It is not every day that a country reaches the prime age of 75, especially a country like Israel that has been engaged in conflict since its inception.
It was hard not to think of this on Tuesday when Israel marked Holocaust Remembrance Day. How many of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis would have imagined that in 2023, the Jewish people would be celebrating 75 years of statehood? How many of the heroic survivors still with us, who emerged barely alive from the camps and the death march, would have thought that they would live to see this day?
But instead of the country being in a celebratory mood, Israel appears to be on the verge of breaking apart at the seams. What will happen on Tuesday – Remembrance Day – at military cemeteries is still unclear. Will Knesset members and government ministers attend the ceremonies and be heckled by bereaved families as some have warned they will, or will the MKs and ministers stay away and avoid the potential conflict?
And should they really have to stay away? Whether we like these MKs or ministers or not, they are our democratically elected representatives, and even the ones who we might have ideological disagreements with – on the Left and the Right – are mostly patriots.
Most of them served their country with distinction and while staying away from the ceremonies might avoid painful scenes like what happened last year, when prime minister Naftali Bennett was heckled for several long minutes, does that show respect for the country? What will we do when one day someone says that the Israeli flag insults a sector in society? Will we stop flying it at ceremonies?
This is not the way for any country to mark such a milestone and definitely not the way that Israel should be doing so. After all of the conflicts this country has been engaged in, all the wars and intifadas, the idea that what will lead to such discord is the fight among ourselves, is simply heartbreaking. In all of our 75 years, none of Israel’s enemies were able to do to the country what Israelis have done to themselves.
On the other hand, pretending that everything is okay would be ignoring reality. Transportation Minister Miri Regev – who due to her allegiance to the Netanyahu family was put in charge of the state’s official Independence Day celebration at Mount Herzl – tried to do just that when she instructed the three main TV channels on Tuesday that if there are disruptions by protesters they should be prepared to broadcast a prerecording of the rehearsal.
The request was outrageous (it was later retracted due to public uproar). Israel is not North Korea and does not broadcast fake festivals. If there are disruptions, then we should see them in real time and deal with the pain and shame that will come with them. That is what it means to live in a democratic and free society.
The thought that the government would want to hide that is disturbing and the move is, anyhow, ineffective. Do attendees not have cellphones on which they can record the disturbance and then upload to social media, or did Regev plan to take away everyone’s cellphones as well when they enter the compound?
Israel's civil discord is awful but the country is still a success
SINCE THE start of the protests against the judicial reform, I have believed that while the civil discord is awful, the silver lining is that the fight over how to appoint justices is actually a sign that Israel is the safest and most secure it has ever been. Yes, there are still threats, but when a country’s back is up against the wall and it doesn’t know if it will survive the day, that same country does not have the luxury of thinking about how to appoint justices or what number of MKs are required for an override bill. The fact that Israel can do that now is a testament to its prosperity and success.
And maybe this is the lesson to remember ahead of Independence Day – it is time that Israel recognizes that it is in fact strong and prosperous. Militarily there is little question: We saw just a couple of weeks ago how rockets can be fired into Israel from three different fronts, but does anyone really believe that if the IDF was ordered to, it would not be able to meet the challenge?
Even on the economy, where there are significant challenges as shown by Moody’s latest report as well as the high inflation rate, can we really complain when considering Israel’s energy independence, the continued growth of its tech sector and the fact that the GDP per capita here is over $50,000? In 2000 it was $21,000 and in 1970 it was barely $2,000.
Israel is today more powerful and wealthy than its founders could have ever imagined. But despite this strength and prosperity, it sometimes seems like the state does everything it can to avoid having to confront the tough issues. Excuses are easy to come up with but when you are 75 and have met success, is that not the right moment to tackle the issues and try to solve them in the interests of the nation?
This applies to judicial reform, but also to the conflict with the Palestinians. It applies to matters of religion and state but also to the way the state wants to integrate Israeli-Arabs and fight crime in the sector. It applies to fixing the education system but also to getting haredi men to work, even if that means they will not serve in the IDF.
The last few months have been tough for Israel and Israelis. The country is divided and while the mood might be a bit less tense right now, it is just the quiet before the storm which will break out if and when the talks at the President’s Residence fall apart.
But even if that happens, Israelis should keep their eye on the big picture. This country is a success story on any scale. It has its challenges and faults, and while the situation might seem at times to be hopeless, we can all be proud of what has been built here. That is a simple fact not to be forgotten.
Happy Independence Day!
The writer is former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.