Statehood and the Jews

The State of Israel recently celebrated its seventy-fifth year of existence. If someone had told us way back in 1948 that the country would count nearly ten million people as its citizens, eight million of them Jews; that it would lead the world in technological innovation; that it would be a regional superpower — we would have told them to keep dreaming. Of the countries founded in the era of decolonization, Israel has been one of the most successful, in spite of the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But in the past year, barely the blink of an eye in the state’s existence, the Israeli government and its prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been trampling and traducing the hard-won achievements of numerous governments. They are undermining the economy and scaring off foreign investors, leading to a devaluation of the currency and to global financial institutions losing confidence in Israel, a country which until recently had been considered a pillar of stability and good governance in a part of the world famous for instability and poor governance. Worst of all, they are generating a profound rift, a terrifying chasm, within Israeli society, the likes of which we have never witnessed before. There is something magical, in Jewish history, about the number seventy-five: the two independent Jewish kingdoms that existed in the Land of Israel in antiquity each lasted about that long. Both were conquered by powerful empires that ruled the region. From the east came the Mesopotamians, Assyria and Babylonia, and then from the west came Rome. The Israelite commonwealth and then the kingdom of Judea refused to make peace with foreign rule, so they revolted to restore their independence. The Jewish population typically split into two large camps, the peacemakers and the warmongers. Those spoiling for a fight usually carried the day.

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