Israel at 59: Suspended Between Euphoria and Despair

Categories: Israel
       By Yigal Tzachor

The year 2006 compressed into itself a series of unexpected events that would disrupt the way of life in any Western democratic nation.

It is enough if we only mention a few of these events in order to illustrate the force of the occurrences: Parliamentary elections that destroyed the structure of relations between a citizen and his political party. If in the past there was a longstanding loyalty of citizens who voted according to the cleavage between right and left, in the sixteenth parliamentary elections everything changed. The results ruined the Likud, eradicated Shinui and brought about the Kadima party, which was built around the popularity of Ariel Sharon, who ceased to function from the moment of the party’s creation. Meanwhile, The Pensioners’ Party arose, winning massive support from the younger generation.

And so the new political landscape, the product of a “Big Bang,” was born. But it has been only barely alive from the moment of its birth.

The results of the election represented a protest by the public against the traditional framework of Likud and Labor, reflecting dissatisfaction with the old system, without anyone really knowing what should be built in its place.

The new government, directionless and flightless, did not manage to fashion an agenda in the fields of security, diplomacy or society. The first substantial decision the government made was to go to war, without comprehending the meaning of the decision. The Second Lebanon War broke out because of a weakness in military and diplomatic leadership. A leadership with strength has the ability to make decisions that conflict with the opinions of rash commentators and politicians. Israel went into battle without the IDF being prepared for a guerrilla war, leaving the Israeli home front exposed to rockets that hit centers of society from Kiryat Shmona to Haifa, from Nahariya to Nazareth and Carmiel. This was a war that revealed the soft stomach of the State of Israel, with an army lacking the ability to paralyze the rocket launchers. From the time the war ended, cries were heard for the creation of a governmental investigative committee.

These were different calls than those which followed the Yom Kippur War in 1973-4, which brought thousands of citizens out into the streets. This time, the tired and angered Israeli public remained at home, apathetically accepting the government’s decision to create an investigative committee whose structure was determined by the government—the Winograd Commission. Even before the publication of its conclusions on the war, media pundits had declared the blunders of the war, which mainly resulted from the decisions of the military and political echelon. Public pressure led to the resignation of the IDF Chief of Staff, whose resignation preceded Winograd’s conclusions.

The political echelon held on to the wings. Everyone, of course, was guilty but them. The Prime Minister even claims the war achieved unprecedented results, but according to the polls the public is unanimous in its demand for the resignation of the Prime Minister and Defense Minister. It is likely that only the Defense Minister will remove himself from office, following the results of the Labor party primaries, while the Prime Minister may come to an agreement with the new Labor chair which will enable him to continue in his position. Yet even if the Winograd Commission does not demand the dismissal of the Prime Minister, the investigations now under way by the Israel Police into the conduct of the political leadership—including the Prime Minister, the Finance Minister, the chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, as well as the President—may cause a political shock which will lead to early elections and yet more dramatic alterations of the political map.

Surprisingly, though, within the chaos that has reigned this past year, the Israeli economy is following an opposite trend. The stock exchange is on the rise, the capital markets are flourishing, and foreign dollars are flowing into the nation in massive quantities. The resulting affluence benefits the upper tiers of Israeli society, while a third of the Israeli population endures shameful poverty and unbearable hardship.

Even the most daring playwright could not create a fictional script that would outdo today’s Israeli reality. While thousands of Israelis needed charity just so they could have a proper Passover, tens of thousands of Israelis boarded planes to vacation in various spots around the world, and many others traveled on the roads to resorts across Israel. This is a nation of contrasts suspended between war and hope for peace, between the will to be like every other nation and the unattained aspiration to be a chosen people.

It seems that this nation sitting in Zion has tried it all. Always hovering between euphoria and despair, hope and disappointment, it persists in the conviction that in the end everything will be alright. Perhaps from all the brokenness and uncertainty, a country will be built joined by the spirit of the prophets and by the Proclamation of Independence penned 60 years ago.

Make no mistake: every one of us plays a role in lending a hand to the building of a stable, strong, and safe place that will enable the state of the Jews to live on for many generations to come.

About Yigal Tzachor

Yigal Tzahor is Chairman of the World Labor Zionist Movement and Manager of the Ideological-Educational Center at the Berl Katzenelson Foundation in Israel.
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