Saving the Israeli Oasis
In the south, mayhem in Egypt reigns –
protests, riots, murder and rampant gang rapes.
Sinai is turning into a base for Islamic extremism, and what is
occurring in Hamas-controlled Gaza speaks for itself. In the Northeast, fundamentalist Shiites are
murdering and being murdered by fundamentalist Sunnis in a Syrian regime that
is using chemical weapons against its own people. The fundamentalist clash is spilling into a
Lebanon on the other side of our northern border, where thousands of missiles
aimed at us are waiting. And in Jordan,
the unrest is beginning to bubble.
“Around us, the storm is raging.” It has been many years since my parents’
generation sang the Palmach anthem during our War of Independence. It is possible that the winds may yet blow
the current storms in our direction. But
the times are different and today we have means to defend ourselves that our
parents could only dream of – thus far.
While fundamentalist storms thunder
all around our immediate neighborhood, one of the deepest recessions of the
last half century is afflicting the wider area around us, from Greece, through
Italy to Spain, with double digit rates of unemployment and a real catastrophe
with regard to youth employment.
And here, in the center of the
regional sizzle? A true oasis. Overflowing cafes, cloudless blue skies and
an amazing sea. There are serious
problems of poverty, income gaps and high prices. But nonetheless, low rates of unemployment,
inflation and government debt together with relatively high economic growth in
recent years have made Israel the envy of the Western world – not to mention
the countries around us. Which of our
neighbors would not sign up today for the tranquility and personal security
that Israelis have? Which of the Mediterranean
basin countries would not sign up for an economy like ours, not to mention
Israeli-level universities, hospitals and hi tech? Take a moment to breathe deeply, to look
beyond the criticism that we constantly level at ourselves, to comprehend the
miracle that we have created here. With
all of the discrimination and problems – and there are many – is there an
Israeli citizen, Jew or Arab, that does not thank heavens that we live on this
side of the border?
But our oasis is not guaranteed
forever. Many Israelis have still not
internalized that basic paradigms such as demography and national security have
shifted. The Right and the Left still
count how many Arabs and Jews live between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan
River, arguing whether or not there are enough Jews to maintain a Jewish and
democratic country. While these two
sides argue, their entire debate has long since become academic since this is
not the real question.
Long before the extreme Right goes
ahead and adds millions of Palestinian Arabs to the country’s population, it
would be worthwhile to consider that even without them, at least half of
Israel’s children already today – Arab-Israelis and Ultra-Orthodox Jews
constituting 28% and 20%, respectively, of the children enrolled in the
country’s primary schools – receive an education at a level that is below that
in many Third World countries.
Everyone enjoys the fruits of the
oasis. But who will preserve it in the
next generation after we pass the demographic-democratic point of no return –
even without the Palestinian Arabs? Who
will have the tools to maintain and foster a First-World economy that can
ensure our ability to continue defending this oasis? Cutting-edge knowledge still exists in
Israel, the country is still attracting investments from abroad and it is still
possible to find a majority in the Knesset to make the tough decisions that are
needed to change course. We just need
the political leadership and wherewithal to do so.