Rosh Hashanah: Challenges and Optimism…writes Isi Leibler

September 23, 2014 by Isi Leibler
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On the eve of Rosh Hashana 5775, traditional Jews are engaged in teshuva — reviewing the past year and soul-searching with a view to enhancing our moral standards for the coming year.

Isi Leibler

Isi Leibler

While we indulge in self-criticism, we must also condemn the pessimism of the prophets of gloom in our midst and remain optimistic and positive about the future. Last year was indeed an annus horribilis, but we successfully confronted our challenges and with the help of the Almighty will continue doing so.

Of course we are frustrated that, because of a variety of valid external factors, the Israel Defense Forces was inhibited from unleashing its full might and we could not totally eliminate Hamas. Indeed, unless the global community determinedly cooperates in the demilitarization of Gaza, we may soon face another round of hostilities.

But the fact remains that, notwithstanding the tragic loss of 66 soldiers, the IDF achieved its goals and Hamas failed to achieve its key objectives. We should appreciate that by destroying the Hamas tunnels, the IDF forestalled massive casualties and abductions of Israelis civilians. We should, above all, be thankful for the miraculous success of Iron Dome which prevented major Israeli casualties on the home front.

It has become clear to the nation that if Israel ceded the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority, Hamas would take control — either by an election or by a coup — and extend Hamastan to the entire area. Clearly, in the absence of defensible borders and total demilitarization, a Palestinian state is — currently — off the agenda.

Another positive outcome of the war is the unprecedented potential for realignment or a working relationship between Israel and a number of Arab states in combating Islamic terrorism.

This prospect has gained momentum in the context of the regional chaos and explosive military successes of ISIS and other barbaric Islamic fundamentalist groups that have superseded al-Qaida. They represent evil incarnate and their beheadings and carnage shocked much of the Arab world, as well as the U.S. and the West.

We were disappointed with the negative diplomatic stances adopted against us by the Obama administration during the Gaza war. However the achievements of ISIS further highlight the failure of U.S. policy in the region but may hopefully result in a more rational U.S. policy in relation to global jihad. It will undoubtedly reinforce support for us by the American people and Congress and deter President Barack Obama from future political forays against our interests.

The existential threat we would face from a nuclear Iran still remains grounds for grave concern and we continue to hope that it can be averted. However, the Iranians have sufficient reason to be deterred by the devastating consequences to their country were they to act against us.

The recent tsunami of antisemitism, especially in Europe, in which anti-Israelism has now become a surrogate for traditional Jew-hatred, has created an even more hostile environment for Jews than in the 1930s, which then at least, was vigorously condemned by the Left and liberals but who today represent a major contributing factor.

The current situation has parallels in the Middle Ages when Jews were held responsible for plagues, famines, draughts, and all the natural disasters. Today, the Jewish nation state occupies that role and is perceived by many Europeans, as one of the greatest threats to world peace and compare Israelis to Nazis.

The silver lining is that after 2000 years of dispersion, the Jewish state today offers a haven for all Jews. The desperation of the Jews in the 1930s when they were denied entry visas to any country and perished in the Holocaust will never be repeated.

Many Jews, especially in Europe, unwilling to live like pariahs and seeing no future for their children in such societies, will emigrate. Diaspora Jews committed to Jewish continuity are also aware of the intermarriage rates ranging from 50 percent to 70 percent and the effect on whether their grandchildren remain Jewish. Hopefully, many will choose Israel where they can fully express their Jewish identity.

On the local scene, we can take pride at the extraordinary unity displayed by all sectors of society during Operation Protective Edge. The noble demeanor of the mothers of the three kidnapped youngsters and other bereaved families led to unprecedented national solidarity and transformed the nation into one big family.

We remain frustrated with our dysfunctional political system and were appalled during the war by the outrageous behavior of cabinet ministers, including the foreign minister, who made public statements contradicting the policy adopted by his own government.

Most of us now realize that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policy of restraint achieved the best result possible considering the difficult and complex circumstances. The majority of Israelis, including these strongly opposed to some of his policies, recognize that Netanyahu is head and shoulders above any other candidate to lead the nation during this period.

And despite the dysfunctional political system, Israelis are probably more cohesive today than at any time since the Oslo Accords, which divided the nation. Seventy percent have no desire to rule over Arabs or annex territories that would double the number of Arabs in Israel and ultimately result in a binational state. At the same time, we accept that a quick fix is not on the cards and that a separation cannot be achieved unless we have genuine security and a credible peace partner.

The ongoing series of corruption trials, culminating with the conviction of our former prime minister, were deeply distressing. Yet there are few nations in the world where leaders are treated with greater severity than the citizen. This says something positive about Israeli democracy and society.

On the religious front, there has been progress. More ultra-Orthodox Israelis are joining the workforce and there is increasing pressure for haredim to be drafted into the military or engaged in National Service. There have been minor but important developments in the conversion process, despite the opposition of the Chief Rabbinate, which is still dominated by the haredim.

Although the war will impact on the economy, according to a recent Pew Research poll, most Israelis (59 percent) are happy with their lot and, while in the U.S. 33 percent of the public express satisfaction with the direction the country is going, Israel’s satisfaction rate is 49 percent. The evidence from repeated polls suggests that Israelis are among the highest ranking nations to express happiness and satisfaction with life in their country. Our extraordinary high-tech startup nation is still only surpassed by the United States.

So when we review our situation, both external and internal, we should be grateful that despite ongoing challenges, we are enjoying a golden age which we should not take for granted.

We have lost the support of many of the nations of the world which were willing to weep on our behalf when we faced annihilation in 1967. Today, thank God, the IDF has the power to defend us from the surrounding barbarians . None of us would choose to return to powerlessness in order to regain global sympathy.

As we move into 5775 we must thank the Almighty that we are the generation blessed to live in a Jewish state, which emerged like a phoenix from the ashes of the Holocaust, enabled the ingathering of the exiles from all corners of the world and unquestionably became the greatest success story of the past century. But we must not become blasé and take for granted the fact that we have a Jewish state that has empowered the Jewish people and is capable of defending itself against all its adversaries combined.

Shana Tova and Am Yisrael Chai.


Isi Leibler lives in Jerusalem. He is a former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.

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