Israel needs a national action plan. Alongside preparations for a broader conflict with Iran and its satellites, this is the most important issue that must be dealt with to ensure that the impressive success of the Zionist enterprise continues.
Recently, Israel’s governments have been mostly focused on their own political survival, and the public has been busy—apart from coping with ongoing health, security and economic challenges—mostly with the repulsive struggles among them. There is no serious, open discussion about national priorities taking place in the government, the Knesset, or the public. Even if some people are devoting serious, consistent thought to the matter, at the fundamental level, the issue is not being handled professionally. It demands public debate, because we are talking not only about what needs to be achieved in certain prioritized fields, but also about difficult, costly concessions that must be made in other important areas.
A responsible society needs broad agreement regarding its national priorities. The strength and resilience of an open, democratic society rest largely upon the public’s willingness to take up part of the burden to promote the interests it sees as vital and to deal with the threats it views as particularly serious. Take, for example, the heavy cost mainstream Israeli society was willing to accept in the 1950s and 1960s (and to a much lesser extent the 1990s) so that the state could take in massive waves of immigrants.
In this wider context, the public is accepting of national conscription, and for generations (especially in the 1970s) has been funding a defense budget comprising a much higher fraction of the national expenditure than is accepted in typical western democracies. Neither of these would be imaginable for a public that had not understood the national need for and the historic opportunity represented by aliyah, or realized the severity of the security threat.
With regard to the strategic threat posed by Iran and its satellites, there is broad national consensus in Israel. That consensus has deepened recently, after it turned out that even careful avoidance of a clash with the Biden administration and the Americans’ willingness to listen patiently to Israel’s arguments have not influenced the U.S. determination to reach an agreement that gives the Iranians nearly everything they are asking for in exchange for their willingness to allow the West to fool itself.
But Israel cannot allow itself to lose its way. The challenges facing it are not only the external threat and the fact that the next war will hurt the home front in a way that no open, democratic state has experienced since Europe in World War II. Recently, the fact has also come to light that some of Israel’s Arabs are willing to attack the Jewish population during a war, on a large scale, backed by the country’s wider Arab minority and its leaders.
In a slow but deep-seated and continual process, the mainstream of the non-Haredi Jewish public—which (along with its Druze partners) carries the state, its economy, security and achievements on its shoulders—is losing its confidence that the government is taking care of its needs. For example, it is losing its faith in the pathetic law enforcement system and its judges, whose rulings and sentences ignore the dramatic increase in threats to our quality of life and security. When the unwritten contract between the public and the government is violated, national solidarity, resilience and voluntary willingness to share in the burden are damaged.
There is a need for widespread agreement about a national action plan that defines the national priorities. The parties will make proposals, and the government will agree on its priorities, the opposition will voice its criticism, and the public discussion will make the areas of agreement and disagreement clear. Don’t delude yourselves—the disputes won’t be solved, but even partial decisions and awareness of the dilemmas are better than public officials evading their fundamental obligation to lay out a path.
Dan Schueftan is the director of the International Graduate Program in National Security Studies at the University of Haifa’s National Security Studies Center.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.