Israel’s Birthday Merits Celebration

Israel is turning 54 and, despite the horrible events going on now, it is worth pausing to reflect on the amazing positive accomplishments of this still young nation.

Let’s start with the incredible story of the ingathering of the exiles. The integration of people from more than 100 countries has been nothing short of astounding. Consider that the Jewish population doubled in just the first three years of statehood. Less than 60 years ago, 500,000 Jews lived in Palestine. Today, the population exceeds six million.

Just think about America’s immigration problems and then contemplate the enormity of Israel’s task, absorbing roughly one million Jews from the former Soviet Union in less than a decade. It would be like the United States assimilating the entire population of France.

Think about Israel as a haven. Since 1948, no Jew has had to worry about having the doors closed to them as they were during World War II. Hundreds of thousands of Jews escaped from Arab persecution in operations Ali Baba and Magic Carpet.

Many of you may be too young to remember the incredible rescues of Operations Moses and Sheba and Solomon, when more than 40,000 Ethiopian Jews were secretly airlifted to Israel. What other nation would have done such a thing? As William Safire said: “For the first time in history, thousands of black people are being brought to a country not in chains but in dignity.”

Those Ethiopians were on the lowest rung of one of the world’s poorest societies and today, less than 20 years later, thousands are productive members of Israel’s high-tech society.

And speaking of that high-tech society. Do you realize how remarkable it is for a country the size of New Jersey, with such a small population, to have become a developed nation so quickly?

From the earliest days, Israel was the envy of the developing world. Israeli experts spent decades, for example, providing technical assistance to Africa and Asia. Israel is also now recognized as one of the world’s leading centers of research and development.

Are you aware that more than 10,000 American companies do business in or with Israel, including Fortune 500 companies like Intel, Microsoft, IBM, McDonald’s and Baxter Healthcare? I could go on and on. Why do they do business there? Because they’re Zionists? Of course not. American business has learned that Israel is a great place to make a profit, to tap into a large pool of extraordinary talent and to serve as a gateway to the European market.

Consider also the special alliance with the United States. There’s nothing else like it. Virtually every U.S. government agency has an agreement to cooperate with its counterpart in Israel. At least 22 states have their own agreements to promote state to state exchanges in trade, agriculture, education, culture and other areas of mutual interest. Over the last three decades, the strategic alliance between the U.S. and Israel has been evolving so that today it is one of the strongest in the world.

Zionism has triumphed. 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.