Yom Ha’atzmaut 2012 – the 64th anniversary of Israel’s Declaration of Independence – has prompted a flurry of media coverage that is usually reserved for perhaps more significant events, such as 25th, 50th or 75th jubilees. Even turn-of-decade celebrations or a 65th might ordinarily be considered more defining.
However, if this is what fills column (or blog) space, we shouldn’t complain. Much of it has been positive, sometimes, according to Israel’s traditional adversaries, too positive. So, inevitably, when Google honoured Israel by decorating its online logo with Israeli flags (in what’s known as a “doodle”), a Palestinian group responded by demanding their own depiction – of a Google emblem that instead referenced their “nakba” (the perceived “catastrophe” that befell them when the Jewish State was established in 1948).
But amid the “feel-good” reporting, there is also a good dollop of balanced and insightful commentary that draws attention to the social, cultural, religious, political and existential predicaments that are so much part of what characterizes modern-day Israel. Despite its Herculean strides in creating the foundations of a civil society, a thriving democracy, a flourishing economy and a pride of place and purpose that are the envy of other nations of comparable age – and some much older – there remains within the Israeli psyche a pervasive uncertainty about where precisely the country is headed and what shape it will take in the next 64 years.
Of course, a lot is contingent on whether there’s the political will within the current leadership and its successors to deal sensibly and resolutely with the myriad domestic flashpoints that demand attention. Among these are the deepening tensions between the haredim (an estimated 10 per cent of the Jewish population) and the rest of Israeli society, which can no longer be ignored.
In addressing this, Times of Israel editor, David Horowitz recently commented that “the ad hoc arrangements that have produced, for the first time in Jewish history, an entire demographic sector that has abandoned the religious requirement to join the productive workforce, cannot be sustained.” What is also unsustainable, Horowitz adds, is the Orthodox community’s “stranglehold on life-cycle events.”
Also needed is a prompt and unequivocal acceptance of Israel’s High Court decision of late April to rescind the Tal Law, which, up until now, has permitted exemptions from military service for yeshiva students.
The alarming escalation in the cost of living, especially housing, in Israel – the focus we’ll recall of last summer’s “social justice protests” – is another example of the spectrum of issues that urgently require policy changes if Israel’s democracy is to be further cultivated going forward.
Less controllable and ultimately more daunting are the uncertainties facing Israel from beyond its borders. Much will depend on how exactly the so-called “Arab Spring” (which is more aptly described an “Islamist spring”) plays itself out and how Iran’s march toward a hostile nuclear capability is confronted.
Israel at 64 may not represent a pivotal milestone in the country’s history. Nonetheless, the media attention that it has attracted has had a fascinating, even salutary, effect. It has provided an opportunity for introspection, for those who care to re-evaluate past missteps and hopefully guide this precious haven through a deservedly healthy and vibrant middle age.