Israel at 67: Unsure of Itself as Ever

A country without borders, with one foot stuck in the throat of another nation, is celebrating its success in reaching its 67th year.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Israeli troops prepare for a Memorial Day ceremony on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, April 21, 2015.
Israeli troops prepare for a Memorial Day ceremony on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, April 21, 2015.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

A grumbling, angry, scared, divided and hate-filled country is marking its independence today. A country without borders, with one foot stuck in the throat of another nation, is celebrating its success in reaching its 67th year.

Independence Day is an Israeli holiday, in other words the holiday of Israeli Jews. As though it were a religious holiday. Because the independent state is still waging a “war of survival” against roughly one fifth of its citizens. Although this country won international recognition, it behaves as though it is still a candidate for such status. As though the community that approved its independence may revoke recognition of it, or harm its sovereignty.

Time after time, Israel invents a new test of the international community’s loyalty to its decision. For example, rejecting the existence of a Palestinian state is a test for recognition of Israel’s right to exist. In other words, anyone who supports a Palestinian state is automatically overturning Israel’s right to exist. Never mind, the nations of the world are suspected of Jew-hatred in any case.

But it’s also a test for the Jews, in Israel and worldwide. Here the sword divides two worlds. Support for Palestinian independence revokes the title of “Zionist” from both Israeli and non-Israeli Jews. Because anyone who is not a Zionist, according to the state, is displaying defective Judaism. After all, Zionism is the diplomatic and political Jewish infrastructure, without which there is no reason for the existence of the Jewish state as a national entity, and not solely a religious one.

But Israel isn’t satisfied with fulfilling the Zionist dream; it is trying to be the refuge for all the world’s Jews. The problem is that by its definition as a Zionist state, only Zionist Jews can consider Israel a country of refuge. The Jews of France, the United States and Great Britain, who identify firstly – and sometimes exclusively – with the country of their citizenship, are considered non-Zionists and in any case anti-Israel, as if they are questioning the reason for the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people.

The paradox inherent in this equation is that Israel is the only country that is in need of dual recognition – that of the international community, which is already in its pocket, and that of the Jewish people, the part that has yet to see the Zionist light. This paradox is placed like a millstone on the shoulders of every Jew who lives outside Israel, whether he is a yored (a Jew who has left Israel) or a Jew who does not intend to “make aliyah.”

Each of them is a traitor to the idea of the Jewish state. He is eroding not only the demographic foundation required to maintain a Zionist majority in Israel, he is also questioning the principle of the “country of refuge” and the very claim that Israel is the only country where Jews can realize their Judaism. After all, what’s the point of a country of refuge if the potential clients turn their backs on it?

This identity crisis has characterized the state since its establishment, and it fires the state’s insatiable pursuit of recognition of its raison d’etre. But it is precisely this pursuit that fuels the doubt. Can a country that is unsure of its identity be considered independent? Is a nation-state that is unable to convince most of the nation to settle in it allowed to describe itself as a country of refuge, and to base the reason for its independent existence on that?

These questions do not arise in any other country. Because independent countries are countries that belong to their citizens, all their citizens, even those whose ethnic or religious origins lie elsewhere. On the other hand, a country that conditions its right to exist on the loyalty of Jews who are citizens of other countries will find it hard to convince even itself of its independence. It will always doubt its ability to realize its vision. Israel’s independence will be complete the moment it agrees to recognize the independence of Diaspora Jewry and their right to decide where they will live, and makes do with being the state of the Israelis, those who live within the sovereign borders that were recognized by the international community.

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