Israel at 64: Great triumphs, lingering questions

Israel at 64: Great triumphs, lingering questions

Those of us who love the songs of Frank Sinatra are always moved by his rendition of “It Was a Very Good Year.” As we celebrate Israel’s 64th anniversary this week, in many ways 63 was a very good year.

Israel’s greatest achievement is its existence. If I said this to my grandchildren, all of whom have visited Israel on more than one occasion, they would not comprehend what I mean. Their parents, similarly, would hardly comprehend. A sovereign Jewish state would have been incomprehensible to our grandparents and the hundreds of generations that preceded them. That the Jewish state is not only independent but a major military power enhances our blessing.

Today, Israel’s major enemy is 1,000 miles away, rather than on the Jerusalem border and on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. Even with the advent of long-range missiles, it is far preferable to be 1,000 miles from your enemy than to have him looking over your shoulder.

Pro-Israel activists often say that Israel is “in greater jeopardy than ever.” It isn’t true. What is true is that Israel has made significant gains in many spheres.

On the economic front, Israel has increased its trade with India and China to $35 billion annually, making it the region’s third largest trading partner, after North America and the European Union. While the United States and the European Union have yet to emerge from economic malaise, Israel’s unemployment rate is hovering around 5 percent.

Israel is also at the forefront of technological innovation, with more companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange than any Western European country. The economic impact is being felt in our own area: Last month, Gov. Chris Christie met with the founder of A Better Place, which is developing a model electric vehicle network. He also signed an agreement with Israel’s pharmaceutical giant, Teva, to expand its operations in New Jersey. Technion, Israel’s premier institute of technology, is partnering with Cornell University on a major applied scientific center on Governors Island.

Israel also made gains in the cultural field. Israeli musicians dominate the classical stage. Last Sunday, the 15th Annual UJA MetroWest Benefit Concert hosted one of them, Yefim Bronfman, at NJPAC. Footnote was the latest Israeli film to be nominated for an Academy Award.

Politically, of course, Israel starts off with many disadvantages. With so many Arab states and Muslim countries, the Palestinian Authority’s unilateral bid for UN membership seemed a sure thing. However, thanks to the leadership of our country, a majority of the Security Council rejected the application, handing the PA a great defeat. President Obama’s UN speech, in which he basically adopted the Israeli narrative of the conflict, was a fantastic achievement.

Perhaps Israel’s most significant achievement has been turning Iran and its nuclear potential into the world’s main concern in the Middle East. This has caused the Western world to unite in opposing Iran, applying crippling sanctions. The overwhelming majority of Israel’s military-intelligence chiefs oppose an Israeli attack on Iran, and so do the majority of Israelis. Nevertheless, Israel’s implied threats of military action have stimulated a strong Western response against Iran.

The Arab Spring disappointed Westerners who had hoped to see military dictatorships replaced with liberal democracies. Instead, Egypt’s military dictators have been replaced by Islamists. The region’s Islamists are no friends of Israel, but the countries they’ve inherited pose a much weaker threat to Israel. Egypt’s decision to revoke its natural gas deal with Israel will hurt Egyptians more than Israelis, who have plenty of other sellers and, by next year, may themselves be gas exporters. And whether Syria succeeds or not in suppressing its revolt, Iran has lost a great deal of standing in the Middle East thanks to its support for Assad.

And yet, for all the good news, I am concerned about Israel’s future. Sooner or later Israel will have to confront the 800-pound gorilla: the Palestinian issue. Will it seek to achieve a two-state solution or will it be driven, in large measure by political inertia and right-wing intransigence, into a single, non-democratic state? Will Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank then be granted citizenship?

Some on the Right believe that the Palestinians can be induced to emigrate. They won’t, not in significant numbers. What kind of a Jewish state will it be if there are categories of citizenship?

Even as we rejoice in Israel’s many achievements, and defend her against its political and military enemies, we must be aware that geula — redemption — can only come when Israel will achieve peace with her neighbors. And that can only come, in the words of Prime Minister Netanyahu, “through painful compromise.”

As we celebrate Israel’s great achievements on its 64th birthday, let us also remember that failure to solve its most pressing issues is a greater threat to its future than Iran.

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