Israel must prepare now to cope with future existential threats if it wants to celebrate its 100th birthday in another three decades, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned last week.
Speaking during a Bible study session he hosted at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, he noted that the Hasmonean kingdom survived for only about 80 years, and he is working to ensure that modern Israel will surpass that mark and reach its 100th birthday.
The Hasmonean kingdom became an independent Jewish commonwealth after the Hasmoneans, also known as the Maccabees, led a successful revolt against Greece. The kingdom was conquered by the Romans in 63 B.C.E.
People present at the session said Netanyahu’s statement provided a glimpse into his mood and the degree to which Israel’s survival preoccupies him. They also said it differed greatly from his usual remarks during these sessions.
“Netanyahu said our existence isn’t self-evident and he’ll do everything he can to protect the state,” one participant said. “He noted that the Hasmonean state lasted only 80 years, and that we needed to exceed this.”
Another participant said he didn’t think Netanyahu was predicting Israel’s collapse, but merely meant that it must remain strong because it’s still a young country.
Netanyahu also told the gathering, “There is no Jewish existence without the Bible. In my view, there’s also no Jewish future without the Bible. That’s the first and highest foundation on which we stand. Now, it’s not as if nobody’s trying to smash this foundation. All kinds of people are trying to do so, but with God’s help, we can say we’re standing firm.”
This was the ninth time Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, have hosted a Bible study session in honor of the prime minister’s late father. The session was devoted mainly to the week-long Sukkot holiday that began last Wednesday and its message of the fragility of life, symbolized by the religious practice of eating and sleeping in temporary booths known as sukkahs during the holiday.
Netanyahu also reiterated his conditions for peace with the Palestinians. “Anyone who talks about a peace process must first of all talk about the fact that they must recognize Israel, the state of the Jewish people,” he said.
“We’re not interested in fake reconciliation in which Palestinian parties reconcile with eachother at the expense of our existence,” he added, referring to the current Palestinian reconciliation talks between the Fatah and Hamas parties. “Therefore, we expect to see three things: one, recognition of the State of Israel; two, dismantling Hamas’ military wing; and three, severing ties with Iran, which calls for our destruction. These are basic things, and we insist on them.”
The session was attended by both intellectuals, mainly though not exclusively identified with the right, and bereaved parents. Among the former were poet Erez Biton, journalist Benny Ziffer, Rabbi Dr. Benny Lau, Prof. Moshe Bar-Asher and Dr. Micah Goodman. The latter included Miriam Peretz, whose two sons were killed during military service, and Bat-Galim Shaer, whose son was one of three teenage boys kidnapped and killed by Hamas in June 2014.
The tradition of Bible study classes at the Prime Minister’s Residence dates back to Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. Netanyahu resumed it over four years ago.