Israel at 62: A Year of Achievement

Yes, the country is not above criticism, but too often its accomplishments are ignored.

By Gil Troy, The Mark News, 4-26-10

Judging by the headlines, Israel’s 62nd anniversary comes at an ominous time. Iran is going nuclear and threatening to wipe Israel “off the map.” President Barack Obama is going ballistic, treating Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rudely. The peace process is going nowhere, as Palestinians increase their pre-conditions while many Europeans and intellectuals wantonly demonize Israel, validating the decades-long Arab campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state.

Neither Iran’s threat nor Obama’s animus should be underestimated – nor should they be compared, of course.

If anyone doubted the Iranian Mullahs’ brutality, their recent slaughter of their own people for daring to dissent clearly displays their contempt for human life. This demonstration of the regime’s power – and willingness to use it – was all the more sobering for its timing, coming on the cusp of the country achieving nuclear status.

Moreover, Barack Obama’s initial silence when Iran’s dissidents and the world looked to him for inspiration is unforgivable. His hesitation in criticizing the killers in Tehran contrasts with his willingness to disappoint many traditional American allies, especially Israel. Still trying to distance himself from George W. Bush, Obama too frequently accommodates adversaries while neglecting friends. The result has been hurt feelings in Great Britain as Obama downgrades the historical Anglo-American “special relationship” to a mere alliance, a sense of betrayal in Eastern Europe after Obama canceled the anti-ballistic missile system slated for Poland and the Czech Republic, as well as consternation in Jerusalem.

Obama’s refusal even to be photographed with Netanyahu during their recent meeting, and the president’s zeal in exploiting Israel’s poorly-timed announcement regarding housing starts in a Jerusalem neighborhood have stung Israelis. This strategy is short sighted and counterproductive. Obama’s great accomplishment so far has been to raise Palestinian demands while strengthening the rejectionist front against Israel and against a two-state solution. This fits an historical pattern. Yasser Arafat only considered compromising with Israel when he was desperate, not when he was confident.

All of these strategic shifts feed the increasingly shrill attacks on Israel. The tone of the United Nations lynch mob, where Israel is singled out for disproportionate disapprobation, is increasingly becoming the international norm as the demonization derby goes global.

Only one country in the world seems to be on probation, with its legitimacy questioned repeatedly. Only one country in the world is repeatedly criticized for defending itself against terrorists. Only one country in the world is blamed when terrorists target it. Only one country in the world is consistently accused of committing the great international crimes of colonialism, racism, and apartheid.

Of course, Israel makes mistakes that can be criticized. But the essentialism looming behind so many condemnations – jumping from disapproving of particular policies to delegitimizing the state itself – is the mark of the bullying bigot, not the thoughtful critic. Just as many Catholics justifiably resent critics who gleefully delegitimize an entire Church and religion based on the perversions of a few, Israel’s supporters are justified for bristling at how Zionism is considered the only illegitimate nationalism in the modern world and democratic Israel is singled out as an outlaw state.

Nevertheless, on this Independence Day, Israelis have much to celebrate. This year their economy was spared much of the financial devastation so many other countries endured. This year, the country distinguished itself as an upstanding member of the world community when Israeli soldiers were dispatched to help Haitians recover from that country’s devastating earthquake. This year, an Israeli scientist, Professor Ada Yonath, become the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry since 1964, and Israeli entrepreneur Shai Agassi, CEO of Better Place, advanced his green vision of a practical electric car with replaceable car batteries. Also this year, the international best-seller by Dan Senor and Saul Singer, Start-Up Nation, explained how Israel’s unique mix of informality, creativity, adaptability, and audacity facilitates such world-class innovation and entrepreneurship.

These achievements are particularly striking considering how young the state is, how hostile a neighborhood the Middle East has proven to be, and how formidable the challenges Israel has faced.

Sixty-two years ago, in 1948, the Jewish people were still reeling from the mass murder of six million, boldly illustrating the need for the state Zionists had been building for decades in the homeland Jews had lived in, been exiled from, and for millennia dreamed about. Fifty-two years ago, in 1958, Israel was trying to cope with the influx of nearly a million Jews expelled from Muslim lands, welcoming these refugees as future citizens even as Israel’s Arab neighbours treated Palestinians as perpetual political props. Forty-two years ago, in 1968, Israelis were still trying to process the enormity of their victory in the Six Day War and the rapid turnaround from being targeted for mass slaughter to having defeated powerful enemies.

No country is perfect, no state ideal. We have to grade all governments on a curve. The quest to improve and the freedom to criticize are critical components in the success of any democracy. But Israelis and their friends worldwide can take pride in this old-new land’s accomplishments. Like all anniversaries, Israel’s Independence Day is an opportunity to compare what was and what is, appreciate the accomplishments, while still dreaming about what might be.

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