“I Love Israel Even When I Can’t Stand It”
Today, on Israel’s Independence Day, the 72nd anniversary of its creation, the Israel Democracy Institute, a highly regarded institution in the land, reports that 90% of people who live here feel that they belong to this country. As only about two-thirds of the population are Jews, it means that many Israeli Arabs also feel that they belong in Israel. 63,5% of the population believes that Israel’s achievements outweigh its shortcomings.
The survey was done during the coronavirus pandemic that has left many Israelis unemployed, some destitute and most of us frustrated by not being able to move around freely. It prompts me to cite again the late Amos Oz, one of the most significant writers and public figures in the land: “I love Israel even when I can’t stand it.”
Indeed, there is much that is difficult to stand in Israel, not least its politics and its politicians. I cite but two of many instances. (1) The stated intention by those currently in power to annex part of the West Bank threatens the very existence of the state. (2) The tampering with the judiciary and, by inference, with democracy in order to keep politicians in power and the prime minister out of jail are ominous portents.
Yet, mercifully, even Israelis who are vehemently opposed to these policies seem to feel at home here. Some may wish to get out and see the world or find a better life abroad, yet as a result of the corona crisis, many Israelis living abroad or visiting rushed back home to Israel.
There are those who believe that the corona crisis may turn out to be beneficial also for Jewish-Palestinian relations. One of them is Micha Goodman, whom I have come to appreciate as one of the brightest stars on this country’s intellectual firmament. Writing in Ha’aretz just before Independence Day, he suggested that the epidemic may teach those in power something about peacemaking.
Corona has already taught us, he writes, to eschew either/or solutions. Israelis have learnt that the tension between, on the one hand, the demands of the health authorities about protecting the population and, on the other, the views of those in charge of the country’s economy who are concerned about preserving jobs and institutions even in this emergency, is not to opt for one against the other, but to seek a balance between them. Circumstances have forced us, Goodman seems to be saying, from either/or to both/and.
He suggests that the same may be applied in the conflict between Israel and Palestine: not, on the one hand, a Palestinian state that threatens the security of Israel or, on the other, Israeli occupation that restrains and humiliates the Palestinians. Goodman offers ways in which both Israeli security and greater freedom and prosperity for Palestinians are possible.
Love is often tested in crises. The current crisis indicates that Israelis hope to pass the test with flying colors. Happy Independence Day!
Jerusalem 29.4.20 Dow Marmur