April 19, 2013
invited AJC Executive Director David Harris to be a guest columnist. El Pais is Spain's most influential
newspaper and is widely read in the Spanish-speaking world, including Latin
America. This is David's sixth monthly column for El Pais. You can click the link to the published column in
Spanish, or read the English version, as submitted, below.
For many nations, a 65th birthday may not generate
much excitement. But if the country is Israel, which celebrates its birthday
this month, it’s another story.
Israel is the only UN member state whose right to exist is
regularly challenged, whose elimination from the world map is the aim of at
least one other UN member (Iran), and whose population centers are deemed fair
game by Hamas-controlled Gaza and Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon.
None of the serial human-rights-violating countries—not Iran,
North Korea, Belarus, Zimbabwe, Sudan, or any of the others—gets anything near
the relentless, obsessive, guilty-till-proven-innocent scrutiny that democratic
Israel receives from UN bodies.
No other country is the target of such non-stop, well-funded,
and highly-organized campaigns to discredit, delegitimize, and demonize it, or
has its right to self-defense challenged as Israel does.
And no other country is as microscopically examined in the
media, too often without context or balance.
I have enormous admiration for Israel—for its resolve,
resilience, courage, and ingenuity.
What it has achieved is breathtaking: the rebirth of a state
with a rock-solid democratic foundation; the ingathering of millions of refugees
and immigrants from every corner of the world; and a determination to overcome
one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after another.
Other nations might have succumbed to 65 years of
uninterrupted hostility, of enemies trying everything under the sun to demoralize
and isolate it. But Israel keeps confounding its foes.
Its commitment to a two-state accord with the Palestinians,
polls repeatedly reveal, remains unshakeable, even as many Israelis can't help
but wonder if the Palestinians, given one chance after another for sovereignty,
truly share Israel's aim of Jewish and Palestinian states living side by side
Moreover, in global surveys Israel comes out among the
"happiest" countries in the world; Tel Aviv ranks as one of the top
"go-to" destinations for young people; and Israel performs very well
on human development indexes.
Israel's adversaries wonder how these "sons of monkeys
and pigs," as radical Muslim preachers (and the current Egyptian president
as recently as three years ago) openly refer to Jews, stand tall, strong, and,
yes, optimistic. They ask how this nation of just eight million, grown from
only 650,000 at its birth in 1948, has repeatedly defeated the aggression of far
more populous Arab foes, and how Israel, with no natural resources to speak of
until recent natural gas findings, could achieve a first-world economy,
double-digit winners of Nobel Prizes; and global recognition as a leader in
innovation and entrepreneurship.
The answer is simple: an age-old connection among a land, a faith,
and a people.
The ancient prophet Ezekiel expressed it some 2,700 years
Thus says the Lord God:
Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have
gone, and will gather them from all sides, and bring them to their own land;
and I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel...
And the desolate land shall be tilled... And they shall say, This land that was
desolate is become like the Garden of Eden.
Or fast forward to the prophetic Winston Churchill:
The coming into being of a
Jewish State in Palestine is an event in world history to be viewed in the
perspective not of a generation or a century, but in the perspective of a
thousand, two thousand or even three thousand years.
To be sure, Israel, like all democratic societies, is a
permanent work in progress. From grappling with dozens of political parties
vying for 120 parliamentary seats to dealing with some religious zealots, from
addressing a gap between rich and poor to balancing the Jewish and democratic
nature of the country, from the decades-long pursuit of peace with its
neighbors to the defense of the country in an ever more turbulent Middle East,
Israel has no shortage of challenges.
But, above all, Israel is a wondrous "adventure." I
feel privileged daily to see the fulfillment of the prayers of generations,
spanning nearly two millennia, longing for a return to Zion from forced exile.
And imagine the role Israel could one day play in the region,
if all its neighbors made peace, in helping advance food security, water
security, energy security, environmental security, public health security, and
knowledge security, all of which will be towering issues in the 21st
This Israel may not now feature prominently in the media, but
it is the Israel that pulsates daily with a love of life, of freedom, and of
Happy 65th Birthday, Israel!
David Harris is executive director of the American Jewish
Date: 4/22/2013 12:00:00 AM