Today is the 75th birthday of the State of Israel. Only in this country, the Jewish state, are days marked from sunset to sunset. Only in Israel is the language of the Bible spoken in the streets and schools closed on Shabbat, Yom Kippur, Passover and so on. This country belongs to a people that for two millennia has had to live on the margins, often discriminated against by the larger society, asking to be but only rarely being accepted.
This is a nation of people now able to defend themselves, while 75 years ago they were helpless in the face of pogroms, persecutions and ultimately the Shoah. The evil of antisemitism has not disappeared, but now it hurls itself against the walls of a strong nation.
Israel’s citizens rank high on global surveys of collective happiness and enjoy equal rights in a free nation after centuries of discriminatory treatment, a novelty that is a mere 75 years old today.
For weeks, however, the media has been obsessing over the clash between the Israeli government and opposition over the issue of judicial reform, naming it—with obvious glee—a profound crisis. Israel’s enemies, from Iran to Hamas, have interpreted the mass demonstrations against the reform as a sign of weakness and the imminent end of the Jewish state. The murderous activity of Israel’s enemies continues, as they tried to mar Independence Day celebrations with attacks before the holiday.
Despite their efforts, however, Israel’s extraordinary success shines through. After having dreamed of Jerusalem in vain for two millennia, the Jews now have their capital in the holy city. Israel is a beautiful home to them, with stunning sights from the Negev desert to the Sea of Galilee to the Golan Heights, bordered by the Mediterranean coast where millions work and enjoy life.
It is a country with a thousand languages where people of all colors and creeds mingle and work together. It is a place with the most advanced technology in medicine, agriculture, water and other fields. Israel’s army is among the most powerful in the world. Families are hopeful enough to give birth to an average of three children, ensuring a future of growth and prosperity.
True, the Israeli people are in the midst of a furious internal debate. Behind it lies the perennial conflict between nationhood and religion, between the secular and the devout. Jewish sages and intellectuals have been discussing this for centuries.
A simplistic view sees the secular side as advocating a modern “democratic” state, while the right-wing wants a state with religious coercion.
This is false. Right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who advocates the reforms, is secular and liberal. True, he is disliked by the left, which is exasperated by his continuing success, but this does not make him a theocrat. The religious elements in Netanyahu’s government know that he has spent decades building a liberal nation in which all opinions and political, social, religious and sexual affiliations are honored.
Israel can only live through compromise. The left must make the effort to accept the legacy of the valiant Jews who, over the centuries, while dying of starvation and persecution, even in the concentration camps, heroically preserved the Jewish tradition. Without them, the Jewish people would not exist and the Torah would be mere paper.
At the same time, however, without the heroism of the socialist fighters from the kibbutzim and the Zionist left, who under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion cultivated the dry land, suffered hunger and deprivation, and gave their lives for the upbuilding of the nation and its defense, there would be no State of Israel to celebrate.
The entire world should be proud of Israel and Israel should definitely be proud of itself. Great civilizations and cultures have fallen over the centuries, but the Jewish civilization has not, and now it has been reborn in the name of values that benefit the entire Western world.
Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies. She served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including Israel Is Us (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and is the author of Jewish Lives Matter.