Just 60 years ago, David Ben-Gurion declared that, after a lapse of two millennia, the state of Israel had resumed its existence. There was dancing in the streets of this revived state. At the time, the Nazi Holocaust had just dealt Jews what was virtually a death-blow, and survivors might have been expected never to recover. In a magnificent, perhaps desperate, assertion of human vitality, they instead came together to create their own state of Israel. Jews were at last in a position to take their future into their own hands. An ancient identity, complete with its long since unspoken language of Hebrew, acquired a modern expression. There is no other example in history of a national comeback like this.
By now, the success of the experiment speaks for itself. Since the state’s creation, the number of Israeli Jews has risen tenfold, to some six million today. The number of Israeli Arabs has increased in similar proportions, to over a million. Here is the one and only democracy in the entire Middle East, which of course is the bedrock of its relationship with the United States. Arabs are represented in parliament and the cabinet, and in the higher ranks of the diplomatic service and the military. Though the country is only about 8,000 square miles and devoid of natural resources, Israel has a first-world economy. The country is a leader in the sciences, in technology and medicine, with more than its fair share of Nobel prizes. Israeli art, music, and literature stand comparison with any elsewhere.
Israel is a country which the United Nations voted originally to approve, and there is no other example of that either. What had formerly been the British Mandate of Palestine was henceforth to be Israel and a Palestinian Arab state side by side. At that time after the Second World War, the colonized everywhere were beginning to gain their independence from Western empires. Israel’s opportunity was part of that shift in power, but though Jews were victims of murderous European racism they were hardly third worlders. Rejecting Israeli national claims and rights, and misrepresenting Jews as the new colonizers, Arab states ever since 1948 have never concealed their intention to wipe out Israel, and restore its territory to the House of Islam.
Israel’s fortunes therefore have a tragic dimension. A million and more Jews were obliged to flee to Israel from Arab lands where their communities had lived from time immemorial. And the Arabs? In one campaign after another, Arab leaders and their armies have been humiliated, and the Palestinians find themselves fragmented and wrecked. A nuclear-armed Iran and its proxies of Hezbollah and Hamas are only the latest in the on-going run of existential threats. Israel has no choice but to defend itself whenever attacked, no matter that often it is irrationally criticized for doing so, and nowhere more maliciously than in the United Nations, its one-time sponsor. Once the Jew was the symbolic outcast in much of the world; now there is a sense in which Israel has become the world’s Jew.
No matter. As intended, Israel has served the purpose of placing the future of Jews in Jewish hands. They are probably too grown up at 60 to dance in the streets again, but they could be forgiven if they did.