two, and we lost forever most of our people, the 10 tribes.”
He went on: “In the second instance, during the Second Temple period, the Hasmonean kingdom existed for about 77 years as a united and sovereign state. Towards the end of that period, there was again a severe internal conflict within us and it was the Jews themselves who invited the Romans inside Israel. We lost our independence and became a humiliated protectorate of the Romans. And we also lost this protectorate, at the end of the Second Temple. In the heat of purism and hostility, Jews burned each other’s food reserves, inflicting defeat on themselves. What a terrible price we paid: 2,000 years in exile, because we succumbed to hatred between brothers.”
Today, he added that “we have won a third chance; there will not be another [one]. We are now in the eighth decade of the state [that] we have not yet succeeded in as a united nation. We have been given an opportunity to correct the sin of our ancestral brotherly hatred and to get rid of the tendency toward sectarianism that destroyed our people.”
HE WAS right about the past. Yet his description of contemporary Israel as having “not yet succeeded as a united nation” was both inaccurate and inappropriate in the context of mourning the dead before celebrating the establishment of the modern state.
With all its warts, among them an electoral system that enabled Bennett to become premier with very few seats, Israel is a paradise of coexistence. Despite being pummeled physically by foes in and around its borders, relentlessly delegitimized abroad and under the threat of a nuclear Iran, it is miraculously vibrant.
It is simultaneously Western and Middle Eastern; provincial and cosmopolitan; religious and secular; conservative and progressive; entrepreneurial and old-fashioned; empathic and brash; exorbitantly expensive and a haven for tourists. Above all, it is a fantastic place to live, which is why even some of its heavy-duty detractors in the foreign press covet the Israel beat.
WE ISRAELIS deserve leaders who remind us of how great we are to have achieved such a feat, not warn us that we’re headed for implosion as a result of internecine strife. If anything needs emphasizing as Israel turns 74, it is patriotic Zionism, the core around which we actually can and should unite.