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Israel: fighting for survival and identity at sixty.

Within the limited space available for this exercise, I would like to address this issue on two levels.

On the most fundamental level being an Israeli means being a member of an entity that at sixty has yet to fight for its legitimacy and, more ominously, for its existence. The threat to Israel's existence is now presented by Iran, but Israel's legitimacy is challenged in many quarters spanning from Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East to intellectuals and academics as well as radical fight wingers and left wingers in the West. Recently, two prominent American academics, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt published a controversial book, The Israel Lobby. By way of defending themselves against the accusation that they are anti-Jewish and/or anti-Israeli, the authors argue that they support Israel's right to exist. So what is an Israeli supposed to do? Feel grateful or feel threatened?

On another level, Israelis are still coping with the question of their identity. Who is an Israeli and what does being an Israeli mean? How are Israelis distinct from Jews in the Diaspora and how does the 'Jewish State" deal with a minority of nearly 20% non-Jews, most of them Arabs and many of them who now define themselves as "Palestinian citizens of Israel?" It is difficult to gauge the opinion of the "silent majority," but the intellectuals and politicians who speak for the Arab minority demand that Israel shed its "Jewish" or "Zionist" character and become "a state of all its citizens." This is absolutely unacceptable to the Jewish majority, but the majority has yet to come up with its vision of the minority's position within the Jewish state.

Like many other small states in an age of globalization, Israel is coping with the challenge of preserving its distinct character.

Some of the institutions that had shaped Israel's unique character in earlier decades (the kibbutz is an excellent example) have lost their cutting edge, but that loss is to some extent replaced by the intensity of a flourishing cultural life--literature, plastic arts, music, theater and cinema--and by the unusual development of Israeli high tech.

The success of Israeli high tech, both in relative and in absolute terms, is to some extent a by-product of defense-related research and success, but it also reflects the compatibility of several dominant Israeli characteristics (creativity, agility, a tendency to improvise) within the requirements of the high tech universe.

The high tech industry has not only come to play a major part in Israel's economy but has also added a new type, "the techies" to the diverse human gallery that makes up Israeli society.

And so at sixty, we Israelis are members of a society and a body politic that is still fighting for its security and legitimacy, searching for an identity and moving forward by the sense that, all difficulties not withstanding, we are one of the most successful human experiments left by the 20th century.

ITAMAR RABINOVICH, who was Israel's chief negotiator with Syria and Israel's ambassador to the U.S., was president of Tel Aviv University until his retirement. He has written major works on Israel and the negotiating process.
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Author:Rabinovich, Itamar
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:May 1, 2008
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