It seems as if everything is fine. Israel’s borders are quiet, the state is stable, the economy is recovering. Hezbollah and Hamas have been deterred, real estate prices are skyrocketing, and chemist Ada Yonath is on her way to Stockholm to pick up the Nobel Prize. Even Ra’ad Salah’s attempt to ignite Jerusalem has thus far not succeeded: Palestinian sanity and Israeli discretion are still maintaining order. So it is not surprising that according to a recent comparative survey, Israel is one of the 30 countries in the world in which life is just fine.
With a strong shekel, relative security and temporary calm, life here really is good. Corruption and cynicism have both been hit hard, and today’s Israel is cruising on still waters. Without major achievements and without major failings, without peace and without war, it seems as if things are all right. Not great, but all right.
But things are not all right – they really are not. Why? Because underneath those still waters on which Israel’s ship is sailing lurks an iceberg.
The Goldstone report marked the iceberg’s first appearance. Turkey turning its back on Israel was the second. Attempts by European courts to try Israel Defense Forces officers were the third; the boycott of Israeli products and companies in various places round the world was the fourth; and global indifference to the nuclearization of a regional power that threatens to wipe Israel off the map is the fifth. Every week, almost every day, the iceberg peeks above the surface. And when one takes a good look over the railing of this pleasure cruise, one can see exactly what it is: The iceberg is the loss of the State of Israel’s legitimacy.
Ninety-two years ago, Lord Balfour sent Baron Rothschild a letter in which he recognized the Jewish people’s right to create a national home in the Land of Israel. Sixty-two years ago, the United Nations recognized the Jewish people’s right to establish a Jewish state. The 1917 Balfour Declaration and 1947 UN partition resolution gave Zionism the diplomatic foundation on which the Jewish state was established and perpetuated.
But over the past decade, that foundation has been worn away, and the idea of a Jewish state is now open to attack. The Jewish people’s right to sovereignty and self-defense is now controversial. Paradoxically, as Israel gets stronger, its legitimacy is melting away. A national movement that began as “legitimacy without an entity” is becoming “an entity without legitimacy” before our very eyes.
The right is the primary culprit of Israel’s legitimacy crisis. With the occupation, the settlements and brutality, religious nationalism has fed the destructive forces that seek to trample the natural rights of Jews and Israelis. But the left has also contributed its part to the legitimacy crisis. Those on the radical left did not always make certain that opposition to Israeli policies would not turn into reservations about Israel’s very existence.
The right sinned by contaminating Zionism with the occupation, and the left sinned by abandoning the campaign over Zionism’s justice. As a result, Israel lost not only its way, but its voice. The fundamental truths that brought us here, and which justify our existence here, have been lost and forgotten.
The campaign to renew Israel’s legitimacy is a vital one. Without legitimacy, Israel will be unable to contend with Iran in any way, shape or form. Without legitimacy, Israel will not achieve peace, nor will it be able to wage war. Nonetheless, to give Israel back what it has lost, the prime and defense ministers need to do more than deliver speeches. They need to act.
On one hand, there is an urgent need for a creative, daring diplomatic initiative that would prove that Israel is truly and genuinely striving to end the occupation. Without such an initiative, the world will not listen to Israeli justice, which today remains a concept largely invisible to the world. On the other hand, there is a need to enlist Israeli and Jewish elites in the struggle to once again strengthen the foundations of Israel’s legitimacy.
This diplomatic and moral effort is no less important than the struggles that produced the Balfour Declaration and the UN partition resolution. If such an effort is not launched immediately, and does not soon succeed, Israel will become an international pariah.