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Israel must face its identity crisis to survive

Is Israel ignoring its existential problems? Has it pushed its problems under the rug for the political needs of the here and now? “Top Story” with Jonathan Tobin and guest Michael Oren, Ep. 107

Is the Jewish state ready to face and solve the enormous problems it faces as it heads towards its 100th birthday? JNS editor-in-chief Jonathan Tobin says that as daunting as these dilemmas may be, “only a fool would bet against Israel.”

He is joined by Michael Oren, historian and former Israeli ambassador to the United States, to discuss his new book, 2048: The Rejuvenated State, a manifesto about how the Jewish state can deal with a long list of existential challenges.

Oren, who supports judicial reform for Israel, says anybody who is looking for evidence of the need to address Israel’s future challenges doesn’t have to look any further than the current civil strife over the issue, which has been tearing the country apart.

The historian notes that many of the problems speak to social divisions along religious, ethnic and political lines that were brought to the fore by the debate about judicial reform, including the refusal of haredim to serve in the army or participate in the economy. Then there are Palestinian adversaries who don’t want peace. Above all, Israel needs to elevate the concept of Jewish peoplehood and address a basic question: “Who are we?”

Oren says Israel needs to address economic issues as well as move towards comprehensive political reform. But he also cautions against demonizing the ultra-Orthodox and imagining that they can be forced to change, as well as against second-guessing the Jewish state from abroad. 

As for the peace process, he says that Israel and its American ally need to stop advocating for a two-state solution that won’t happen. Instead, they must accept the reality that the Palestinian Authority is already a separate state in all but name, and it must finally begin to work towards helping its own people.

But the former ambassador is also optimistic because of all that he has seen and experienced in his 45 years living in the Jewish state.

The country’s achievements are “miracles that I saw with my own two eyes.” Israel has already “overcome insurmountable obstacles,” Oren says. “You can’t have lived through this without being optimistic.”

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