This isn’t exactly breaking news, but Jews tend to do a lot of kvetching. We are experts in finding a dark cloud for every silver lining. Over the course of centuries, after all, we’ve had a lot of practice. We haven’t been paranoid; they really have been out to get us.
But sometimes we allow the habit of kvetching to blind us to good news. We find it impossible to take yes for an answer. A lot of good things may be happening, but we manage to focus on those elements that are problematic.
Events in Israel are a good example of this phenomenon. Every act of violence, every scandal, every problem of any kind immediately becomes the focus of our attention, while good news often goes unnoticed. In the process, we often miss the forest for the trees.
I’m not denying that Israel has real problems, and that its survival cannot be taken for granted and depends on never ending vigilance. The rigid enmity of the Iranian regime remains a potentially existential threat. The risk of spillover from the Syrian civil war is real — and, as we’ve recently been reminded, that country’s brutal dictator is not constrained by any of the humanitarian rules of war that bind civilized nations.
Hamas remains in control of Gaza and has developed a strategy that effectively combines sporadic terrorism and anti-Israel propaganda aimed at Western audiences. Hezballah is entrenched in southern Lebanon, putting all of northern Israel in rocket range In the West. Meanwhile, the BDS (boycott divestment sanctions) movement has made significant inroads in persuading the credulous that the lack of progress toward a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is a result of Israeli inflexibility rather than of Palestinian intransigence.
These problems are real, but they’re far from the whole story. In recent decades, Israel has developed one of the most technologically advanced economies in the world, and it remains the only functioning democracy in the Middle East. It has absorbed immigrants from all over the world, from the former Soviet Union to Latin America to Ethiopia to the farthest corners of the Islamic world.
Even diplomatically, Israel is in better shape than we often believe. Eighty-six countries currently have embassies in Israel. Over the last year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made official visits to 15 countries, including Russia, China, India, and Australia. It’s true that Israel’s improved relations with many of the world’s countries has not yet been reflected in votes at the United Nations, where Israel remains something of a diplomatic punching bag, but that may say more about the UN’s reputation than about Israel’s. At this point, it’s hard to take seriously the relentless spate of anti-Israel resolutions churned out with depressing regularity by the various UN bodies. Some countries that are quietly friendly to Israel on a practical level may use their anti-Israel UN votes to mollify Israel’s enemies. From Israel’s perspective, that may be a worthwhile trade-off.
Israel’s domestic politics is as chaotic as ever. The parties shift constantly, small parties have outsized influence, and scandals occur with depressing frequency. Prime Minister Netanyahu is currently under investigation in three separate corruption cases.
Despite all these problems, however, Israel’s record of achievements is remarkable. Its accomplishments in so many diverse fields would be impressive even if it had achieved them in a tranquil environment. When you also consider the fact that during its entire history Israel has never been at peace with all its neighbors, that it has been forced to spend an inordinate amount of its resources on defense, that it has frequently been the target of widespread condemnation for taking steps to insure its security that would have been taken for granted if done by any other country — the word miraculous comes spontaneously to mind.
As we prepare to celebrate Israel’s seventieth anniversary, let’s put our kvetching on hold. Instead of focusing on the problems, we should take pride in what Israel has managed to accomplish in seven decades of independence — the restoration of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel after a lapse of two millennia, the revival of its ancient language as a modern vernacular, the absorption of a remarkably diverse collection of immigrants and the building of an economically strong, militarily powerful, technologically advanced, and maddeningly democratic society.
“This is the day that the Lord has made — let us exult and rejoice on it.” (Psalms 118:24)