Some Birthday Party

Not every debacle can be blamed on Yasir Arafat, or even Bibi Netanyahu. In fact, I’m not sure exactly who to blame for spoiling Israel’s golden anniversary.

The official celebration of Israel’s 50th birthday began on Chanukah, but it should really have begun on November 29, 1947. On that date, the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state. Of course, when it comes to spoilers, it’s difficult to top the Palestinians who could be sharing in the birthday celebration if not for their determination 50 years ago to commit infanticide (if not genocide) against the newborn Jewish entity.

So few people remember that momentous occasion and younger generations have little comprehension of just how momentous that decision was, and how unlikely, given the political and economic circumstances of the time. I am always reminded of the story of the British adviser on Palestine who asked a representative of the Jewish Agency why the Jews agreed to let the UN decide the fate of Palestine. "Don't you know," he said, "that the only way a Jewish state will be established is if the U.S. and Soviet Union agree? Nothing like that ever happened. It cannot possibly happen. It will never happen.” A few months later, of course, it did happen.

Recognition of Israel’s declaration of independence nearly six months later was nearly as improbable. Today, people take for granted the power of the “Jewish lobby.” The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was just called the second most powerful lobby in America (after the American Association of Retired Persons), but AIPAC didn’t exist 50 years ago. Only two Jews really made a significant impact on President Harry Truman, the courtly Englishman Chaim Weizmann and Eddie Jacobson (who was an old friend of the President’s and not a political powerhouse). And facing off against them were the Departments of Defense and State and their influential secretaries George Marshall and James Forrestal. Though Truman decided against the Jews in several instances, most notably his imposition of an arms embargo, he made the crucial decision to almost immediately recognize the new State of Israel.

The evolution of the U.S.-Israel relationship from a somewhat uncomfortable client-patron dependence to a full-blown alliance that is probably stronger and deeper than that of any other two nations is a spectacular accomplishment in such a short time. Lavish galas and community celebrations should be held throughout the year in cities across America, but it seems that little, if anything, has been planned in most places. Rather than enjoying our success in building this remarkable friendship, many American Jews seem more interested in wallowing in controversy, bad-mouthing our homeland and undermining the ties we have spent five decades creating.

The situation in Israel is even worse. A celebration that should have been planned years ago is just now coming into focus because of political infighting, insufficient funding and plain incompetence. The breakdown of the peace process, the Prime Minister’s tenuous leadership, friction related to religious pluralism and the threat of Palestinian terrorism is being allowed to overshadow a half-century of accomplishment. It’s a shanda.

The Israeli census bureau is estimating that the Jewish population of Israel will be six million by the end of 1998. Think of the symbolism of that number! Even with all the imperfections of the absorption process, isn’t it astounding that one tiny country would accept and integrate so many people from such vastly different places as Ethiopia and Russia, Argentina and Morocco, Norway and Yemen?

Look at the economic data and consider the incredibility of a nation with few natural resources going from a Third World nation to a First World society in such a short period. The world’s leading companies now want R&D centers and branch offices in Israel.

In just 100 years, Zionism has triumphed. In only 50, Israel has emerged from the desert, from the ashes of the Holocaust, from the battlefields of six wars and unspeakable terrorist atrocities as a strong, proud, important country. For every two Jews, you may have three synagogues, four political parties and five organizations, but you have only one blessed Jewish State, one Homeland, one Israel. Let us celebrate.