At this time, following days of remembrance, solace and joy, it may be appropriate to take a hard look at where we are, who we are and what we are. It really involves no more than working according to the adage first to have been coined by the sage Hillel. A simple guideline to understanding complex issues: If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? But when I am for myself, then what am “I”? And if not now, when?
The Jewish State was conceived primarily consequent to racism, prejudice and violence practiced against Jewish people in the later part of the 19th century and the early 20th century. Jews worldwide could be defined at the time as the most discriminated people in history due to ignorance, myth, fear and political expediency at the whim of host nations and their people. The religious aspect of returning to Zion was, in essence, an add-on onto this basic ideology of practical Zionism which had gained momentum and influence notwithstanding the objections of both reform and orthodox Jewry at the outset. In this respect we have done well over the years. The Zionist movement was prescient, yet the forces of history prevented the establishment of a safe-haven for victims of the Holocaust to follow. However, since the establishment of the state, Israel has absorbed Jews from across the world resulting in a population that has increased exponentially due to high birth rates and the in-gathering of Jews from around the world. Likewise, in protecting our people, we have been extraordinarily successful in destroying any challenge of destruction that has consistently been advanced by Israel’s neighbors in the region. And our quest for self-preservation and success as a nation has gone further, into communities abroad giving momentum and respect to Jewish citizens and by host governments who have seen this fledgling nation turn into a regional power with both military strength and brainpower. Each wave of immigration, with all its various complexities, troubles and the deep wounds left lingering in the national psyche, has brought huge benefits, putting Israel on its feet and ultimately bringing it into the front line of technology, creativity, culture and advancement. The Hebrew language has been fully restored and is part of the daily life of the nation and taught abroad in communities across the globe. At this time, the population of Jewish people in Israel is comparatively the largest worldwide, with a similar yet smaller number in the U.S. and others scattered around the globe. This brings opportunities and power yet with it, a burden of obligation to create a responsible heritage and a sound foundation for the future of Judaism at large. Thus, the next question.
The Fire that Rages From Within
So, who are we and what are we becoming? Recent research on the causes of the sinking of the Titanic now suggests, with empirical evidence, that the Titanic set sail with a fire on board in the coal-storage units behind the hull. The owners were aware of the problem, but due to financial concerns, a sense of urgency and the need to meet expectations, the matter was given secondary significance: coal fires in storage were considered dangerous but with the correct management, could be controlled by shoveling the blazing coal directly into the engine’s furnace. The implications of scale and danger on this voyage of the century, were ignored and quashed. The fire raged on and despite pleas of the few workmen below, the ship gained speed due to the excessive burning coal feeding the engines. The reckless speed sat well with the captain and owners wishing for an early berth in New York. When the ship finally hit the iceberg, the bulkheads within, designed to prevent water from destroying the vessel were compromised by the blaze. The architect who designed the ship was on board at the time and stated confidently that passengers were safe and that there were full days left to evacuate. The rest is history. The Yom Kippur war is history and we stand aghast at the foolishness of wise men and women. The destruction of the Second Temple is history, and we know it was not Titus who created conditions for its demise, as our prime orator would have us believe in his swaggering speech on Independence Day. It was the fire that raged within. We have crowned a Herod of our time who sees the fire and prefers to ignore it. The 51-year-old occupation born in defense and nurtured over time in arrogance, has corrupted the Zionist vision of a democratic state with justice and freedom for all. It has corrupted our young soldiers; it has spread into, and contaminated our raison d’ê·tre. What was once an esteemed vision for a Jewish safe-haven, moored and secured with a cord of moral fibre, has become a Trumpian real-estate venture gobbling up the land of poor people devoid of country and basic civil rights. Who saw it coming at the time? Few, possibly only two visionaries who were mocked and jeered: Hanoch Levin and Yishayahu Leibowitz. The corruption is everywhere today. Consecutive leaders since and including Arik Sharon’s tenure have been riddled with a corrupt credo. Once we shook our heads when a public figure used the organization’s credit card to buy a shirt. Today it starts with ill-gained alcohol and cigars and goes all the way to bribery and submarine deals in the billions. The enabler, if not the actor at the helm is, if charged, indicted and convicted, possibly the most corrupt leader in modern Jewish history.
Israel has become a flourishing and inspiring homeland beset by deeply disturbing trends: 10,000 Ethiopian Jews sit in Africa languishing there despite promises of immigration. So much for the safe-haven. Several thousand refugees from Africa, the remnants of a wave of illegal immigration long since halted by a physical boundary and who pose no demographic threat, are stuck in and out of incarceration, without rights entitled to them by international law. So much for our history, empathy and morality.
When you reach within and try to discover who you are, you don’t look at the birthday party. You dig down and find the hard stuff.
The two challenges for the post 70th independence years are corruption and an emerging apartheid scenario which will categorically end Jewish statehood over time. With respect to the occupation, I hear the voices saying as they read this: “Well who do we negotiate with? Mahmoud Abbas, who is despised by his people? Hamas who wish to destroy us and seek world Islamic supremacy?” And with respect to corrupt leadership, I hear the voices, “Well he speaks a great English and Trump likes him…”
The time is now. It is always now. And the priority is leadership change. Without that, we are the ship that sails with the fire that destroys from within. Many happy returns.