Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Presidents, Ambassadors & Astronauts - the Israel that could be...

It hasn’t been a great month for Israelis. The Chief of Staff resigned, the State Prosecutor opened a probe into allegations against the PM, and the President is about to be indicted for rape. In an amazing speech, Katsav compared himself to Albert Dreyfus subsequently blaming the ‘elites’ – the courts, the police and the media for carrying out a witch hunt, and concluding that this signaled the end of Zionism. Writing from the World Economic Forum at Davos, Sever Plocker questioned whether things could be any worse explaining that “Israel is no longer viewed as a thriving, high tech superpower or even as a brutal occupation power…but as a declining and dysfunctional country…a country of rapists and corruption at high levels, a country that is falling into moral decline.”

Katsav is not the only one discussing the end of the Zionist dream. Even without Ahmadinejad’s threats (predictions?) that Israel is a 'rotten dried tree' that will be blown away, more and more Israelis have begun to speak about the end of life the way we know it. Historian Benny Morris recently published a chilling article discussing the inevitability of a future nuclear Holocaust while Deputy Defense Minister Efraim Sneh claimed that Iran attaining nuclear capability could kill the Zionist dream without even pushing a button. And ignoring the wealth of Zionist thinkers from Jabotinsky to Magnes that promoted Israeli Arabs living alongside Jews, Esterina Tartman from Yisrael Beitenu described the appointment of Israel's first Muslim Minister as the beginning of assimilation and the end of Zionism.

It’s hardly surprising that at such a time the Israeli ‘Patriotism Survey’ reflected an unprecedented decline in the public’s confidence in government institutions. But what is interesting is that at the same time, the Survey showed an increased emotional affinity for the State. Despite the gloomy predictions and lack of faith in Israel’s leadership, a whopping 87% of Israelis will encourage their children to stay here.

I remember watching the first series of ‘The Ambassador’ - an Israeli reality TV show based on PR - when the future winner Eytan Schwartz refused to justify soldiers at a checkpoint forcing a Palestinian to play them the violin. The show being about explaining Israel’s actions, the judges were dumfounded – how can an ‘Ambassador’ refuse to defend the actions of his state? Eytan answered that the Israel he defends is not necessarily the Israel that is, but the Israel that is supposed to be, the Israel described in the Declaration of Independence…and if it doesn’t live up to these (lofty) standards, the patriotic thing to do is not to defend or explain Israel but to speak out.

Last weekend Rachel and I celebrated our engagement in Jerusalem. And against the background of disillusionment and insecurity many people feel, I actually believe that getting married and looking to buy a house represents a kind of ideological statement - the putting down of roots, a show of faith in our people’s future here, a clear statement of where we intend to live our lives. And I actually think there’s something very Jewish about that – that when times seem bad, when the future’s uncertain, that’s when Jews not only express their faith that a better society is possible but their belief that they will be around to be a part of it.

The first of February marks the Yahrzeit of an Israeli who encapsulated all the best this country has to offer. The child of Holocaust survivors, a scientist who excited and united the whole nation with his mission, a pilot who helped stop Iraq going nuclear, a secular Israeli who wanted to keep Kosher and Shabbat in space, Ilan Ramon’s shuttle burnt up on its re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere four years ago this week. And as the President waits for an Emil Zola who probably won't arrive, normal patriotic Israelis who love this country are trying to follow in the footsteps of a real Israeli hero and ambassador, pledging their future here and demonstrating their belief in the idea that the Israel that currently is, isn’t necessarily the Israel that could be… and planning on being around long enough to try and facilitate that much needed change.