Avi Dabush: Happy Birthday, Israel – But Will We Make It to 120?

As we celebrate Israel’s 73rd, I wonder/hope/worry: can we possibly emerge strengthened, as a sustainable society that will flourish for generations in the Middle East?

It’s hard to argue with me fact that this Yom Haatzma’ut (Day of Independence), some of the biggest public challenges in our history are stacked up against us:

  • an unprecedented political challenge that has sent us to four successive national elections within two years (we use to laugh at the Italians for having one every year, but we’re currently far outpacing them…)
  • a national health crisis that has rocked tens of thousands of families and has taken the lives of more than six thousand people.
  • an economic crisis that will be with us for yet a long time and for which we will pay heavily even if, God-willing, the vaccines tame the pandemic. The crisis has already wiped out tens of thousands of businesses, and, according to welfare officials, has greatly increased poverty and food insecurity.

Our strengths have surfaced through the pandemic, such as the way we’ve acquired the vaccines and distributed them, but so too have our most distressful weaknesses. If we weren’t some kind of frog sitting nonchalantly in increasingly boiling water, we might have noticed how close we are to civil insurrection.

What we actually face is a challenge to the very concept of Jewish sovereignty, that which we took upon ourselves after 2,000 years of exile. One can be cynical regarding the aspirations of Israel’s founders who wanted to create a model society, a platform which could even be dragged towards Jewish superiority that crushes the Arab minority and all other Others in our midst, one in which we are unassailable & righteous, and any opposition inherently hostile, traitorous, blasphemous. This kind of blind exclusionary celebration that tramples everything in its way and is oblivious to the Nakba catastrophe that beset the Palestinian people. But there is another way: to proudly celebrate our independence while at the same time learning, internalizing and resonating to the plight of our Palestinian sisters and brothers.

We’re on a mission within Israeli society, but also on behalf of those who are not Israeli citizens and those for whom the state of Israel is responsible. Our outright control over the Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, and the siege on Gaza are testament to Israel’s military and diplomatic power which we’ve accumulated over the years of our existence. But we’ve also allowed the growth of unchecked vigilante Jewish terror to reign over Palestinian civilians. It’s clearly not a black and white situation, with the Palestinians the good guys and the Israelis, the bad, but we cannot shake off all responsibility for this development.

To blame the International Criminal Court in The Hague, or to wish that whining leftists would keep quiet is to disregard the fact that what is endangered here are our own identity and value system upon which our entire existence is built. Without these, we are an empty vessel! We must remind ourselves that we are heirs to the tradition of our progenitors Abraham and Sarah! who stood by themselves on one bank of the river when everyone else was on the other side. Abraham, who was history’s, first human rights activist, daring to confront the omnipotent God and oppose the punishment of the innocent in Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham who knew how to compromise in a land dispute — “Let there not be a quarrel between us” — and let Lot choose: “if you want North, I’ll take South; take the South, I’ll go north.”

There are those who exalt the Occupation and the trampling of Palestinian rights, calling it a miracle and a necessary political system. This is a sanctification of evil and a person who engages in it must, three times daily, ask if this is valid and if so, where it will lead us? Does it come from a sense of superiority over Palestinians, who are no less created in the divine Image? Is it out of tempting in “fate” and in the providence that put us here together, in this country? Is there a loose connection and affinity for the Middle East, an echo of Orientalism and colonialism, towards the local populations that comes out of a drunken sense of power because “God works only for us”?

There is no doubt in my mind that these mistakes alienate us from the Middle East and from our real destiny. We are paving the way to yet another catastrophe for the Jewish people because of the choice to go against what Zionism originally intended. We are turning our back on the Declaration of Independence:

  • “We appeal – in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months – to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the up building of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.” And
  • “We extend our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.”

How we relate to the “stranger, the orphan and the widow” is the greatest test of our religious mission for generations and for us now. Our capacity to support families living in poverty in Israel in 2021 and to find the path to peace building and dignity in our relationship with Palestinians, in Israel and in Palestine will determine, in many ways, whether or not future generations will be here whether Israeli society will truly decay.

Divine providence is here to assist us. Next year will mark the Shmita Year. After what can be called a coerced Shmita year, the year of the Corona pandemic in which we faced extreme anxiety and complexity we must now find the way to voluntarily observe the Shmita, to provide debt relief, to re-examine private ownership, to allow something within ourselves but which does not represent us to lie fallow this year. After such a hard year the Shmita year is an opportunity to rebuild and renew.

The nexus between the Bible’s economic spirit and the principle to maintain, support those who are oppressed in our society together with the cycle of the 7th day and the 7th year can be part of our solution. Sometimes fundamentally fixing what we have is more useful than “thinking outside of the box” and coming up with something totally new. Our history and our tradition has something to offer us that can allow us to fix what is so fundamentally broken now.

As the Psalmist say: “Create for me a clean heart, my God; and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:9).

Yom HaAtzmaut Sameach
Avi Dabush, RHR’s Executive Director.

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