This year, as we mark Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day on April 26 (5 Iyyar), we join the people of Israel and supporters of Israel around the word in celebration and introspection. We celebrate the Jewish state’s amazing growth, successes and achievements as we marvel at the vibrancy, creativity and grit of the “startup nation” that blossomed in the desert. At the same time, we worry about the profound political and societal rifts that now divide the people of Israel in a way and with an intensity we have not seen before. These fundamental internal differences raise concerns in Diaspora communities and among friends of Israel around the world. In the eyes of many, the divide threatens the continued vitality of the Jewish state’s democratic enterprise.
Although Israel has faced all sorts of challenges in the past, this is the third time that a threatening cloud of this significance has hovered over a Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration. The first was the original Independence Day on May 14, 1948, when Israel was under withering attack from all of her neighbors. The second was on the eve of the Six-Day War in 1967, when Egypt and Syria were gearing up for war and the U.S. was warning Israel not to shoot first. In both cases, Israel overcame overwhelming challenges and survived. And thrived. We pray for the same result now.
The Israel we celebrate this year is a much different Israel than in 1948 or 1967. Today’s Israel is militarily strong, economically successful, a world high-tech innovator, at peace with many of her neighbors and largely in control of the Palestinian population in the surrounding territories. The Israel of 1948 and 1967 would hardly recognize what the country has become.
The other difference is that the earlier threats to Israel’s existence were external. This year’s threat is from within. It is our hope that just as the people of Israel joined together to overcome historic external challenges, they will find a way to work together to resolve today’s internal disagreements. The path forward will not be easy. But so long as approaches toward resolution recognize the sincerity of opposing views even while respectfully disagreeing with them, a path toward resolution can be found.
As part of that process, modest compromise is in order and should be embraced. For example, Yom Ha’atzmaut is immediately preceded by Yom Hazikaron, the sacred Memorial Day for Israelis who died in the country’s defense. In the face of ongoing protests against the government, an opposition member of Knesset called for a pause in the demonstrations on Yom Hazikaron, so all could join together and honor the dead. Then a member of the government circulated a proposal calling for a halt to protests on Yom Ha’atzmaut, as well.
As of this writing, Israel’s opposition has not agreed to the requested pause. They should. Everyone should join in commemorating Israel’s fallen heroes and in celebrating the anniversary of the unparalleled country they want Israel to be. Happy birthday Israel! Am Yisrael Chai! ■