Israel at 65, What to Expect

When the United States of America celebrated its 65th birthday, it was 20 years away from the most gruesome war in its history to date.  The U.S. had been formed less than a century prior, born out of ideological and economic revolutionary ardor.  While this fledgling nation was already angling for a significant position on the global stage, there remained a clear understanding—both in the U.S. and throughout the world—that the American Project was far from completion.

Now, as Israel has reached that same milestone, it deserves the same recognition as a developing state.  Sure, Israel should take pride in the fact that it serves as an example of democracy in a region that generally opposes it.  Furthermore Israel should relish its ability to compete economically with much larger, more established states and its relatively high rank on many social indices.  However, the world ought not lose sight of the fact that Israel has a considerable amount of state-building to look forward to in its future.

While the precise origins of the American Civil War remain fiercely contested still today, one cannot deny that at its core that war arose from conflicting visions regarding the future of America.  Israel today faces a similar crossroads.  Despite Israel’s supposed scores of international foes, its greatest threat is its internal divisions.  I offer no jeremiad prophesy about an impending Israeli civil war; however, Israel has a longstanding tradition of divisiveness, which seems to be approaching an ugly head.  The once useful debate between David Ben-Gurion’s left and Menachem Begin’s right has evolved into an untenable disharmony throughout the country.  The variety of visions presented by the ultra-Orthodox right, the mainstream center-left and the struggling immigrant populations have caused an effective stalemate in Israeli politics, and more broadly have bred a sense of helplessness and antagonism within the Israeli community.

The analogy with the American Civil War may be extended further.  In that conflict as well as in present day Israel a clash between varying factions of nationals will determine the fate of an oft-discriminated people—the Palestinians.  The comparison fails in a number of ways; however, the lessons from that horrific moment in American history may still provide a valuable lesson for contemporary Israel.  The more progressive viewpoint eventually prevailed in the U.S., and it seems likely the same result will ultimately triumph in Israel as well.  One can only hope that conclusion will be reached before an unnecessary amount of blood is spilled.  Fortunately the U.S. elected a courageous leader who was able to usher in the next (arguably equally problematic) era in American history.  So far as I can see, that leader does not yet exist on the Israeli political stage.

Israel’s success after a mere 65 years of existence is a phenomenal achievement.  Nonetheless, it is imprudent to hold Israel to the same standards as some of its more established fellow nations.  Israel still does not possess a fully codified constitution, nor has Israel developed a thorough understanding of how to handle its constantly shifting demographics.  I have high hopes for Israel, but people both in Israel and around the globe truly ought to perceive Israel as the work-in-progress that it is.

About the Author
Stephen Rutman studies Modern Middle Eastern Studies and English at the University of Pennsylvania; Originally from New York, Stephen is interested in Israeli culture and politics and the way it is portrayed in American media and society