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Opinion

Optimism for Israel in troubled times

For us proud religious Zionists, seeing such internal disputes inside the Jewish state need not be a cause of despair.

The Knesset menorah in Jerusalem. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
The Knesset menorah in Jerusalem. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Martin Oliner
Martin Oliner
Martin Oliner is chairman of the Religious Zionists of America, chairman of the Center for Righteousness and Integrity, president of the Culture for Peace Institute and a committee member of the Jewish Agency. He was appointed by former U.S. president Donald Trump and serves as a member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. The views expressed are his own. Martinoliner@gmail.com

As Israel hits the milestone of its 75th birthday, it is too easy to become demoralized.

The disputes over the government’s plans for legal reforms have become unprecedentedly intense. Strong differences of opinion have led to incidents of violence and prophecies of doom.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog has even warned that the Jewish state is on the brink of civil war and noted that previous Jewish commonwealths did not pass eight decades. A recent event at the President’s Residence highlighted that there have been 12 civil wars in Jewish history—a stark reminder of the impact of past infighting inside the Jewish community.

But for us proud religious Zionists, seeing such internal disputes inside the Jewish state need not be a cause of despair. Witnessing these troubled times should actually give us even more hope for the future of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. It should strengthen our emunah, our faith, rather than weaken it.

We believe that Israel is atchalta de’geula—just the beginning of the redemption that Jews around the world prayed for three times a day since the exile in 70 C.E., not the end. Israel is a work in progress, not a finished product. Its name means “struggling with God,” and that struggle continues.

Israelis are fighting over how to be a Jewish state and a democratic one. Those concepts that usually worked beautifully together over the past seven-and-a-half decades are currently being re-evaluated, and the finished product when the struggle is over will end up being stronger and even more cohesive.

Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl envisioned the Jews becoming a normal nation with a state of its own. This vision of normalcy as an ideal was included in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

“This is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign state,” says the document signed by representatives of all sectors of the nascent Jewish state.

Like all other states, Israel faces its share of respectful disagreement. This is part and parcel of being the normal country that Herzl envisioned.

This ability that the people of Israel have to argue among themselves is itself a democratic principle that needs to be celebrated, not feared.

The many disputes that surfaced since Israel was founded—over its borders, its religious status quo and accepting reparations from Germany for the Holocaust—make it all the more impressive that the Jewish state has lasted so long.

Even declaring a State of Israel involved many internal fights, as has the question about how to mark the day since then. Whether or not we make a blessing in our Hallel prayer, we religious Zionists thank God for the modern miracle of Israel, shortcomings and all. In that prayer, we praise God for His perfection, but we recall that while He is exalted high in the heavens, He gave the earth to the imperfect children of men.

We are left to deal with those imperfections with our own free will.

George Orwell wrote that “freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” Both sides in Israel can express that right that truly makes us free.

In that regard, Yom Ha’atzmaut is a celebration of freedom. In 1881, nearly seven decades before Yom Ha’atzmaut, the Sefat Emet predicted that there would one day be a new freedom festival parallel to Passover, just like Chanukah was a late celebration of Sukkot and that Purim followed up on the acceptance of the Torah on Shavuot.

Following the miracles of Chanukah and Purim, the internal divides continued. The Hasmoneans illegitimately held on to power. Mordechai only had the support of a majority of his people. After Yom Ha’atzmaut, the disputes continue as well. But they continue with an important reminder: the menorah that is the official emblem of the State of Israel.

When the menorah was first crafted for the Mishkan, it had to be built out of one piece of solid gold. Since then, it has been a reminder of the need for Jewish unity. The menorah stands opposite the Knesset as a reminder to the politicians that no matter how much they fight, we must remain one people.

It is my hope that after the current disputes are resolved, we will see the return of the unity that is so desperately needed for Israel’s next 75 years.

The writer is co-president of the Religious Zionists of America, chairman of the Center for Righteousness and Integrity, and a committee member of the Jewish Agency. He was appointed by former President Donald Trump as a member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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