Facing a Challenging New Year
We enter Rosh Hashanah 5778 with conflicting emotions.
Israel has never been in a stronger position, globally and domestically; we are thriving in every respect — economically, politically and militarily.
But we live in a world of chaos. North Korea threatens to unleash a global nuclear Armageddon — and Europe, under siege from Islamic terrorists, is now suffering terrorist attacks (the likes of which Israel has endured since its inception).
The Iranians and their surrogate, Hezbollah, have been emboldened and seek to move in on Israel’s northern frontiers, repeatedly promising an imminent war that will destroy Israel. Prospects are nonexistent for achieving a genuine peace settlement with the Palestinians, and Hamas has announced a renewal of its relationship with Iran, which is supplying the terror group with lethal weapons.
We now realize that the apparent decline of the world’s most ancient hatred in the wake of the Holocaust was illusionary. Globally, antisemitism — frequently expressed as extreme anti-Israelism, in which Jewish behavior is obscenely bracketed with that of the Nazis — has escalated once again.
Domestically, Israel has been inundated with a stream of accusations of corruption, implicating the highest personages of the land — ranging from the prime minister and leading government officials and prominent businessmen, and extending to senior bureaucrats and even the IDF. Although these charges have yet to be substantiated in the courts, the irresponsible leaks from lawyers and undisciplined police authorities — and especially the sensationalist coverage by much of the media — has presumed the guilt of those accused, even before they were indicted.
Yet despite these challenges, we must give thanks to the Almighty because today the Jewish people are undoubtedly in the strongest position since the destruction of the Second Temple and banishment into exile. Israel has emerged as a regional superpower capable of deterring or defending itself against hostile forces in the region.
US President Barack Obama, who treated Israel politically as a rogue state — and embraced the Iranian terrorist state — is no longer in office. Whatever one’s views about his successor — and despite some unfulfilled pre-electoral promises — Donald Trump does support Israel. In addition, despite the growing anti-Israel trends in the left wing of the Democratic Party and abandonment by some liberals, support for Israel in both houses of Congress and the overall American public stands at an all-time high.
While a genuine peace with the Palestinians is not even on the horizon, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas no longer has the support of the US, and is becoming increasingly isolated.
Our relations with Egypt have improved enormously, and there is close military cooperation against terrorists operating in the Sinai.
The most dramatic change is the new covert relationship with the moderate Sunni states, headed by Saudi Arabia, which now regard the Jewish state as an ally against Iran’s growing regional hegemony. They may still oppose Israel at the United Nations, but in practice, a strategic relationship has emerged that includes sharing of intelligence information and soft-pedaling the Palestinian issue.
Despite efforts to become a nuclear power, Iran is aware that the distance between Tel Aviv and Tehran is the same in both directions. Notwithstanding its leaders’ repeated threats to annihilate us, they are cautious and do not seek an early paradise, realizing that if they were to attack us, they would be pulverized. Lebanon has also been served notice of what to expect if Hezbollah initiates hostilities.
Our status internationally has never been so good. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has succeeded in deepening our ties with a wide assortment of nations.
He developed a rapport with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the former KGB officer, who displays philosemitic attitudes domestically and retains a good working relationship with us. We must tread delicately because of Soviet-U.S. tensions and Russia’s alliance with the Iranians to retain control of Syria. But despite the frequent bombing forays against Iranian and Hezbollah weapons and bases, Israel has managed to retain a cordial relationship with Russia.
In addition, the bonds between Israel and the developing superpower India have never been so close, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi visiting Israel and reaffirming friendship between our countries.
China, which politically supports the Palestinians, has nevertheless invested huge sums in Israeli high-tech, and has extensive and varied business interests here. Likewise, relations have strengthened with Japan and Asian Muslim states like Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. Our ties with Australia have never been better.
Whereas the European Union remains hostile and applies double standards to Israel, many of its component countries, such as the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and the Baltic states, now either support or have strengthened relations with Israel.
The same applies to Africa and Latin America, which Netanyahu was the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit; his efforts have paved the way for new alliances.
There has also been dramatic progress within Israel, whose population is today over 8.7 million; Jews make up almost 75% of that number. This surely represents one of the greatest success stories of all time. After being in exile for 2,000 years, a nation initially comprised primarily of Jews fleeing pogroms, Shoah survivors, refugees from Arab countries, and Jews seeking haven from foreign threats, has evolved into a thriving, modern industrial state.
Our ancient sacred tongue has been transformed into a pulsating modern Hebrew. Israel provides an atmosphere in which the culture and festivals create a unique lifestyle for the non-observant, as well as religious Jew. In addition, more Jews are familiar with the texts and teachings of Judaism than at any time in our history.
Despite a dysfunctional and bigoted rabbinical establishment in Israel, and extortion by the ultra-Orthodox parties that hold the balance of power, there has been a genuine spiritual revival here — with greater observance and respect for tradition than in the past.
There is already evidence that economic and social pressures are beginning to have a profound impact in Israel, obliging the ultra-Orthodox to earn livelihoods and become more integrated into the nation. Hopefully, this will also lead to the breakdown of haredi political extortion and the appointment of more enlightened rabbis to bring about urgently needed reforms in conversion, marriage, education and national service.
Economically, Israel continues to be a global high-tech powerhouse, with more startups per capita than any other country in the world.
Israel’s recent discovery of gas fields was an unexpected boon. The extraordinary success of its desalinization program, which provides us with 80% of our water needs, exceeds that of any country and is being replicated throughout the world.
There remains the problem of the radicalization among Israeli Arabs. They need to be dealt with firmly. However, the majority are law-abiding and appreciate that in Israel, they enjoy freedom and a standard of living unmatched in any Arab country. They should be encouraged and nurtured to remain loyal Israeli citizens.
In assessing our situation, we must reject the prophets of doom and gloom. We should recognize that we are the blessed generation of Jews who are privileged to live in an age of miracles, and who have never been as well off as we are today.
Despite our dysfunctional government, internal divisions and external challenges, decade after decade we have been blessed with prosperity and strength. Polls show that Israelis are among the happiest people on earth.
This coming year, we should be joyful, give thanks to the Almighty and pray that He continues watching over His people during these turbulent times.
Those born in Israel after 1948 are the first generations of empowered Jews. It is important to convey to them, especially the younger generation, the blessings of statehood and what it means to be independent and able to determine their own future. They must not take what they have for granted. To ensure that, our educational system must imbue them with Jewish values and Zionism.
We also hope that in the coming years, more Diaspora Jews will join us, not merely to escape persecution and discrimination 00 but out of a desire to ensure Jewish continuity and enable their children to grow up and enjoy a full Jewish life in their own homeland.
Isi Leibler’s website can be viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com. He may be contacted at [email protected]