With a Sea of Woes, There Comes an Ocean of Optimism


As we review the events of 5767, there's no denying that Israel underwent yet another annus horribilis — an awful year.

The people lack confidence in their failed leaders. Despite the disastrous unilateral withdrawals that undermined Israel's security, missiles are still being launched from Gaza against Israeli citizens, who have been transformed into refugees in their own land.

Much of the world remains convinced that Islamic fundamentalism and many of their other woes are due to the evil machinations of the Jewish state.

Israel's most important ally — the United States — is in turmoil because of its problems in Iraq. The Bush administration also mistakenly believes that their interests will best be served by pressuring Israel to make additional unilateral concessions to a corrupt and impotent Fatah regime.

Global anti-Semitism continues making inroads, particularly in Europe. To top it off, on the domestic Israeli front, corruption climaxed with a disgraced president obliged to stand down.

But as we usher in a New Year, it is high time for Israelis to restrain our masochistic inclinations and without detracting from the very real threats confronting us, dispel the prevailing atmosphere of gloom and doom.

Needless to say, the existential threat from a nuclear Iran is very real. But in these terrible times, all major capital cities are no less subject to nuclear terrorism than Tel Aviv. Besides, notwithstanding the messianic delusions of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, his people would certainly hesitate before employing nuclear weapons against a state that has the capacity to respond in kind. Israelis should perhaps place greater emphasis on the fact that the distance from Tehran to Tel Aviv is the same as that from Tel Aviv to Tehran.

Our position today is unquestionably better than 10 years ago, when the Oslo syndrome had drugged us into worshipping the illusion of an "irreversible peace process." And you can't begin to compare things to 1967 or even 1973, when we faced genuine annihilation.

In time, the Hamas putsch in Gaza may even prove to have been a blessing in disguise. After all, "moderate" Fatah terrorist groups murdered far more Israelis than Hamas. The difference was that duplicitous Fatah leaders paid lip service to peace while continuing to sanctify terror. In contrast, Hamas honestly proclaims its objective of destroying Israel, and thus makes it difficult for apologists for the Palestinians from promoting moral equivalence.

As for the disastrous Lebanon war, failures were due to inept leaders, not the people who displayed extraordinary courage and determination. Yet history may well define the Second Lebanon War as a wake-up call that shook us from our lethargy and obliged us to restore the Israel Defense Force's former role as one of the world's most outstanding citizen armies.

In the Diaspora, anti-Semitism continues to mushroom. But to suggest that this represents an existential threat comparable to the 1930s is palpable nonsense. Today, a Jewish state exists that has the capacity to defend and grant haven to Jews everywhere.

Israel's greatest weakness is an inclination to exaggerate our shortcomings. But a sea change in public opinion has occurred, most notably a belated recognition that the greatest threat to the nation emanates from the enemy within. Israelis are also beginning to appreciate that elitist, secular, high school draft-dodgers — and the contrasting commitment and volunteerism prevailing in religious Zionist and kibbutz circles — are all byproducts of contrasting educational systems.

Now, for the first time, even politicians are calling for strengthening Jewish heritage and Zionism within the educational system. If that leads toward reinforcing Jewish identity and national self-esteem among the next generation of Israelis, then it will surely neutralize the greatest threat to our long-term future.

On Rosh Hashanah, it's incumbent to remind ourselves that we remain the most blessed Jewish generation in more than 2,000 years of exile and persecution, and that Israel stands out as our greatest success story.

As we move toward celebrating Israel's 60th anniversary, we share no illusions about achieving peace in our time. Still, we can exult in the realization that we're better able to defend ourselves against those who seek our destruction than at any other time in Jewish history.

Isi Liebler chairs the Diaspora-Israel Relations Committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.


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