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The day after Iran: Peace is only the first step

While Netayahu evokes the death camps in his plea for security and Peres invites the world to 'be his friend for peace,' the truth is that we must strive for far more than mere survival

I love this video. President Shimon Peres is 88 years old and he’s got one of the coolest Facebook videos on the planet. It was made by Noi Alooshe, the Israeli who made Zenga Zenga, the spoof of Muamar Qaddafi that became the anthem of the Libyan and Egyptian revolutions.

Peres gets it. Sure, he went to Washington to meet with President Barack Obama, but then he flew to Menlo Park, California to meet Mark Zuckerberg and launch his new Facebook page. Why? As Peres puts it, “Zuckerberg didn’t have a party, a country, an army, or a fortune, just an idea, that’s it — but he’s changing the world.”

Peres’s Facebook message is “be my friend, share peace.” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu used a different approach: Holding up letters the US government  wrote to Jewish groups in 1944, explaining why the US could not bomb Auschwitz, Netanyahu not-too-subtly suggesting that Israel can only trust itself.

There is room for both approaches. It is good that Peres is using powerful new tools to reach out to the world. Netanyahu is focused on a no-less-critical component of advancing peace: to address the main source of the war against Israel and the West.

The good news is that the defeat or fall of the Iranian regime could usher in the biggest opportunity for Arab-Israeli peace in our lifetimes. With the mullahs defanged or gone, Hamas and Hezbullah would be much weakened and a space for Palestinian and other Arab moderates would be opened.

Yet I believe that both Peres and Netanyahu missed the mark. Together they were like the eagle on America’s national seal – olive branch in one talon and arrows in the other. But what about what is beyond both peace and self defense? When addressing the world, why do Israel’s leaders talk almost exclusively about the conflict?

A light unto the nations

With the threat from Iran reaching a crescendo, now may seem to be an unfair time to expect that Israelis focus on anything else. I disagree.

In his speech to AIPAC, Netanyahu said flatly, “The purpose of the Jewish state is to secure the Jewish future.” But security, while certainly necessary, is not sufficient. We have spent so long fighting and praying for peace and security that we have forgotten that it is not our purpose as a people and a state.

Netanyahu speaks at the AIPAC conference in Washington DC, Last week. (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)
Netanyahu speaks at the AIPAC conference in Washington DC, Last week. (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)

If peace, something that most countries take for granted, were Israel’s only purpose, why go to all this effort? Did the Jewish people struggle for two millennia to regain our sovereignty in our land just so that we could have a nice safe place to live?

Many people might say yes, that would be enough. We ask no more than the right of self-determination that many peoples and states enjoy. We just want to mind our own business.

Personally, however, I’m not sure why I would have moved to Israel if the purpose were to live in safety. I felt safe in the United States. I also could have had a rich Jewish life in the US.

I — we — moved here to be part of a work in progress. And even at a time like this — maybe even more at a time like this — we need to remind ourselves and the world what it is we are trying to build. It is not about being just another country. It is about becoming a “light unto the nations.”

Being a “light” does not mean being perfect or even better than anyone else. It does mean making a contribution to the world or, as Steve Jobs hoped for Apple, “a dent in the universe.”

It is time we stopped wallowing in the narrative of crisis and survival. If we are going to talk about survival, we have got to talk about what we are surviving for. What’s our vision? Do we want peace for its own sake, or because we want to do something when we have it?

I think our vision should be about changing the world. If Facebook can do it, if Apple can do it, Israel can certainly do it. In fact, we already are doing it.

Make the world a better place

This year, Israel will be the first country in the world to begin to end its addiction to oil. We will start replacing our gas cars on a mass scale with electric cars that are cheaper, more convenient, and no less powerful – all with no tailpipe. The same solution, from a company called Better Place, will be implemented in Denmark, and soon in Australia, which will demonstrate that it can also work in big countries.

Most people seem not to believe that it will work. Why, they don’t know or they can’t say. I think it will. But even if it doesn’t, the underlying template is inspired: take a global problem, solve it in one country, spread that solution globally.

A Better Place sales showroom in Tel Aviv (photo credit: Serge Attal/Flash90)
A Better Place sales showroom in Tel Aviv (photo credit: Serge Attal/Flash90)

We need to take this template and apply it to other global problems, such as the need to reinvent education, energy infrastructure, health systems, and meet growing global demand for better food and water.

Israeli startups have always been globally oriented out of necessity – we lacked a large local market and we were shut off from the regional market. But now we need to think even more globally, beyond the US and Europe to emerging markets in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

Let us not hand our enemies a victory. Yes, the mullahs need to be defeated. But we must not let them distract us from our vision, or worse, confuse us into thinking that survival is our only goal. Survival, by itself, can never be a purpose. Next time our leaders go to Washington, or anywhere else, let us hear their vision beyond security, beyond peace.

About the Author
Saul Singer is the co-author, with Dan Senor, of 'Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle.'