Appreciating the achievements

As Israel turns 64, we have much to be proud of. But we do not always appreciate our many achievements.

Israeli flags 390 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Israeli flags 390
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
As Israel turns 64, we have much to be proud of. But we do not always appreciate our many achievements.
We agonize over the Iranian nuclear threat, endlessly debating the pros and cons of a preemptive military strike against an Islamic Republic run by apocalyptic mullahs who have expressed their desire to wipe Israel “off the map.”
But we, a people who just last week commemorated the Holocaust – the ultimate price paid for Jewish powerlessness – forget to appreciate having the option of launching such a strike single-handedly if we need to. And while we are the strongest military might in the region, we are also the most restrained and most moral.
We take to the streets to protest the high cost of living, skyrocketing housing prices, and the general difficulties of making ends meet every month – and the government does its best to listen, a testament to democracy in action.
But we forget to appreciate our low unemployment rate, brisk GDP growth and general economic stability at a time when much of the western world – in particular the US and Europe – is in the throes of one of the worst economic downturns in recent history.
We lament the sorry state of our education system but take in stride the fact that Israel is over-represented in the number of patents it produces per capita, in the number of PhDs, published scientific papers, companies listed on NASDAQ, or startups per capita. We fail to acknowledge that illiteracy among Israeli Arabs has plummeted or that on average Arab Christians surpass Jews academically and financially.
Not surprisingly, emigration of American Jews to Israel has been growing incrementally and now stands at more than 3,000 a year. And in recent years the number of Israelis coming home after an extended stay in America has doubled and now stands at about 9,000 a year. With all the criticism leveled against it, Jews are voting with their feet. Israel has become the best place to raise a Jewish family in the world, not just if you are interested in Jewish continuity, but even if you are looking for a high quality of life.
Unfortunately, too much emphasis has been placed on Israel’s faults while ignoring the Zionist movement’s tremendous achievements over the past 64 years. The most recent – and most prominent – example has been Peter Beinart’s new book The Crisis of Zionism. The book focuses almost exclusively on Israel’s purported failures – particularly with regard to the unresolved conflict on the West Bank – while failing to acknowledge the Jewish state’s miraculous accomplishments.
On one level this propensity for complaining and finding fault is a very Jewish trait. After all, we are a people who believe in tikun olam, repairing the world. The world cannot be fixed without first acknowledging its flaws. We have, therefore, developed an acute sensitivity to injustices, particularly those said to have been perpetrated by fellow Jews.
Perhaps this partially explains Beinart’s and other Jews’ zeal in castigating Israel. They have a sincere desire to see the Jewish state strive for moral perfection, though they fail to make similar demands of non-Jews.
But there is another central idea in Judaism called ahavat yisrael – love of Israel. A hypercritical approach to Jewish sovereignty must be buffered by equally strong expressions of love, commitment and appreciation for the Jews living in Israel.
By belittling Israelis’ repeated attempts – while sustaining painful losses in the form of terrorist attacks and wars – to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians, Beinart and other like-minded critics convey a message of callousness and disrespect. By calling for a boycott of Israel, even one targeting Jewish communities living in Judea and Samaria, Beinart and the others are adopting a condescending attitude.
Do they hold Israelis in such low esteem that they believe we are insensitive to Palestinian suffering and must be bullied into peace? Do they believe that we, who suffer the direct consequences of the ongoing conflict, do not wish to live in peace with our neighbors? As Israel turns 64 the Jewish people has much to be proud of. Let’s all learn to appreciate the achievements while recognizing the challenges.