By Susan Heller Pinto
Associate Director of International Affairs and Director of Middle Eastern Affairs at the Anti-Defamation League
I feel like I have spent the better part of 2017 in meetings discussing and planning for portentous anniversaries in the history of Zionism and Israel. This year, after all, marks the 120th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress (August 1897); the centennial year of the Balfour Declaration (November 2, 1917); 70 years since the United Nations voted on Resolution 181, the “Partition Plan” (November 29, 1947); and the anniversary garnering the most discussion, the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War (June 1967).
These are not insignificant events.
While Herzl may have declared “at Basel, I founded the Jewish state,” most sitting in that hall likely found it hard to imagine that this dream would ever be actualized. And yet, at the Congress, the world Zionist movement was created and a strategy to reclaim and establish a modern Jewish homeland was drawn up.
Twenty years later, building on the strategy and work announced at the First Zionist Congress, the Balfour Declaration served to legitimize the Zionist dream with the support of the United Kingdom for a “national home for the Jewish people.” The document feels particularly fresh given the strong assertion by the British government in response to a petition to have the UK apologize for the Balfour Declaration: “The Balfour Declaration is an historic statement for which HMG (Her Majesty’s Government) does not intend to apologise. We are proud of our role in creating the State of Israel. The task now is to encourage moves towards peace.”
Full international legitimacy for Jewish statehood came with passage of the partition vote in the UN General Assembly, While today, regrettably, November 29 is marked annually in the UN with a litany of anachronistic anti-Israel resolutions, the 33 member states who voted in favor of the establishment of a Jewish State alongside an Arab State fundamentally set in motion the establishment of the Jewish state.
As for the watershed Six Day War of 1967: In this 50th year anniversary, we will celebrate in Israel’s decisive military success over the belligerent armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan, and the reunification of the City of Jerusalem after nineteen years of division and exclusion of Jews from their holiest sites. At the same time, we will be soberly mindful of what remains unresolved and unaltered five decades later including the lack of Israeli-Palestinian and full Israeli-Arab peace; continuing threats to Israel from rejectionism, terrorism and belligerence, and the unsettled state of borders, settlements and the status of Palestinians in the West Bank.
But there is one more (unheralded) anniversary for 2017: On the fifth day of Iyar, May 2, we will mark 69 years since the establishment of the State of Israel.
Sixty-nine years, is not considered noteworthy, like those anniversaries ending with a “five” or a “zero.” I have not been to any high-level meetings to develop programming or plans for counter-action by critics. It’s doubtful that the day will spur major retrospectives or angst in the media like the Six Day War anniversary is certain to.
And yet, is it not a regular, unremarkable, Yom Ha’atzmaut/Independence Day that will be spent in barbeques and parties, with speeches and flag waving, the ultimate milestone? Wasn’t all the determined, indefatigable efforts by men and women to create and defend and grow the state over the past 120 years ultimately aimed at ensuring that Israel be just a normal country? Herzl, above all wanted a Jewish State to be normal - admittedly in a utopian kind of way. David Ben Gurion, famously looked forward the first Israeli felons, saying then “we’ll be a state just like any other.”
Yes, Israel undeniably has real problems and challenges, both internal and external which cannot be whitewashed. And yes, “normalcy” is relative.
But on this Israel Independence Day, let’s put aside the solemn reflections on what came before and what we want to come next. Let’s light the 69 candles and celebrate the every-day miracle of the mundane, thriving, work-in-progress, Jewish and democratic State of Israel.