It Could Be Worse

One must also acknowledge the one-quarter-full glass.

It was not the worst year and this is not the worst country, and there are leaders who are worse even than Benjamin Netanyahu. On the eve of this new year, 5773, these things must be said. They do not in any measure soften the criticism expressed here in this not-good year in this not-good state, but one must also acknowledge the one-quarter-full glass.

It was a relatively unbloody year, with approximately 80 Palestinian deaths, mainly in the Gaza Strip, and almost no Israelis killed in the conflict. Israel did not launch a war, and that is something that cannot be taken for granted, certainly not this year. In other areas, too, it was not a bad year in spite of the rise in economic distress and the decline of the social protest movement, in spite of the resurgence of racism and the kindling of fear and hatred - certainly not the worst year in our history. The attacks on democracy were checked, in part, not counting the impending threats to the press. Israel's international standing has also seen worse years.

Most important is that in spite of appearances this is not the worst country in the world. It is not a villa in the jungle, as Israelis like to depict it, in fact not a villa at all (nor is the jungle only a jungle ), but rather an apartment building - granted, with a shaky foundation and peeling facade, but a building nonetheless, and not even the ugliest one in the city. Syria, Russia and China are all much uglier, and America is not so hot either.

It was a year of fears in this land of fearmongering, but that can be said of nearly every year here. Even when the fears are justified they target the wrong danger; even when they are realistic they are deliberately exaggerated. I cannot recall a single year here in which there was no stirring up of fears, from the threat of the "mistanenim" (infiltrators ) of the 1950s to the terror of the mistanenim of 2012, there is nothing new under the Israeli sun. Perhaps we must simply get used to that.

Racism, ultranationalism, violence, arrogance, animalization and messianism, and nevertheless this country is still not the worst. I can hardly believe I am writing this, but it is the truth. After all, despite all this we are talking about an almost miraculous country, a society of immigrants that built a state of which we can be proud for many reasons, even without counting the gold medal in the recent Paralympics, three Eurovision song contest victories, 10 Nobel prizes, the invention of drip irrigation technology, and even ignoring what is written in the ridiculous propaganda booklet, Masbirim Israel, handed out these days at Ben-Gurion International Airport: "Israel desperately desires peace with its neighbors ... the Galilee and Lake Kinneret, Israel's Tuscany ... the Dead Sea was a candidate as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World." The booklet itself is so pathetic as to be touching.

One must also avoid the temptation of making comparisons. Leftists are always berated with the cry: "Go to Syria, write about Hamas; look at how the Americans are torturing prisoners at Guantanamo." The ethical test is absolute, not relative, and Israel has failed it miserably. And still, even though the country it described as completely immoral it is not the worst: The liberty enjoyed by its citizens, mainly the Jews among them, is still impressive. There is a vibrant art scene and some of the works produced are excellent. The climate is good, the beaches and landscapes are breathtaking, and even the people are nice, sometimes. Foreign diplomats who have served here long to return (if they were not summoned too frequently for a verbal reprimand ). Foreign tourists go home thrilled (if they were not strip-searched after landing at Ben-Gurion airport ), and Israelis tell pollsters they are happy (except for the prices and the African migrants ).

None of this can be taken for granted. It could be much worse: a strike against Iran, for example, or an even broader "Nakba Law." This not-bad year could also presage much worse years because it was the kind of year in which we fell asleep at the switch and did not do a thing to neutralize the genuine danger. And still, allow us this one sweet moment on Erev Rosh Hashanah, however brief. On Friday, in a beautiful park in Jaffa at sunset, among hundreds of Israelis - Jews, Arabs and immigrants, all together - for one brief moment it really did seem to be, just maybe, a wonderful country after all.