The Real World: Israel at 60

Date: 05-09-2008 | Category: Articles, Middle East

The Real World: Israel at 60


By Ariel Cohen

The 21st century will not be an easy one for Israel, yet the 20th initially looked even worse: Jewish pogroms in Russia, inept Ottoman rule in the Holy Land, Jews without a state for 2,000 years.

Yet, the enduring faith that prompts Jews to pray facing Jerusalem three times a day, the compelling vision of its founding father Theodor Herzl, enthusiasm of the Zionist movement, created a miracle. Sixty years ago the Jewish state was reborn in the wake of the Holocaust’s horror.

The first state to come into existence based on a U.N. decision, Israel persevered despite three attempts by its neighbors – in 1948, 1967, and 1973, to wipe it out. Its achievements have been tremendous: its population grew from 600,000 at the founding, to 7 million today. It absorbed millions of Jewish refugees after the Holocaust; 800,000 kicked out of the Arab lands; and over 1 million from the Soviet Union.

A global hub of research and development, Israel today is more diverse than Los Angeles, yet united in its will to survive.

Israel has its ups and downs, such as commemoration of the Holocaust Day 10 days before the Memorial Day for the fallen soldiers, when the whole country freezes, listening to the sirens for two minutes, followed the next day by the joy of the Independence Day celebration.

But Israel and the Jewish people have paid the price; 22,437 Jewish and Israeli soldiers and citizens who have been killed since 1860 in wars and terror attacks, yet this figure is dwarfed in comparison with 6 million – one-third of the Jewish people, who were brutally murdered or died in the Holocaust in Europe and North Africa.

The Holocaust is a central historic event and lesson which dictates Israel’s foreign and defense policy. "Never again!" is not an empty slogan, but an imperative to survive. That’s why the four threats to its existence that Israel is facing today are as real as the Nazi calls for the destruction of the Jews in the late 1930s – calls that many in Europe and even among the Jewish people ignored.

First, there is the Iranian nuclear threat. Iran has intentions, articulated repeatedly by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to wipe Israel off the map. It is building the capabilities to achieve that end, with a growing rocket arsenal and a non-transparent nuclear program that the world lacks the will to stop. Iran wants a single blow "solution" to Israel. Mass murder in the blink of an eye.

Iran is also the sponsor, the trainer and the instigator of at least three groups considered to be terrorist organizations by Israel and the United States, Hezbollah (the Party of God) in Lebanon, and of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza. These are religious extremist movements which are not fighting just for territory. They want to destroy Israel as the Jewish state, plain and simple.

Second, there is the threat of a terror war, of the kind waged by Yasser Arafat between 2000-2004, by Hezbollah in 2006, and by Hamas every day against Sderot and other towns in the south of Israel. If undeterred or undefeated, a terror war could undermine Israeli economy and morale, make life unbearable, and force thousands to emigrate. Hamas and Hezbollah are building their forces and rocket arsenals for the next escalation.

The third threat comes from campaigns to undermine Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state and the homeland of the Jewish people. This is being carried out on a global scale through a combination of Arab propaganda; the hate-filled anti-Semitic attacks; and the "mainstreaming" of leftist "anti-imperialist" narrative, which views Israel not as a reincarnation of the ancient Jewish state, but as European "colonialism." This is where anti-Zionism seamlessly merges with anti-Semitism.

The fourth threat is the moral health of the Jewish state itself. As new generations of "sabras" – Israeli-born – come of age, many lack historic understanding of the persecution and loss that brought Zionism into being. ?he memory of the Holocaust is at times absent, or so is a real sense of their Judaic roots.

People lose perspective as to why Israel is a modern miracle. Social ills abound, from drug and alcohol use to crime and corruption. The Jews have become what Israel’s founding fathers wished for: a people like everyone else, but this often disappoints those with idealistic yardsticks.

Israel is plagued today by a pathetic bureaucracy; a crumbling education system; widening gaps between rich and poor (approximately 1/3 of the children live below the poverty line); friction between the religious and the secular, and between Jews and Israeli Arab citizens who often view themselves as Palestinians, not Israelis. The country needs strong leadership to survive and thrive. Unfortunately, it does not have it.

Its current prime minister, Ehud Olmert, has become a spectacle of lapses in judgment and morality. Olmert is currently fighting his fifth corruption investigation since taking office. He was handpicked by Ariel Sharon to be a deputy, but never an heir.

Not only did Olmert demonstrate abysmal skills as a military leader in the 2006 Lebanon war, he refused to do the right thing after the Winograd Committee Report, which investigated the war and laid the responsibility for the many failures involved squarely at his feet.

Now engaged in putative peace initiatives with Syria and Mahmoud Abbas, Olmert may have only a few days left in office. The embarrassment of seeing the prime minister presiding over the 60th Independence anniversary after spending hours in a police interrogation room may be too much even for his jaded party comrades and coalition partners to endure.

Israel, always a cauldron of stress, desperately needs a breath of fresh air. On its 60th anniversary, ironically, new elections may be just what the country needs.


Ariel Cohen, Ph.D, is a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

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