A Daily Analysis
By Marc Schulman
April 29, 2009--Israel at 61
Today Israel celebrated its 61st birthday. It is a day for celebration, but also for reflections. 113 years ago Theodore Herzl wrote his famous book, "The Jewish State" and founded modern Zionism. Herzl proposed the establishment of a Jewish state as the solution to the Jewish problem. For half a century, Zionists struggled to convince the Jewish people and the world at large that a Jewish state was indeed the solution to the problem. During that period waves of Jews emigrated to the United States, while some Jewish philanthropists funded the establishment of Jewish farming communities in the Soviet Union. World War II and the Holocaust ended the internal debate on whether there was a need for a Jewish State. The question one needs to answer now, 61 years after that state was established, is whether it did indeed accomplish what Herzl set out to do- solve the Jewish problem.
The answer to that question is complicated. However, let me say upfront, that I believe on balance it clearly did. First, we need to acknowledge the fact its establishment came too late– too late for the 6 million who perished in the Holocaust. No one can question that had there had been a Jewish state to accept them, the overwhelming number of the Jews of Europe would have found safe haven.
Second, there can be no question that one of Herzl's cherished goals has not been achieved. We have not become "a nation like all other nations". There can be no question the state Herzl helped establish is clearly a Jewish state. It has been the focal point of the world's interest in ways no other state in the world has been. It has been held up to standards no other state that has been fighting wars since the days of its inception should be expected to maintain. Of course, the very fact, that many of its neighbors refuse to accept the fact there can be a Jewish state in the middle of the Muslim Middle East.
Despite these facts, who can question the fact Israel has indeed succeeded in achieving Herzl prime goal. A core part of Herzl's argument was that as long as the Jews did not have a state of their own, they would remain powerless. Israel has forever changed the 2000 year story of Jews a supplicants, whose very existence, at times, was perilously at the mercy of rulers. While Israel is very far from a perfect nation and has a dysfunctional political system, over its first six decades, it has established a thriving country whose technological achievement are out of all proportion to its size and wealth. More importantly, despite the high price paid, with over 21,000 soldiers giving their lives over the 61 years, that number is equivilant to the number of Jews that died in one day at Aushwitz. In the 61 years since the establishment of the state, there has been an address for any Jew in trouble, from any place in the world. Furthermore, despite the repeated efforts of Israel’s neighbors to find a way to eliminate it, their efforts have failed.
There can be no doubt peace and security, the final positive solution of the Jewish problem, cannot come merely from a barrel of a gun. There were so many dreams of Israel being a “light unto nations” that have in its first 61 years gone unfulfilled. Sadly, I wonder whether they will ever be achieved in my lifetime. On the other side, a predicate to accomplishing that is physical security. So, while accomplishing Herzl's Dream has hardly been cost free- and indeed it has come with a very high price, it was appropriate that last night, in Israel, as it is done every year, the national celebrations of Israeli Independence began at the grave of the man whose vision inspired the establishment of the state, and vision which is the responsibility of the state to achieve.