5765, the good and the bad

We are by far the most fortunate Jewish generation in over 2,000 years.

Even most supporters of disengagement would agree that, by any benchmark, this has been an annus horribilis, an awful year on the Israeli domestic scene. The prime minister bypassed procedures which are normally taken for granted in a democratic country. Noisy extremists on both sides of the debate, bolstered by the media, behaved irresponsibly and without any semblance of concern about the repercussions of their words and actions. At one stage the bitter divisions threatened to erupt into violence, and there were even mutterings of an impending civil war. The demonization of the settlers and the manner in which the Left gloated over their displacement will remain an indelible blot on our history. Even worse are the current perfidious efforts by Yesh Gvul activists to have senior IDF officers traveling abroad indicted for "war crimes." Former chief rabbis disgraced themselves by giving unqualified assurances that Divine intervention would thwart the disengagement. One went so far as to reserve the largest hall in Jerusalem for a thanksgiving banquet to celebrate the annulment of Sharon's decree. Another former chief rabbi made the bizarre statement that Hurricane Katrina was God's retribution to President George W. Bush for having supported disengagement. Most religious Zionists were deeply shamed by these crude byproducts of a growing trend to reject modernism and rely on the most primitive forms of religious expression. To make matters worse, the integration of Israelis displaced from their homes has been utterly mishandled and the vast majority today still remain in limbo even though the authorities had over 18 months to prepare for their resettlement. On the political level all the indicators suggest that, far from reducing terror, the disengagement has in fact provided a new lease of life for the terrorists who, at the time of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's decision to withdraw, had been in disarray and in fear of their lives because of effective IDF action. They are now triumphantly hailing the withdrawal as a reward for armed violence. The Americans and others continue to depict Mahmoud Abbas as a man of peace despite his insistence that he will not dismantle the terrorist infrastructure and his ongoing sanction of martyrs and suicide bombers as heroes of the Palestinian people. The void between the people of Israel and their self-promoting political leaders has also widened, exacerbated by the exposure of shocking new levels of corruption at senior government levels and in the public service. YET HAVING painted this extraordinarily gloomy and pessimistic review, I am bold enough to say that contrary to predictions by the prophets of doom, the public exposure and debate concerning these ugly events may actually bring about positive results. Israelis of all shades of opinion are disgusted by the failures of their leaders and the free rein provided to extremists and nihilists on both sides of the political spectrum. There is a prevailing feeling that "enough is enough" and that the chaos must end. This was already highlighted during the disengagement fracas when, despite the ugly behavior of fanatics on the fringe, the silent majority of Israelis demonstrated that they were still by and large a special people conscious of their humanity, Jewish values and brotherhood. Despite the traumas they underwent, the vast majority of those uprooted from their homes and communities spurned the violent option and followed the pleas of moderate rabbis and leaders, who consistently regarded any violence against state instrumentalities as sacrilegious. Likewise, the sensitive and compassionate manner in which IDF personnel engaged in their unpalatable task averted a catastrophe and demonstrated that despite all the criticisms of their behavior Israelis remain a unique and caring people. What is needed now is to persuade the average Israeli citizen to commit himself to a greater involvement in his civic obligations and demand that our leaders behave in a more democratic manner. The majority of Israelis who are sensitive to the outrages committed by a small minority should press for sanctions against any citizen who demonizes fellow Israelis or incites to treason. Politicians motivated by their personal well-being rather than the national interest should be confronted and isolated. Those involved in corruption should be vigorously prosecuted and expunged from public life. We need to adopt a new approach on the international level. It is high time we stopped making empty threats. We should announce to the entire world, including our American friends, that henceforth, while taking every possible precaution to minimize innocent civilian casualties, we will respond to acts of terrorism with all the might at our disposal. The responsibility for civilians injured or killed because they reside in proximity to terrorists who are trying to launch attacks against us now rests with Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. BUT MOST importantly, we should stop whining about how miserable we are and vigorously reject those who predict doom and gloom. We should remind the pessimists that not in their wildest dreams could our grandparents have remotely visualized the Jewish people overcoming Jewish powerlessness and creating one of the best armies in the world. We may be a small nation, but we are still the greatest success story of the 20th century. The Jewish state is here to stay. And, yes, we have social problems, including poverty, that must be resolved. But we have created a remarkable society, absorbed millions of refugees and developed a financial infrastructure and economy with hi-tech industries second only to the United States. We should give daily thanks that we are by far the most fortunate and blessed Jewish generation in over 2,000 years of exile and persecution. Without minimizing the reversals we have encountered over the past year we must remind the wailers in our midst that these are setbacks not catastrophes. We should face the New Year with a sense of cautious optimism, recognizing that our future remains in our hands, that the most dangerous threat we face is not external but the enemy within, and that, with determination, we will once again overcome all our challenges. The writer chairs the Diaspora-Israel relations committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and is a veteran communal international leader. ileibler@netvision.net.il