You would think it would be easy for Jews, for Zionists, to agree to simply throw a party and enjoy this moment. Israel has reached 60 years as an independent state and as the recognized center of the Jewish people. It seems, however, that nothing is quite that simple. In both Israel and the Diaspora there has been debate over how, and even if, to celebrate this momentous occasion.
Within Israel, as MK Colette Avital notes elsewhere on our website, people have suggested that it is inappropriate to invest large sums of money on public events for VIPs when so many Israelis live below the poverty line and struggle to feed themselves. Fringe Diaspora Jewish groups have joined forces with anti-Zionist elements to view Israeli Independence Day as an opportunity to demonstrate against the occupation or the state’s very existence.
As I struggled to put my own feelings into words for this column, I am influenced by the Passover holiday that Jews around the world recently celebrated. As we recounted the exodus from Egypt and listed the plagues that were brought upon Pharaoh and his people, we dipped our finger into our glass and extracted wine to symbolically lessen our joy due to the human suffering.
I certainly plan to celebrate with my friends in the Diaspora and Israel. I am proud of the Israeli achievements in technology, economy and medicine. Israeli heroism is legendary and the literal “ingathering of the exiles” through the various waves of immigration has saved countless Jewish lives. One marvels at the vibrancy of life in Israel and the inspiration it provides for Diaspora Jews. As someone born after 1948 and more so for my children, it is unimaginable to think of a Jewish world without Israel.
At the same time, I can’t help but reflect on the Zionist dream, establishing a sovereign Jewish, democratic state living according to the prophetic values of social justice. In plain terms, we are not there yet.
The growing Israeli economy, with all of its impressive accomplishments, has left 25% of Israelis living below the poverty line. In addition, 60 years ago the fledging state guaranteed equal rights to all citizens in the Declaration of Independence, but implementation is far from complete and Israeli Arabs do not have their full share of the “Israeli dream.”
The majority of Israelis now agree that the only way to ensure a democratic Jewish state is by living side by side with our Palestinian neighbors. The occupation has complicated reaching this “two states for two peoples” objective, as has intransigence and violence on the part of the Palestinians. Holding more cards in its proverbial hand, Israel is going to have to go further to help the sides reach the desired conclusion. As so many have said and written in recent months, including Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, not reaching the two states solution threatens the very future of the Zionist enterprise.
So I ask that you raise a virtual glass of your favorite beverage with me (today mine is a 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon from Kibbutz Tzora’a). Let’s toast Israel’s achievements and the dreams. Let’s also dip our fingers in the glass, remove a drop and pledge to do our part to help Israel celebrate her coming birthdays as a more just society at peace with her neighbors.