With Yom Ha’azmaut just a few days away, this week The CJN looks back on the state of Israel’s 66th year in existence. It’s been a busy 12 months, punctuated by some truly major political and social events that could very well alter Israeli history forever.
The ultra-Orthodox conscription law is a fitting example. The bill, which terminated many of the draft exemptions that traditionally allowed haredim to avoid army service, presents a prime opportunity to incorporate the ultra-Orthodox into greater Israeli society. The question now is how many will accept the invitation.
While the haredi community fulminated against assimilation, African migrant workers gathered in Tel Aviv to demand integration, pleading with the government to address asylum requests. Foreign Ministry employees took issue with their situation, too, going on strike for better pay, while the Women of the Wall’s demonstrations for recognition finally appeared on the way to achieving a desirable outcome, with the creation of a new egalitarian section at the Kotel. And actress Scarlett Johansson dealt a blow to the BDS protest movement when she stood up for SodaStream.
The year also included a healthy dose of Canadian content: Prime Minster Stephen Harper made his first state visit to Israel, where he was welcomed as a loyal friend. Many, though certainly not all, Canadian Jews feel the same. Meanwhile, Israelis got a taste of our winter when a brutal storm blanketed the country in snow last December.
Two men who played crucial roles in Israel’s trajectory passed away in the last 12 months: Sephardi spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef on Oct. 7, and former prime minister Ariel Sharon on Jan. 11. In death, as in life, both were praised and pilloried.
But, of course, the biggest story was the peace process (or lack thereof) with the Palestinians. Negotiations began in July, with Israel agreeing to release 104 Palestinian prisoners and the Palestinian Authority committing not to seek international recognition for a state. Neither side fulfilled its promise, and the talks stalled.
If there was any hope the two sides could be brought back to the table in the near term, it vanished last week when the PA announced a unity agreement with Hamas. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded by doing the only thing he could: suspending peace negotiations.
On Saturday, PA President Mahmoud Abbas told reporters the new Palestinian unity government would be composed of technocrats rather than Fatah and Hamas officials, though it’s difficult to envision how party politics won’t seep into the government – if it is ever constituted, which is far from a given. Abbas also promised the government would recognize Israel, but if Hamas is involved, even remotely, how could anyone trust him?
And, in any case, Abbas also reiterated Saturday that the Palestinians will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state. One hopes he and his people can be convinced to change their minds, or that some future Palestinian leader will adopt a different approach, because otherwise there is no hope for a peace deal, in Israel’s 67th year or beyond. Failing to recognize Israel’s inherent Jewishness is akin to not recognizing Israel at all. There is no difference.