(Editor’s note: On the occasion of Israel’s 65th birthday we have asked some of Israel and AFSI’s best–and clearest-eyed–friends to join us in reflecting on this milestone.)
What I keep thinking of on the 65th anniversary of the Founding of the Jewish state is a phrase Ariel Sharon used to offer to his friends in the diaspora. Israel, he would say, is a “world wide project of the Jewish people.” It was his way of welcoming. As the anniversary nears, I’ve been re-reading the diaries of Herzl and essays of Jabotinsky and enjoying both their personalities that have done so much to inspirit the state they envisioned.
It happens that this week I am also putting the finishing touches on my biography of the Founding Editor of the Jewish Daily Forward, Abraham Cahan. It includes a telling of the events in the spring of 1940, when Jabotinsky gave, at the Manhattan Opera House, his speech calling for the evacuation of 6 million Jews to Palestine from Europe. He was promptly mocked in a column by Cahan. It filled a full page of the Forward, and Cahan sneered that Jabotinsky knew nothing of practical problems.
My own sense of it is that Cahan knew he was wrong even as he wrote those words. When, four months later, Jabotinsky died, Cahan couldn’t find any of his senior staff willing to go to the funeral. He assigned a youngster. Then he sat down in his own office to write the editorial that began by asserting the death of Jabotinsky, at such a grim time for the Jewish people, was “ in the true sense of the word, a national catastrophe.”
He proceeded to laud Jabotinsky as a person, a writer, and an orator. When Jabotinsky spoke, Cahan wrote, “even the deaf could hear.” What has always struck me about that editorial was Cahan’s prediction that Jabotinsky would be missed not only then, “in the middle of the storm,” but “also later, when the storm is over and the time comes to heal the wounds and rebuild Jewish life on new foundations in a new time.”
How prophetic those sentiments were. And how much fans of AFSI appreciate the work it is doing—its programs, its yahrzeit gatherings for Jabotinsky, its celebration of the writings and life of Shmuel Katz, and its publication of the Outpost. I believe I have read, front to back, every issue that’s reached me. So on this anniversary I send this note of congratulations and appreciation, which I look forward to conveying personally the next time we get together, in either New York or Jerusalem.
Seth Lipsky is founder and editor of The New York Sun. It ceased its print edition in September 2008 but continues as an online publication.
“Israel is extinguished, its seed is no more.” Mer-Neptah, King of Egypt, 1215 BCE.
“Prophesy and say unto them…Behold, O my people, I will … cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.” –Ezekiel, 550 BCE.
“You are disobeying a commandment of your Torah by not going to the land of Israel and living and dying there.” –the King in Yehudah Halevi’s The Kuzari, 1129.
“When a man can no longer be a Jew, he becomes a Zionist.”–a character in Haim Hazaz’s “The Sermon,” 1942.
“I am a Jew by virtue of the fact that I am not a Zionist.”–a character in Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question, 2010.
“A land and a language! They are the ground beneath a people’s feet and the air it breathes in and out. With them all things are possible… you cannot even buy cigarettes in Hebrew without stirring up the Bible, you cannot walk the streets of Tel Aviv without treading on promised land.”—Hillel Halkin, Letters to an American-Jewish Friend, 1977.
Sixty-five is the age one usually associates with retirement. It is a number, then, that has more than chronological connotations. It evokes a stage of life–one of winding down, after working one’s way up.
This is how much of the world is trying to portray Israel: born in 1948 with the fanfare of a maternity-ward waiting room, but now ready to be put out to pasture minus the gold watch–a token that symbolizes gratitude.
No, Israel is treated like an embezzler who deserves not only to be stripped of his pension, but to be prosecuted. Even some Israelis have begun to refer to the realization of the Zionist dream as a “failed experiment.”
But it is the accusers of Israeli wrong-doing who are the criminals. And anyone who sees Israel as a failure has to have his head examined.
Indeed, it is precisely Israel’s spectacular success that is responsible for the ire it arouses among its ill-wishers.
It is precisely Israel’s warmth, openness and freedom that enable its citizens to sit around sushi bars and gay bars discussing the merits of its demise.
The recent frisson of pride in Israel brought on by its having been designated “the startup nation” reminds me of nothing so much as the feeling I had as a child seeing the pictures of all those suntanned brawny boys and fierce girls waving in triumph from the seats of their tractors, the illustrations that were so regularly featured in many now long-gone Zionist publications: namely, that here was a high-romantic triumph over conditions other people would not likely have ventured even to touch, let alone master, in the first place.
What made all this possible, however, is something we don’t talk about—certainly not in public, and for many if not most of us not in private either, for civilized people like us prefer to think the matter at best an unhappy circumstance to be overcome. I am talking about guns—by which I mean, of course, guns, planes, tanks, and yes, nukes–in the hands of Jews. It was this that Zionism only, of all the various ideas and ideologies and movements, religious and secular, which down through centuries they have sought to deal with a tirelessly and murderously hostile world, has permitted them. Jews may be killed, but never again without dire consequence. Only a sovereign state could have made this a reality, and compared with this reality, the ideological and political quarrels among Jews, whether in the Knesset or anywhere else, are—and ought to be recognized as—mere blips on the surface of the reality of Jewish survival.
Sixty-five years of Arab terrorism and conventional warfare, fueled by global pressure on Israel, have been bumps on the road of the unprecedented Israeli surge, economically, technologically, medically and militarily, to the benefit of the Jewish State and the Free World.
At 65, Israel demonstrates that principle-driven, highly motivated and defiant societies are capable of transforming tough times into challenges and opportunities, while surging to new heights. At 65, Israel proves, once again, that pressuring the Jewish olive yields superb oil.
At 65, Israel’s 6.3 million Jews include over three million Olim, who have constituted Israel’s most effective growth engine. The relative strength of Israel’s economy, the rise of global anti-Semitism, the gradual Islamification of Europe and the expansion of Jewish/Zionist education in major Jewish communities produce a potential wave of Aliya: 500,000 Olim during the next ten years from the former U.S.SR, Germany, France, England, Latin America, U.S.A, Canada and Australia. The Aliya waves of the 1930s, 1950s, 1970s and 1990s facilitated the establishment of the Jewish State and its defiance of severe military and economic challenges. The next Aliya wave–which awaits vision-driven pro-active leadership–will produce the critical strategic mass, which will overwhelm adversity and secure the long-term growth of the Jewish State.
At 65, Israel is–in contrast to the tumultuous Arab Street–the only stable, predictable, reliable, capable, democratic and unconditional ally of the U.S. regionally and globally. In 1969 and 1978, the Qadhaffi and Khomeini revolutions transformed Libya and Iran from pro–to anti–U.S. regimes. In 2003, the rise of Erdogan changed Turkey from a U.S.–to an Islamic–orientation. In 2012, the replacement of Mubarak by the Muslim Brotherhood terminated Egypt’s role as a U.S. ally. A regime-change in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States would trigger a similar anti-U.S. shift. On the other hand, Israel’s right, left, hawks and doves are inherently allies of the U.S.
I made aliyah in 1984 to an Israel in many ways so different from today’s that to remember is almost like time travel. Socialist Israel was, comparatively, an almost sleepy country. The bloated bureaucracy made things happen three or four times more slowly than they needed to. Indeed, not a few people told us, “You’ll like it here, you won’t really have to work.” The job I found—English-publications editor at an institute of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem—was soft and easy; “workdays” were in part drink-coffee, hang-around, shoot-the-breeze days.
In December 1987—on precisely the same day that I finished a shortened form of military training—the First Intifada broke out. Even for realistic people it was a stunning display of raw, tribal, murderous hatred after twenty years in which Israel had vastly improved the economic, health, and educational levels of the Palestinian population. But it was also—if one can put it this way—a godsend to leftists, who now found more receptive, disconcerted, despairing ears for their message that “the occupation” was the greatest evil and ending it the key to happiness.
And it was six years later in 1993 that Israel descended into the dreadful appeasement episode known as Oslo. I guess my reality-testing mechanism was always reasonably strong; I shuddered at the sight of a storied Israeli leader, Yitzhak Rabin, shaking the hand of Arafat. Very soon the streets of the cities I’d come to love turned into a slaughterhouse. It got horrendously bad—and then, by the start of the new millennium, it got even worse, a lot worse.
On the 65th anniversary of Israel’s independence, Shmuel Katz doubtless would have had much to say about the state of that independence. Shmuel in particular was alert to anything that detracted from Israel’s ability to act in its own best interest. He was also quick to praise anything that contributed to Israel’s political independence.
He would have praised the opening of the Tamar deep-sea gas field, which began pumping at the end of March. It is a momentous event in Israel’s history. Oil industry observers predict a $76 billion lifetime production from the field. It’s not the great wealth that would have delighted Shmuel but the energy independence that comes with it.
Indeed, wealth as such did not interest Shmuel. He lived a Spartan lifestyle and would have been uncomfortable with Israel’s increasingly consumerist society. He often talked of the need for “belt-tightening” in a country that was basically at war, though many Israelis preferred to remain willfully blind to that fact. Shmuel’s primary concern was the detrimental effect the pursuit of luxury and government wastefulness had on Israel ability to maneuver politically.
At 65 Israel has made astonishing economic and technological progress while regressing politically.
Israel has thrown off the dead weight of socialism which dragged down its early years when the joke was that the only way to make a fortune in Israel was to start out with a bigger one.
Yoram Ettinger has chronicled some of Israel’s recent achievements: in the last few years, while most of the Western world experienced an economic meltdown, Israel’s GDP grew 14.7%. Deloitte and Touche, one of the major global CPA firms, ranks tiny Israel the fourth most attractive site for overseas investors. Israel dedicates 4.5% of GDP to research and development, the highest proportion in the entire world.
Israel’s contributions to human welfare through its medical research and advances in medical technology are wildly disproportionate to its size. Its demography reflects an optimistic citizenry: Israel leads the free world with 3 births per Jewish woman. Rounding off all this good news, Israel has even found the oil and gas that so long eluded it: by 2017 it is expected to become a net exporter of natural gas.
Maurice Harold Macmillan, was the Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from January 1957 to October 18, 1963. He entered British politics in 1924 and was witness to British duplicity and betrayal of the Jews with respect to Palestine and the terms of the Balfour Declaration, the various White Papers that doomed European Jewry by severely limiting entry to Palestine, and the shameful post war blockade of Palestine where British troops fired on vessels taking survivors of the Holocaust to Palestine.
There is no evidence in biographies or his autobiography that he disapproved of Great Britain’s shameful role and, in fact, he was never known as a friend of Israel, although it was subsequently revealed that he sold uranium 235 and “heavy water” to Israel to enable their development of a nuclear facility in Dimona.
In 1984, nearing the end of his political involvement–and his life–he spoke forebodingly of England’s domestic situation in Parliament:
“This terrible strike, by the best men in the world, who beat the Kaiser’s and Hitler’s armies and never gave in. It is pointless and we cannot afford that kind of thing. Then there is the growing division of Conservative prosperity in the south and the ailing North and Midlands. We used to have battles and rows but they were quarrels. Now there is a new kind of wicked hatred that has been brought in by different types of people. It breaks my heart to see—and I cannot interfere—what is happening in our country today.”