Israel Is in a Crisis, but Stop the Talk About Our Destruction

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A demonstration by self-employed Israelis during the coronavirus pandemic.

The days leading up to the fast of Tisha B’Av lead many Israelis to indulge in apocalyptic prophecies like “We’ve never been so close to destruction as on the eve of this Tisha B’Av.” Statements like this aren’t true, and thus they aren’t helpful to the struggle that ought to unite us, given the government’s failures in almost every area.

They’re also unnecessary at a time when security tensions are developing in the north, though these have for some reason been pushed to the margins of our national consciousness.

Even if we identify with the prophet Isaiah’s words that “our rulers are rebellious” – and how could we not? – our ministers’ actions don’t have the power to undermine the fundamental fact that Israel is the beginning of the flowering of our redemption. Today, too, there are cases in which widows and orphans have been deprived of justice. Yet our judges and prosecutors, even though many have sinned and continue to sin, are very far from that biblical description of judicial corruption in ancient days.

The liturgical lament “We have purchased baseless hatred; oh, what happened to us?” has remained valid to this day. But it hasn’t brought us to the apocalyptic situation described in the book of Deuteronomy – “without, the sword shall bereave, and terror shall be in their chambers” – nor will it. These are indeed days of “mourning and lamentation,” as per the book of Lamentations, but they’re very far from that book’s description of how “All her people groan, seeking bread.”

The traffic jams (and the purchase of tens of thousands of new cars even at the height of the pandemic) are clear proof that another description from Lamentations – “The ways of Zion do mourn, because none come to the solemn assembly” – isn’t true. Nobody is attending gatherings? What about the plethora of graduation parties and the (hidden) mass parties on the beaches, in nightclubs, in penthouses, on yachts and in private yards? And what about the huge weddings (and funerals) in Betar Ilit and Bnei Brak?

Israel is indeed in the midst of a severe national crisis and a chaotic leadership situation, and this is primarily due to a general moral crisis. A large portion of the public has lost its values and, in three successive elections, it elected immoral leaders.

Our elected officials, as the government’s actions prove, won’t change their ways or appetites; they aren’t capable of changing. They are mired deep in the sins of zealotry, arrogance and lust for power and honor. Therefore, even if a vaccine for the coronavirus is found soon, it won’t end our continuing national crisis.

To do that, we will need many far-reaching moral and structural changes, as well as new leaders. But this can happen only after the public returns to the value system that brought about the return to Zion and the establishment of the state.

More than once in the past, it has seemed like we were mired in crises from which it was impossible to extricate ourselves. And yet, we did. But the rescue operations were led by new forces that rebelled against leaders who had transgressed or failed. Anyone who’s counting on our problems to be corrected because our current ministers and governmental systems will learn lessons from this ordeal is deluding himself.

Israel is deep in a predicament of values and leadership, but it isn’t an existential one. During the major global emergencies of the 20th century, leaders like Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and many others arose and saved their nations – and in fact all of humanity – from sinking into a long night.

At around that same time, our nation was also graced with leaders who rebelled against the belief in waiting passively for divine redemption, and established the Zionist movement, which drew our forebears to return to our land and rebuild our homeland. They included Binyamin Ze’ev Herzl, Chaim Weizmann, Ze’ev Jabotinsky and, of course, the one who knew better than all the rest how to translate Zionist theory into practice, David Ben-Gurion. Israel has not been orphaned.

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