Five years ago, I was given the honour of writing about Israel for the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin. I gave careful thought to the column’s title, and decided that calling it “My Israel” would allow me to write about a range of issues, people and events, not just politics.
And I would be able to share so many of the things that I loved about the country that has become my second home, as well as address the domestic and foreign issues that make Israel both fierce and fragile.
I’ve written close to 100 columns since then, and I’d like to think I’ve had more hits than misses. I will be forever grateful to Editor Michael Regenstreif and former publisher Mitchell Bellman for giving me this amazing opportunity.
But this issue, which celebrates the 80th anniversary of the Bulletin, will mark my last column. It’s time for new voices.
Even if you have never visited Israel, you know that the situation in the country can change in a heartbeat. A terror attack, a rocket from Lebanon or Gaza, a skirmish on one of the borders or an Israeli prime minister’s walk on the Temple Mount can shatter peace and plunge the country into war.
A party can receive the most votes in an Israeli national election, but it can be weeks before that party makes the necessary – and often fragile – alliances to form a government.
Hamas and the Palestinian Authority can be sworn enemies one minute, allies the next.
If my column had run a day or two after I’d written it, my crystal ball wouldn’t have needed such a workout. But our deadlines are about two weeks before publication.
So it was always a challenge to find a topic that was current and provocative, but that wouldn’t be old news by the time the column ran.
But the challenge of thinking ahead made me look at the bigger picture – and often resulted in my best work.
What can the last five years tell us about the future of Israel?
Despite the boastings of U.S. President Donald Trump, a peace deal remains elusive for myriad reasons.
Western leaders are still far too eager to accept the word of terrorists and despots that they are “moderate.”
Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas may have a PhD and wear a suit, but he oversees state media and educational institutions that glorify terror and incite hatred against Israel and Jews. He still gets away with paying salaries to terrorists and their families.
My work with Itamar Marcus and Palestinian Media Watch convinced me that there can be no lasting peace until the West uses financial pressure to force the Palestinian Authority to replace hate education with peace education.
It has been disappointing, therefore, to see the U.S. Congress freeze aid to the PA, only to have these sanctions vetoed by presidents who were terrified of destabilizing the corrupt Abbas regime because it was marginally better than having Hamas in power.
I once believed that Prime Minister Netanyahu had the best brains, backbone and experience to lead Israel. He’s been tough on terror, but is a master at the doublespeak of championing a two-state solution while making it increasingly elusive.
He’s clung to power through unholy governing coalitions that have made it virtually impossible for Israel to deal with many of its pressing domestic issues, including the need for religious pluralism and the exemption of ultra-Orthodox citizens from military or national service.
Electoral reform is desperately needed. But the catch-22 is that the fringe and single-interest parties that benefit from the current system would never allow this to happen.
While my faith in politicians has waned, my faith in the Israeli people has only deepened. They are fiercely dedicated to their country in a way that puts other nations to shame.
They are innovators in arts, science, medicine, education and technology. They can turn most challenges into successes, such as becoming world leaders in water conservation, irrigation and recycling of waste water.
My work with Partnership 2Gether in the Upper Galilee has left me in awe of how people in a remote area with geographical, financial and security challenges come together to build better communities and take care of their most vulnerable citizens.
Israel is far from perfect, and its people are not saints. But it is fitting that its national anthem, “Hatikvah,” is all about hope for freedom in a Jewish homeland.
That hope may get battered and bruised, but I believe it will never die.