As Israel has just celebrated its 65th Independence Day, it is timely to review and rationally assess the extent to which our Zionist objectives have been achieved.
When the Jewish state was proclaimed in 1948, the 450,000 Jews who constituted the Yishuv were totally engaged in a desperate battle to repel the combined military forces of our Arab neighbours who from the outset were determined to deny Jewish sovereignty. In their wildest dreams, the founders of our State fighting a war of survival could never have envisioned the dynamic and thriving nation of eight million citizens that would emerge from that maelstrom.
Indeed by any benchmark, taking into account numerous wars, failures and disappointments, this extraordinary Jewish nation state will indisputably be recorded in the annals of history as one of the greatest successes of the past millennium.
There is no historical situation which remotely compares to the Jewish people’s renaissance and transformation into a Jewish nation. After being exiled for 2,000 years to all parts of the globe and having suffered endless cycles of discrimination, persecution, exile and mass murder culminating in the genocidal horror of the Shoah, we reconstituted ourselves into a nation-state.
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, an ingathering of the exiles took place with Jews from all over the globe flocking to find haven in the newly established Jewish state. There, against all odds, they bonded together into a melting pot of Shoah survivors, refugees fleeing persecution in Arab countries, Jews escaping from the underdeveloped societies like Ethiopia, discriminated Jews from the former Soviet Union, and others undergoing oppression – and succeeded in creating one of the most vibrant and resilient societies in the world.
The ancient and sacred Hebrew language has been revived as a living and pulsating cultural force and lingua franca for Jews – uniting those from totally different cultures.
Who could possibly have imagined that a people, subjugated and powerless for 2,000 years, would emerge in a very short space of time, as a dominant regional military superpower able to deter and defend itself against the vastly more numerical military forces of its combined regional adversaries?
Who could have dreamt that this tiny, arid strip of land would become the fulcrum for a dynamic economy and emerge as the second-largest high-tech startup nation in the world, exceeded only by the United States?
And as a special gift, on the 65th anniversary, this country, devoid of the oil reservoirs which have empowered some of our adversaries, virtually overnight became energy self-sufficient and is now even exploring markets to export its surplus gas resources.
Our spectacular success far exceeded the expectations of our idealistic founders. By any rational benchmark it would be deemed a modern day miracle.
And yet despite this, there are those in our midst who constantly whine about our failings and transform self-criticism into masochism. Instead of celebrating they predict doom and gloom.
Further, despite the prevailing belief that after the revelation of the horrors of the Shoah, antisemites would become an extinct species, the world’s oldest hatred has returned with full vengeance, particularly in Europe whose soil had been drenched in Jewish blood only a few years before Israel’s independence.
The extent of the current European malaise is exemplified by youngsters in some public schools seeking to hide their Jewishness in order to avert torment or face social exclusion. In many European cities there is also a growing reluctance to outwardly wear Jewish symbols like a kipah to avoid random violence from hooligans in the street.
In Europe, especially in France, the UK, Scandinavia, Hungary, Greece, Ukraine, and throughout South America there are daily reports of increasing antisemitic violence, of incitement and even murder.
But even in these dark areas, Jews are comforted in the knowledge that today there is a State of Israel which will defend the Jewish people. A Jewish state which will always provide a haven for them if their world collapses.
Of course we face challenges and genuine threats. The dream of peace for which we all yearn remains a distant vision and future generations of youngsters will continue to carry the burden of defending the nation against its adversaries.
And yes, there are still many problems in Israeli society which must be overcome. There are too many poor people and we suffer internal divisions between religious and secular and between Ashkenazim and Sephardim. We all agree that we must continue striving for a better society in order to achieve the ultimate goal of becoming “a light unto the nations”.
But today, almost half the Jewish people are happily domiciled in Israel. The word happily should be stressed because despite our masochistic self-criticism and endless complaints, all polls show that Israelis are numbered amongst the happiest and most satisfied people in the world.
Our numbers will increase and an ever-growing proportion of global Jewry will return to live in its homeland, increasingly out of choice rather than seeking a haven.
Isi Leibler, AO, served as the President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry from 1978 through 1995. He now lives in Israel and writes columns for both the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom. © Isi Leibler, reprinted by permission, all rights reserved.