Israel still has news to smile about in dark times

Even amid the coronavirus crisis and the prospect of fourth elections, there is plenty of light

Deni Avdija, drafted by the NBA's Washington Wizards (photo credit: DOV HALICKMAN PHOTOGRAPHY)
Deni Avdija, drafted by the NBA's Washington Wizards
Facing the likelihood of a third COVID-19 lockdown, staring at the prospect of a fourth election in two years and exposed to a constant drumbeat of depressing news, as we near the end of 2020, Israelis could be excused for feeling down.
The reply given by one radio guest after another when asked how they are doing – “Personally I’m okay, but I’m worried about the country” – surely reflects the sentiments of many.
But not all is doom and gloom.
True, Israel is saddled with a dysfunctional government that – apart from reaching US-brokered accords with the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan – has little to show for its six months in power, but the country’s people are super functional, and the achievements of a number of individuals over the last few weeks deserves applause and even admiration. They also serve as an antidote to the depressing feeling generated by the coronavirus pandemic and the ham-handed way in which the government is dealing with it, that nothing is going right.
Let’s proceed from the heavy to the light.
The world is looking on with a dropped jaw at last week’s the assassination in broad daylight just outside Tehran of Iran’s chief nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
Whether one approves of the hit or not, the meticulously planned and flawlessly executed assassination – which foreign reports have ascribed to Israel –  is an example of intelligence and operational capabilities that are the envy of all the world’s spy agencies.
What is often lost in the legitimate frustration Israelis feel when the country’s infrastructure fails each year when cities are flooded during the season’s first heavy rains, is the realization that Israelis can indeed perform stunning feats when they are demanded.
The country may not have sufficient rainwater runoff pipes in Hod Hasharon, but it can – if the foreign reports are to be believed – eliminate someone considered an existential threat thousands of kilometers away in the supposed safety of his own land. This is no mean achievement, and one which – in addition to providing us with a strong sense of our ability to defend ourselves – should also fill us with pride that there are those among us with the innovative thinking, the daring, bravery and skill to carry out a feat of this sort.
But it is not only in the realm of national self-defense that Israelis have made a mark in recent weeks. On Monday, Odelia Fitoussi, an Israeli woman with muscular dystrophy, was elected to the United Nations Committee on the rights of Persons with Disabilities, the leading UN body for formulating global policy on this issue.
Fitoussi, a longtime activist for the rights of people with disabilities in Israel, was among 27 candidates vying for the nine committee seats. That an Israeli won in the first round with the support of 109 countries voting by secret ballot is a testament to the strides that Israel has made in the world body. Such a resounding vote of confidence for anyone from Israel at the world body would have been unthinkable a few years ago.
Meanwhile, Israeli innovation continues to reap praise and rewards, with Time Magazine placing six Israeli innovations on its list of the 100 top inventions of 2020.
Among the creations are a headset using augmented reality to aid spinal surgeons; an artificially intelligent beehive that can double pollination capacity and honey production; a folding electric car; and a new sweetener that can reduce sugar content in products by up to 50%, while retaining the same level of sweetness.
And then there are the country’s recent sporting accomplishments. They may pale in comparison to other Israeli contributions to world betterment, but they are still a source of pride and show Israelis that, as legendary gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi shouted to injured US Jewish gymnast Kerri Strug in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics: “You can do it.”
Israeli competitors have this month shown that they can do it too. Starting with the first-round drafting of Deni Avdija by the NBA’s Washington Wizards, gold and silver medals in European championships for Israeli judokas, windsurfers and artistic gymnasts, and the national basketball team who qualified for next year’s European Championship finals on Monday.
Israeli athletes have indeed given the country something to cheer during difficult days when smiles are definitely needed.