The Wonder That Is Israel
JNS.org – Anyone who is willing to look up for a moment from the hardships of politics and the coronavirus and examine the success of the project called the State of Israel from a broad historical perspective knows that it deserves to be crowned a resounding success.
Anyone who prefers—and there are quite a few—to assess the state of the nation based on the media headlines will soon find themselves longing for the Stone Age. It seems that complaining is very fashionable these days in the political-media sphere. I’m not the first one to say this: Our national sport is grumbling. But recently, we have raised it into an art form. We are champions at painting everything in bleak shades of failure and omission. Every mishap is seen as a “crisis,” any frustration intensifies into an “outcry,” and we are convinced that every difficulty is the “end of the Third Temple.”
True, the never-ending election cycle creates a sense that everything is stuck, and that the chosen people has become the choosing people. It’s exhausting and discouraging. After all, what did we ask for? A functioning government and leaders willing to work together for the public after four elections? Not to mention the coronavirus that wreaked havoc on us, leaving us stifled and with heavy hearts, creating a persistent feeling of helplessness.
Still, the past year’s challenges and difficulties aside, some proportion is in order. The Israeli government, rattled by political chaos and consecutive elections campaigns, has been able to mount a most impressive immunization drive, and even with COVID-19 holding it back, was able to bring about four peace agreements and, according to some reports and speculations, is also able to show our neighbors and the whole world that we know and intend to defend ourselves. So maybe, just maybe, not everything is so awful.
With respect to proportions (historical ones also), I think of the things that previous generations have faced: existential and bloody wars, terrible waves of terror, periods of austerity and economic crises. Each generation has its burden to bear. I’m not sure I would rush to trade places.
They keep telling us it was different back then. There was solidarity, brotherhood, a sense of joint destiny and a shared objective. That is both true and untrue.
I remember myself as a child, watching with excitement Israel’s military parade on its 25th birthday. I remember how proud my parents were. There were those who came to the parade on foot and those who parked not far from it, having driven a fancy American car (those were the days when only the few could afford to own a car, and American cars particularly were considered a luxury).
It’s not that there were no social tensions, and it’s not that inequality was less troubling. But when it came to the state, there was indeed a sense of partnership: The state was ours—all of us—equally. Who then thought in terms of “they stole my country” or “give me back the old and beautiful Israel”? And it’s also true that with a red party card you “belonged” a little more and you had a few more friends in the right places, but my parents, who preferred Menachem Begin, didn’t feel for a moment that they were cut off from events, joys and the national experience.
That sense of partnership, I feel, has been somewhat eroded. No, I’m not questioning anyone’s patriotism or love of country. We all—right and left, secular and religious, First Israel and Second Israel, Jews and Arabs—care about this country equally. And yet, there is a sense that we feel it’s ours on a limited basis.
Perhaps it is the political thriller that refuses to end or the fact that personal politics now takes precedence over ideology. Perhaps it’s just an impression that is amplified due to the culture of social media, with its virulence and aggression. A feeling that if “our” side doesn’t run the show, then it is no longer “the same country.” A feeling that “they have taken over” and that “my country has changed its nature”; that if we do not lead then we are less proud of the country, the state, the people.
And that is, perhaps, more than any exaggerated myth about “racism” and “apartheid,” something we should strive to correct before it becomes a rift. Bring back the sense of belonging and partnership that transcend all controversy and rivalries.
If someone had told my great-grandfather what kind of trouble our generation would encounter, he would surely not have believed it. At the same time, even if ever imagined that his country would become a military and intelligence powerhouse—that it would be the “startup nation” and a technological power, that it would solve the water crisis and be close to achieving energy independence, that it would forge warm alliances with other nations in the region, becoming a light onto the nations in the time of global crisis—he would have kept it to himself lest he be committed to a mental institution.
So for my great-grandfather—and his friends and contemporaries, and for the generations that will one day call us ancestors—let us insist on sparing no effort so that all of us, each and every one of us, continue to be proud of being Israeli and proud of our country. We have all the reasons in the world to be proud. Happy Independence Day!
Boaz Bismuth is editor in chief of Israel Hayom.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.