Especially On Yom Ha’atzamut – Let Us Say Clearly: Israeli Society Needs a Deep and Thorough Change
By: Ilan Geal Dor
Published in Maariv on May 2, 2022
Yom Ha’Atzmaut is a great opportunity for a national value-based, moral soul-searching. It’s an ideal time to call out the extremists that have taken over the public discourse and to sharpen the understanding that the whole we have built here in our country with such effort is greater than the sum of its parts.
“The state of Israel will not be tried by its riches, army, or techniques, but by its moral image and human values.” This is perhaps one of the most famous and important quotes of the late David Ben-Gurion – a leader whose extraordinary stature and personality goes beyond the fact that he was the first Prime Minister of the State of Israel – as Berl Katzenelson once described him: “history’s greatest gift to the Jewish people.”
Indeed, from a perspective of 74 years of independence, on the eve of Yom Ha’atzmaut 2022, it is worth examining this saying of the ‘old man’ and courageously asking ourselves, in the spirit of our Sages, “From where have we come and to where we are heading?” Yes, our economic and physical situation is stronger than ever, the Start-up Nation is breaking its own records and the IDF is strong and technologically advanced.
According to Jewish tradition, we perform our personal introspection on Yom Kippur. Man stands before God and asks – where did I go wrong? Did I hurt a close friend? Maybe I abused my position of power? Which habits should I get rid of? And we try, every year, to better ourselves.
But what about a national accounting of our people? In what way should we examine ourselves as a nation? How do we assess our values? How can we straighten our moral compass through which our leaders navigate the future of our children?
The complex and miraculous melting pot called the State of Israel knew many challenges along the way and even met them heroically. But in a sober look at our “moral image and human values,” as Ben-Gurion defines it, it is difficult to ignore the unpleasant feeling that something has gone off course.
We like to talk about the uniquely Israeli sense of “togetherness”. We wax nostalgic about our friends from the reserves. We get overly excited about the Air Force planes flying our skies. We jump with joy with Linoy Ashram’s winning an Olympic gold medal. And we cross our fingers as Etan Stevia travels into space. But that’s not enough. Because emotions and feelings do not build, or rather, do not maintain a state.
Especially on Independence Day, it is worth saying this out loud: a profound perceptual change is needed in Israeli society. One that clearly defines the demarcation boundaries of the discourse, style, tweets and outbursts, which seem to have become the official language of us all without our being notified.
“That’s the way it is in politics,” some try to justify.
We should not accept this as an answer!
Leadership does not mean coming to terms with the circumstances of fate or tolerating the extremist fringe and welcoming them into the mainstream in the name of one political need or another. This is not about the semantics of politicians. In recent years we have witnessed an alarming trend, between the will of the people and the behavior of the citizens, and the conduct of the representatives of the people and its elected officials. It’s an upside-down world. The political discourse shatters records of verbal violence, incitement and the sowing of divisions between each sector and camp. Anyone who disagrees with me becomes an enemy and is labeled a danger.
Gesher is celebrating 50 years of activity this year.
A jubilee of working in the trenches of Israeli society, trying to bridge the divisions and discuss the complexities, has taught us one important and special thing: Human capital is our true secret weapon. Good people in the middle of the road, who are genuinely willing to devote their strength and energy to doing good, adding kindness, building and connecting instead of separating and categorizing. But that strong and cherished human capital – Israeli – craves a values compass, and especially a different language.
“But by its moral image and human values” – Ben-Gurion signals to us from the past. Yes, to us, the powerful and advanced 21st century State of Israel. The responsibility lies with us. The values introspection must be seen as our moral mission. If you will, a minimum threshold condition in the tender for the strengthening of our national resilience.
For too long the silent majority has allowed the vociferous fringes to take over the discourse, shape it in their image, normalize the insults and dictate an agenda that feeds upon the negation of the other. After all, how can a real, penetrating, ideological discussion take place with someone who is pre-marked as a “traitor” or a “crook”? As a nation desiring life we must recognize the depth of the rift, its long-term consequences, and hence, take responsibility for it and fix it.
In a world of unfiltered social networks, in a reality show culture that blurs the boundaries of fake and real, and against the backdrop of returning to a time of political chaos, the real, profound correction must begin in the way we, all of us, speak and even more importantly – listen.
In the week between Holocaust Remembrance Day and Yom HaZikaron, we read on Shabbat in Parashat Kdoshim one of the most important verses, perhaps the most important in the Torah: “And love your neighbor as yourself.” Three words that have the power to heal us all and to put everything into proportion. Loving others like we love ourselves is the ultimate manner in which we can all express a great thank you for the privilege that has been bestowed upon us – to be a free people in our country – להיות עם חפשי בארצנו