Honestly, I don’t know whether I should feel blessed or cursed serving as a Shlicha in America now of all times. It’s not just the economy; everything is changing. (*One thing that isn’t’ changing, despite much hope, is the regime in Iran). We have a saying in Hebrew “אלוהים נותן אגוזים למי שיש לו שיניים”. I hope my being here now means that someone up there thinks that I’m up for the job.
Mostly, I am confused. Israelis are very opinionated, well, at least they have opinions. I also have opinions, solid ones, especially when it comes to politics. But now, I find myself reading contradicting articles and agreeing with both; watching president Obama’s speech in Cairo, feeling inspired and uncomfortable at the same time.
At times, I think this is the best of times, with new horizons and opportunities being explored, nothing is impossible and fresh paradigms emerge as we speak. Other times, I’m a little worried, fearing that the changes we foresee might not play in Israel’s best interests. As I said, I am confused.
But it’s not just me who is confused. Many Israelis are. A recent poll conducted in Israel and published in the popular newspaper Yediot Achronot indicated that 53% of Israelis consider president Obam’s policy as unfavorable to Israel while only 26% think it good for Israel; 51% are disappointed with the new American policy towards Israel and the same percentage of Israelis believe that president Obama takes into greater consideration the Palestinian desire of establishing an independent state rather than Israel’s security needs.
Yet, at the same time, 56% claim that Prime Minister Netanyahu should accept president Obama’s demands in regards to the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and refrain from upsetting Israel’s greatest allay with all the possible implications. Moreover, 55% argue that Israel should agree to the formation of a Palestinian State in the framework of a future peace agreement.
So what is it with us? Why do we read president’s Obama’s speech and look mostly for what is missing instead of what is in it? One reason is that we have become cynical. Some say it is a basic Israeli character, yet our cynicism has evolved with the terror attacks which followed the Oslo accords, the Second Intifada that broke out after the Camp David Summit and the post disengagement Qassam rockets. Our hopes might not have disappeared but for many Israelis they are certainly on hold. We want peace yet find it hard to believe that it is out there, within our immediate reach. We are disillusioned and find it difficult to accept and be open to a vision of a world “based upon mutual interests and mutual respect”, as articulated so eloquently by president Obama in Cairo.
There are very few things Israelis take for granted. US support is one of them. We have gotten used to America’s firm stand by Israel. Maybe we have gotten a little spoiled. But take that from Israel, from Israelis, and we are left with a huge empty spot and a serious crack in our self confidence as a nation, a sustainable country.
While the poll I mentioned indicates a majority of Israelis thinking that Israel should accept president Obama’s demands (or ultimatum, as some people perceive it), this stand might also be the result of cynical thinking, driven more by REALPOLITIC rather than by sincere belief in attaining true peace. Surely, this type of dynamic between the US and Israel cannot be healthy and productive in the long run.
So what are Israelis looking for in this day and age?
For one thing, they are looking for a dialogue, just as the one president Obama offered, with such openness and humbleness, with the Muslim world. Another thing would be the nature our own leadership. This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Beha’alotcha, is about people and their leaders. The text speaks about the Israelites complaining and whining about their leaders and being fed up with them. Whining about our leaders has become an Israeli national sport and not without justification. However, Israel cannot afford another leadership crisis and we must have patience.
Hopefully, our journey to peace will not take another 40 years, but it will require time, tolerance and above all, strong and visionary leadership. As an Israeli, I hope that our leadership will be able not only to read the current map, not only to think about the political short term ramifications, but also have the courage to look ahead, be courageous while making sure that Israel’s security is never at risk.
Please allow me to conclude by reminding all of us that today marks the 1084th day of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit being in Hamass captivity and ask you to join me in praying that the verse Veshavu Banim Legvulam - "And thy children shall return to their own border" will soon come true.