Is The Jewish People Better Off Today Than It Was A Year Ago?
Tue, 12/27/2011
Editor And Publisher

If you’re an optimist and were asked to name three of the most significant Jewish events of the past 12 months, you might cite the release and emotional homecoming of Gilad Shalit after more than five years in captivity; the protest movement that spread across the Arab world, signaling an end or challenge to autocratic rule and a push for democracy; and a Jerusalem-Washington relationship bolstered by new military and strategic advances, and politically by America’s decisive efforts to thwart Palestinian efforts to achieve statehood through the United Nations and to prevent a nuclear Iran through tightened sanctions.

For good measure you might add that American Jewish life is undergoing an exciting renaissance, with a burst of independent minyanim, and an array of social justice and startup groups among young people.

If you’re a pessimist, though, you could point to the same topics as proof that Israel is under increasing threat of physical and political harm from its enemies, and increased diplomatic strain with Washington. And you could make the case that with fewer young people interested in synagogues or Jewish organizational affiliation, American Jewish life is in deep decline.

Granted that we all view events through the prism of our own hopes and fears, is there an objective take on how Israel and the Jewish world fared in 2011?

Maybe not, but in trying to view what has transpired in the last 12 months with as much impartiality as I can muster, I would have to conclude that we have much to worry about.

Of course that’s nothing new. Jews are known for their pessimism. It used to be said that the quintessential Jewish telegram reads: “Start worrying. Details to follow.” (For those of us old enough to remember telegrams…)

The way I see it, while Israel’s economy continues to amaze, the Jewish state is more isolated in the world and facing a more chaotic and dangerous region than a year ago. Plus, Iran is that much closer to building a nuclear bomb, and no nation other than Israel is seriously considering military action to stop Tehran.

Yes, Gilad Shalit’s release was a moral high for a tiny nation that showed the world how much it values a single life. But in practical terms, releasing more than 1,000 terrorists underscored the inability of the Israeli military to rescue their man, the renewed clout of Hamas and the sober understanding that more Israeli lives may well be lost as a result of the swap.

Earlier this year, Israeli analysts who warned of the dire consequences of abandoning Mubarak in Egypt and were less than ecstatic about the Cairo street protesters were viewed as political Scrooges, out of touch with the call for change charging through the region. But the ensuing months have shown that democracies aren’t formed overnight, and that the case Mubarak made for years in seeking U.S. support — that if he fell he would be replaced by Islamic fundamentalists — seems to be correct.

When given the freedom to vote, most Egyptians are not choosing young liberals and secularists but leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and even more radical followers of Islam who are anti-Western, anti-women’s rights, anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish.

While bolstering its border with Egypt militarily, Israel also faces a murderous Syrian government in disarray, the growing sense that there will be no peace with the Palestinians anytime soon, an increasingly hostile Turkey and an Iran determined to complete its nuclear mission, the rest of the world be damned.

But when Jerusalem turns to the U.S. for leadership, it finds an Obama administration focused on the 2012 re-election campaign, and with no love lost between the president and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Does their personal relationship really matter in the scheme of foreign policy moves? Yes, in that trust between world leaders can have a huge impact. (Witness George W. Bush and Tony Blair bonding militarily during the lead-up to the Iraq War.) No, in the sense that the Washington-Jerusalem relationship has endured crises since Israel was founded, and the strategic ties remain strong.

That’s why Obama spoke out firmly at the UN this fall against the Palestinian Authority’s attempt at a diplomatic end-around toward statehood, and has stepped up diplomatic measures to pressure Iran.

Closer to home, assimilation, disinterest and a low birthrate continue to present major threats to American Jewish life and its communal structure.

The list of events, and how we choose to interpret them, goes on. Was the huge series of protests this summer in Israel calling for social change an ideal example of a nonviolent movement bringing about progress, or a fluke outcry against the continuing economic imbalance threatening the fabric of society?

Do we view the scene of Republican presidential candidates outdoing each other in support of Israel a harbinger of a significant shift in Mideast policy in Washington, or a soon-to-be-forgotten memory a year from now?

Amidst the uncertainty and our own conflicting views, what we do share is a common hope and prayer that 2012 be a year of renewed faith in America and Israel, and the noble ideals we strive to fulfill in our commitment to each.

Happy New Year.

Gary@jewishweek.org
 

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Comments

Is the Jewish people? Not "are the Jewish people"?

There seems to be so much going on over there and we all pray for the safety of Israel. The Muslim Brotherhood is dangerous and those that vote them in are mislead to believe otherwise.

I have always seen the light ahead for our country America but, for the first time but over the last 4 years I have looked at the cup less then half full. Obama spoke out against Palestinian statehood purely as a political/campaign move, (he wanted to bring back Israel Israel to the 1948 lines, when he recieved fallout he stepped back) if he is re-elected he will work more confidently and stronger then ever against Israeli security.
By Obama playing a part in the taking down of Qaddafi & Mubarak will make our planet a lot darker for Freedom for Mankind & that includes the U.S. of A.
The Muslim Brotherhood will play a large part in the Middle East, the "Arab Spring" that we played a part in will turn into acid rain for all of U.S. including Israel.....
Obama's Past is our future.

It amazes me how much the US Jewish media focuses on Israel and yet remain clueless on what actual Israelis feel and are thinking. The dis-connect comes from the fact that US based media is influenced by the left-wing dominated Israeli TV and press (Not to mention the NYT and Tom Friedman).

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