To Israel With Love
In his column in Haaretz on Wednesday, titled “Why I won’t be celebrating Israel’s Independence Day this year,” Asher Schechter lists many reasons for his dejection by the Jewish state and his absence from the holiday festivities for the first time in 29 years. On a trip to New York, he had decided in advance that he wouldn’t even join the event in spirit, avoiding “anything and everything Israeli” for the day.
His description of the state of the nation is as bleak as it is detailed. He writes: “The past 12 months in Israel have been rife with internal and external conflicts, international isolation and political corruption. It saw an operation in Gaza last summer that claimed the lives of more than 2,000 Palestinians and 70-plus Israelis, and then was almost instantly forgotten. It saw an ugly election campaign that pitted Israelis against each other: Right against LeftÍ¾ Jews against ArabsÍ¾ Ashkenazim against SephardimÍ¾ secular against religious — and the reelection of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”
He then asks: “Should we raise a glass to Israel’s rapid descent into a moral and political abyss? Should we congratulate the young nation on its narrowing democracy, on the growing reliance of its leaders on nationalism and bigotry, on the emotional numbness that seems to have overtaken it in recent years? Should we cheer for the untimely death of the two-state solution, or maybe Israel’s dangerous steps toward apartheid?”
The answer to his rhetorical questions, of course, is no.
“As Israel continues down its path of isolation and conflict, and does so with renewed verve,” he explains, “I find my disappointment outweighing my sense of national pride.”
Impressive. And if Israel even remotely resembled the country he describes, I would be equally despondent. Thankfully, it does not.
On the contrary, the Israel I inhabit — the one that actually exists — is wonderland.
In spite of being surrounded by enemies bent on its destruction, it continues to be full of life, with a paradoxical flavor. It is homey, yet cosmopolitan; provincial, yet world-wise; war-torn, yet peace-obsessed; frenetic, yet relaxed; religious, yet secular; Middle Eastern, yet Western; conservatively single-minded, yet prone to every liberal fad on the planet; a bureaucratic nightmare, yet heaven for individual expression and entrepreneurship; judgmental, yet empathic; ill-mannered, yet proper; marriage-oriented, yet a paradise for singles; exorbitantly expensive, yet a tourist’s dream; economically shaky, yet able to weather global and local crashes.
Its imperfections are numerous, but public efforts to correct them know no bounds. Complaints about the condition of and budgets allotted to health care, welfare, transportation, education, defense, culture are rampant, with some more justified than others. These gripes are constantly underscored in the press, which is free to criticize anything and everything at will, no matter how false — such as Schechter’s accusing Israel of “apartheid” and blaming it for the “untimely death of the two-state solution.”
No country on earth at the age of 67 has ever come close to Israel’s achievements, and being the “startup nation” is merely the icing on the cake. Its true greatness lies not in technological innovation, but in the fabric of its society, which manages to balance and juggle every possible melting-pot hurdle with miraculous wherewithal.
In spite of its flawed politicians and electoral system; in spite of ethnic and religious diversity and clashes; in spite of rockets flying from Gaza (as one did at the close of Independence Day); in spite of incessant and increasing diplomatic assault; and in spite of the palpable threat of a nuclear Iran, the Jewish state is not merely a phenomenon, but a fantastic place to live.
Schechter says that he finds his “disappointment outweighing [his] sense of national pride.” I, on the other hand, grow more in love with Israel with each passing year.
Ruthie Blum is the web editor of Voice of Israel talk radio (voiceofisrael.com). This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.