A little more than a week ago, we marked the 125th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress in Basel and once more reminded ourselves what a truly remarkable event it was. Five years after the First Zionist Congress, in his famous “Altneuland,” Theodor Herzl allowed himself to dream big, perhaps even a little too big. One can’t help but smile reading it today. Brought up in a European manner, Herzl wanted to bring Europe itself – its essence, culture and progress – to the Middle East. Like many early theoretical and political Zionists, he thought it was a key to getting along with the local Arab population and creating peaceful coexistence. However, when it came to real life and practical deeds, history got in the way of those dreams. But one cannot deny how right Herzl was in his general vision.
The Zionist project succeeded in building a modern democratic state. As a proper European at the time and a journalist himself, Herzl surely dreamed about a professional and independent Israeli press.
Today, we celebrate the anniversary of one of the oldest Israeli news outlets – the Jerusalem Post – founded just a few decades before the State itself was proclaimed.
It’s a great honor for me to congratulate the Jerusalem Post and its readers on this occasion and mark their excellent work and contribution to Israeli democracy, as well as their promotion of the Jewish State abroad by telling the true story of Israel as it unfolds.
An independent press, objective criticism, unbiased opinions and views across the political spectrum are the markers of a healthy democracy. It’s something we are fortunate to have in Israel – something we must cherish. By ensuring the independence of the media and the existence of such newspapers as the Jerusalem Post, we are ensuring the future of our State for years to come. At the first Zionist Congresses, delegates argued whether it was more important to make political moves or settle the land. These were the political and practical wings of the Zionist movement. Ensuring the work of an independent press in Israel is indeed the practical Zionism of today.
It is a misconception to state that Zionism has fulfilled its mission and lost its relevance as an ideology. The fact that we have populated the land, built a state and received political recognition from the nations doesn’t mean that the work is done. We can redefine the same aspects, and we have a great deal of political, practical and spiritual work to do. In everyday life, we tend to forget that our ‘founding fathers’ – both of the ancient and the modern Jewish nation – dreamt of making the world into a better place. That is precisely what binds Judaism and modern Zionism. The idealism of the Torah and the commandment to serve as a role model to other nations by building an ideal, prosperous state with a just society was an inspiration for the Zionist pioneers and statesmen. That is what we must not forget today. The Jerusalem Post is a good example of such visionary, dream-like Zionism.
Building a ‘good enough’ state wasn’t the plan, and we are only halfway there. Luckily, we are growing quickly, and today the State of Israel is considered a role model in several aspects of life.
Creativity, technology and diplomacy have to be included in this list. Historically the Land of Israel has always been at the crossroads of continents, empires and nations. This delicate position among our neighbors, who were not always friendly, along with a challenging climate, harsh conditions and scarcity of natural resources, has not made our life any easier in ancient times nor today. However, it taught us to look on the brighter side of life, find the positive aspects of adverse situations, and, most importantly, adapt.
'It’s a great honor for me to congratulate the Jerusalem Post and its readers on this occasion and mark their excellent work and contribution to Israeli democracy'Dr. Michael Mirilashvili
A lack of alternatives made us think out of the box. Creativity led to the boost of technology when the time came. Technology allowed the tiny Jewish state to become one of the leading economic forces, gained us a solid international status and strengthened our diplomatic positions.
I’m privileged to have the ability to contribute to these processes by advocating Israeli rights as President of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, and developing new technologies as a founder of two Israeli-based tech companies. One of them is Watergen, whose devices produce clean, fresh drinking water from the moisture in the air. The second is Vertical Field, which provides an affordable way to grow over 200 types of crops in any indoor or outdoor urban space. The recently signed Abraham Accords allowed us to find partners in the United Arab Emirates. We are especially proud that several Watergen devices have been installed in the Gaza Strip, where almost two million people suffer from a severe shortage of clean drinking water. By closing the gaps and making the world more equal, technology brings people and nations together.
Thousands of tech companies in Israel today are improving the quality of daily life and contributing to the international image of our state. This is yet another intersection of contemporary practical and political Zionism.
I would like to greet once more and express my deep gratitude to the Jerusalem Post and all the participants of its Anniversary Conference in New York for taking such an active part in our common Zionist project, building the future for our State and making the most vivid dreams of our spiritual forefathers come true.
Dr. Michael Mirilashvili is the President of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress.