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Happy Birthday, Israel
If countries were people and Israel was an American, it would begin to collect Social Security in nine months. It would be eligible for a reverse mortgage and only a few years from mandatory withdrawals from its 401k. We'd be talking retirement and watching the grass and the grandchildren grow.
In national terms, Israel is much older, first sovereign in 1020 BCE. It is there with Iran (3200 BCE), Egypt (3100 BCE), Vietnam (2790 BCE), China (221 BCE), and Korea (300 BCE). [Middle aged national groups include Japan (first sovereign in 400 CE), Cambodia (802 CE), Bulgaria (681) and Turkey (1037 CE).] Israel is also very young, establishing its current form of government in the post-WWII round of decolonization that ran through the 1960s in the Middle East, and parts of Africa, the Caribbean and South America -- and Israel is one of few in that group to have sustained multiparty democratic institutions and a free press.
No matter which way you count the birthdays, Israel is remarkable.
Firmly rooted in history, Israelis observe a string of holidays/commemorations in the spring: Passover (the birth of the nation), Holocaust Memorial Day (27 Nisan), and Yom HaZikaron (military Memorial Day -- 5 Iyar) fall before the festivities of Independence Day. Following in short order will be Shavuot (Mt. Sinai, another step in forming a nation) and Yom Yerushalayim (the reunification of Jerusalem after 19 UN-ordered years of phony and destructive division -- 28 Iyar). You don't know where you're going if you don't know where you've been and how you got here.
"Here" is an excellent place to be. In measures of all levels of education, library usage and book buying, health care, and care of senior citizens, Israel ranks near the top of every international list. Multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious, the Jewish State is officially (and generally personally) tolerant of diversity and dissent. Israel's GDP and economic growth outpace most of the Western world, and its birthrate -- a symbol of national optimism -- does as well. Israel has absorbed immigrants and refugees from societies unfamiliar with indoor plumbing, from the advanced societies of the West, and from everything in between. The population of Israel doubled in the 3½ years after statehood. The Russian immigration of the 1990s was the equivalent of the United States absorbing the population of France, but maybe easier to digest. Miss Israel 2013 was born in Ethiopia.
Even countries that don't have diplomatic relations with Israel want its medical, green, and agricultural technology -- and Israel provides. Israel also provides both emergency and long-term humanitarian assistance to people on every continent and countries from Haiti to Indonesia. Even wounded Syrians have found themselves taken into Israel for emergency medical care in a war between the Syrian government and rebel militias who may agree on nothing in the world except enmity toward Israel.
Yes, there are domestic problems -- issues of income inequality, gender and religious equity, and an unequal burden of national service naturally arise in a country with strong egalitarian roots. The new Likud-led governing coalition includes two domestically oriented parties that didn't even exist in the prior Knesset. It is a sign of maturity in the Israeli public that it demanded the government pay attention to those issues, as well as to national security.
Yes, there are external and existential problems -- Palestinians, rockets, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the disintegration of Syria, and the malign force of Iran. The BDS (boycott, disinvestment, and sanction) is very much a failure, but it is a nasty diversion that requires attention.
In 65 years, Israel has built a tough and admirable society under a threat spectrum that goes from stabbings and pizza-parlor bombings to rockets and missiles to full-scale invasion to chemical and nuclear capabilities in the hands of its enemies.
There are many reasons Americans and Israelis feel a connection deeper than the excellent relations of their governments and compatible democratic systems. One is probably the idea that 65 years of independence, far from being the gateway to respectable middle-aged decline, is still part of the pioneering stage.
In 1841, when the United States was 65, there were 26 states; 13 slave and 13 free. Stephen Douglas appeared at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, and the Civil War was two decades away. The Senate had its first filibuster -- lasting 22 days. The first wagon train left Independence, Missouri for California, arriving five months later. There were three presidents in three months that year. There were violent demonstrations by Whig Party members on the grounds of the White House over the veto of a banking bill. There was still a Whig Party. Horace Greeley, Edgar Allen Poe and PT Barnum were in the news.
America is still a young country at 237. When Israel reaches its 237th birthday and we are 409, we expect we will celebrate it together, still looking ahead.
Happy 65th Birthday in the meantime.
Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director of The Jewish Policy Center
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