Phyllis Chesler Interviews Carol Gould

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Israel's Accomplishments and Challenges
Last uploaded : Sunday 22nd Apr 2007 at 19:45
Contributed by : Gerald Steinberg

 



Most journalists and pundits who talk and write so much about Israel miss the main point. While Herzl and his colleagues sought political sovereignty to insure physical survival, the Zionist movement also saw this in the context of a Jewish renaissance. The constant wars, both military and political, in which Israel has been embroiled and which get most of the attention, are a tragic by-product of Arab rejectionism. But Jews did not and still do not come to Israel in order to fight these external battles we came to reclaim, restore and rebuild our culture.

From this perspective, as Israel enters its 60th year, we can be proud of our accomplishments, and also prepare to meet the considerable challenges that go beyond Iran and Palestinian terror. First, the good news. The renaissance and revival of 4000 years of Jewish cultural life has succeeded far beyond what was considered realistic when Ben Gurion proclaimed Israeli independence in May 1948. Two thousand years after the Exile, Hebrew is a living language again, and with this achievement, the original texts from the Bible through the Talmud and the Rabbinical commentaries -- are accessible to millions of Jews, as well as non-Jews. This has spawned an amazing growth in creativity. Journals such as Azure, and newspapers such as Makor Rishon (First Source), both founded a few years ago and dedicated to promoting this renaissance, have growing lists of contributors and expanding readerships to match. (There is no English edition of Makor Rishon, making access to the articles difficult, and as a result, few journalists outside of Israel are aware of its existence.)

This cultural resurgence is also no longer restricted to a narrow group of religious Israelis, and the cultural barriers are slowly being overcome. The attempt to replace the Jewish tradition with a new "Israeli man" has given way to an effort to merge the two approaches. With the exception of a few diehards, the militant anti-religious ideology has been replaced by a dialogue. Many non-religious intellectuals, artists, and leaders have a "Jewish bookshelf", and use these texts in their writings and performances. Their children attend "secular yeshivas" and similar frameworks, giving them the background necessary for this dialogue. The Jewish cultural renaissance taking place in Israel has also spread to the Diaspora, and Israel is now the senior partner in this relationship.

At the same time, these achievements do not offset or justify Israel's failures including the widespread leadership failure (secular and religious) and the unacceptable level of poverty and lack of economic opportunity. While the quality of education for the richer sectors is growing, schools in the poor neighbourhoods and peripheral towns are neglected and underfunded. Social services are highly inadequate, particularly for "olim" from non-western countries. And the antiquated political system that encourages corruption has alienated many younger Israelis. Good people do not seek leadership positions, and the results are very costly. To meet this challenge, the new generation must find a way to take part in the process without becoming infected by the corruption.

The corruption among Israeli leaders reflects the "get rich quick" and materialistic mentally that replaced the pioneering spirit which prevailed during the first decades of Israel's existence. This has blinded many Israelis to the growing level of poverty that is entirely foreign to Jewish tradition. Past promises to offset this situation have not been fulfilled, and while Prime Minister Olmert has pledged to cut poverty by 25 percent, implementation will require a sustained effort and moral leadership.

Israel's future success depends on the readiness to meet these challenges, which exist in the shadow of the ongoing threats of war and terror. We cannot afford to address only one dimension success requires the same investments directly internally as are applied in fighting our external enemies.

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