Israel has come a long way in a short time. Reconstituted on May 14, 1948, only 74 few years ago, the Jewish state has become a model society, a beacon for the entire world, in the course of just seven decades. Israel will celebrate its independence (an occasion marked on the Hebrew calendar as Yom Ha’atzmaut) starting today, Wednesday, May 4. The holiday gives us an opportunity to take stock of all we have done and what still we must do.
The state’s achievements since the founding are hard to overstate. The country narrowly avoided annihilation at its onset, as the combined Arab armies invaded the new state in 1948. Since then, Israel has constantly been forced to fight for its survival.
Israel assimilated waves of immigrants, from the Holocaust survivors of the postwar era, to the Sephardic Jews of the Middle East, to the escapees of the former Eastern Bloc, to Ethiopian Jews who were in danger, as well as Ukrainians seeking refuge over the last few weeks. The country built a world-class economy and earned the moniker of the start-up nation, due to the vibrancy of its high-tech and financial sectors. Israel became a country to emulate, whether in the generous disaster relief that it has offered to those stricken by catastrophe, its enviable environmental record as a leader in water management and desalination, as well as its public health programs that have protected the population from the worst ravages of a true pandemic.
Right now, we are confronted by a paradox: the state is at once more secure and prosperous than ever, but still very much threatened by external enemies. The Iron Dome anti-missile system has prevented almost entirely death from rockets fired on Israel from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, but such hardware cannot stop the campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state. Determined so-called ‘pro-Palestinian activists’ are set on denying the Jewish state’s right to exist; their strategy is to attack the state’s economic, cultural, and economic ties, and thus leave it a pariah, in a prime position to be picked off.
We must remain vigilant in the fight both against the new antisemitism – which too often dresses itself in the guise of Palestinian activism and human rights – and wider attempts to undermine the Jewish state. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and its members steadfastly oppose the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanction) Movement, which in recent years has sputtered in the United States. We help facilitate diplomatic ties between Israel and its Arab neighbors, with American Jewish organizations playing a role in the recent Abraham Accords.
One of our key initiatives is now urging local, state, national, and international governments to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which recognizes how antisemitic and anti-Israel rhetoric too often bleed into one another. Now, more than 25 states have adopted this definition, with Arizona being the most recent adherent just last month. We are also focused on forging ever-closer ties to leaders in Israel, organizing a highly successful mission trip this spring, in which the organization’s representatives met with Israel’s political, cultural, academic, and economic leaders.
The State of Israel is a blessing that came down to us from our elders, who had the courage to found it and fight for it. We will not fail to uphold that legacy and will ensure that the Jewish state remains a vital force in the lives of our children and grandchildren for even more than another 74 years.