Israel at 65


El Pais
David Harris
April 19, 2013


El Pais 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 in peace.

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 ago:

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 century.

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 the land.

Happy 65th Birthday, Israel!

David Harris is executive director of the American Jewish Committee