Analysis from Israel
For all the many things Israelis have gotten wrong, we have gotten one big thing right.

The events of the past two weeks alone are enough to understand why many people thought that this year’s Independence Day took place under a cloud.

Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson suspended himself due to a criminal investigation for embezzlement; the state comptroller published a blistering report about Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s influence-peddling in his former role as industry minister; the attorney-general considered opening two additional criminal cases against Olmert; the Knesset extended President Moshe Katsav’s leave due to a draft indictment for rape; and the Winograd Committee published its damning interim report on the failures of last summer’s Lebanon War.

Nor was the picture brighter on the foreign affairs front. Hamas, the senior partner in the Palestinian Authority’s new government, celebrated our independence with a massive barrage of rockets and mortar shells at southern Israel, for which it formally claimed credit. Yet even this open avowal of its ongoing commitment to terrorism was insufficient to, for instance, cause Switzerland to cancel a planned state visit by PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.

INDEED – due mainly to our own government’s continued silence – the world has come to view bombarding Israeli towns with missiles as unexceptionable behavior. This attitude was epitomized by an Associated Press report on the Independence Day barrage: After duly noting that Palestinians have fired 230 rockets at southern Israel in the five months since the Gaza cease-fire was declared (down from 600 in the previous five months), it concluded that the truce “has largely held.”

In other words, daily rocket launches at civilian centers are perfectly consistent with a truce.

And farther afield, Iran’s nuclear program not only continues apace, but the international community appears to be backtracking on its already minimal efforts to halt it: According to another AP report, since Iran has remained adamant, the six powers leading these efforts are considering dropping their demand that it abandon its uranium enrichment program – or as one diplomat put it, they are weighing a “new definition of enrichment” that would enable Iran to keep some of its program.

Even the US is not unequivocally opposed to this idea; an American official told AP: “We purposely left open the possibility that direct talks could happen by being a little less committed to the requirements” – namely, the UN Security Council’s repeated demand that Iran freeze enrichment.

GIVEN ALL this, why did so many Israelis nevertheless celebrate? The answer, I think, lies in one of the most awe-inspiring developments of the past six years of fighting: the surprising number of Israelis who have responded to one of life’s worst tragedies – the death of a child in a terror attack or military action – with an impulse to make the world a better place.

After 13-year-old Koby Mandell was bludgeoned to death by terrorists in 2001, for instance, his parents decided to set up a foundation to help other victims of terror. Today, the Koby Mandell Foundation runs a variety of programs, including a summer camp for the siblings of terror victims, who are often traumatized by their brother’s or sister’s murder, and a big brother/big sister program in which specially trained counselors work with these traumatized youngsters on an ongoing basis.

After 15-year-old Malki Roth was murdered in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem that same year, her parents established a foundation to help families care for special-needs children at home. The Malki Foundation provides free long-term loans of equipment and helps finance therapy. It was inspired by Malki’s devotion to her own severely disabled sister.

WHEN BENJI Hillman was killed in combat in Lebanon last summer, his parents decided to memorialize him by establishing a home for lone soldiers, where soldiers without family in Israel can stay during furloughs and be fed, get their laundry done and receive other services that their families are not there to supply. The Hillmans have thus far raised about half the funds needed to open the home.

And after Jonathan Einhorn fell in Lebanon last summer his parents decided to use the compensation money they will receive from the government to build a public garden of native Israeli plant life: a place of beauty that everyone will be able to enjoy, which will memorialize their son’s love of the land.

This response to grief – and there are numerous similar examples – is particularly noteworthy when contrasted with a phenomenon unknown among Israelis, but not uncommon on the Palestinian side: parents who respond to a child’s death by publicly urging their other children to court similar deaths.

After her 17-year-old son Muhammad was killed in the process of murdering five Israeli teens in 2002, for instance, Um Nidal Farahat of Gaza proudly told a Saudi newspaper that she had discussed the attack with him in advance and even posed for keepsake photos, and “as a mother, I reinforced this love of martyrdom in the mind of Mohammad and of all my sons.”

Similarly, after suicide bomber Said Khutari murdered 21 Israelis at a Tel Aviv discotheque in 2001, his father Hassan declared: “I was very happy when I heard that it was my son who carried out the attack,” and added that he would be proud to have all his other sons be suicide bombers as well.

IN THE biblical book of Deuteronomy, Moses lays down a challenge from God to the Jewish people: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse: Therefore, choose life.”

People like Um Nidal Farahat and Hassan Khutari have chosen death. But Israelis, as epitomized by people like the Mandells, Roths, Hillmans and Einhorns, have overwhelmingly chosen life.

For all the many things that Israelis have gotten wrong, we have gotten this one big thing right. That is indeed sufficient reason to celebrate on Independence Day. And it is ultimately why, for all our problems, I believe that Israelis will still be celebrating Independence Day for many years to come.

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Why Israel Needs a Better Political Class

Note: This piece is a response to an essay by Haviv Rettig Gur, which can be found here

Israel’s current political crisis exemplifies the maxim that hard cases make bad law. This case is desperate. Six months after the coronavirus erupted and nine months after the fiscal year began, Israel still lacks both a functioning contact-tracing system and an approved 2020 budget, mainly because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is more worried about politics than the domestic problems that Israel now confronts. The government’s failure to perform these basic tasks obviously invites the conclusion that civil servants’ far-reaching powers must not only be preserved, but perhaps even increased.

This would be the wrong conclusion. Bureaucrats, especially when they have great power, are vulnerable to the same ills as elected politicians. But unlike politicians, they are completely unaccountable to the public.

That doesn’t mean Haviv Rettig Gur is wrong to deem them indispensable. They provide institutional memory, flesh out elected officials’ policies, and supply information the politicians may not know and options they may not have considered. Yet the current crisis shows in several ways why they neither can nor should substitute for elected politicians.

First, bureaucrats are no less prone to poor judgment than politicians. As evidence, consider Siegal Sadetzki, part of the Netanyahu-led triumvirate that ran Israel’s initial response to the coronavirus. It’s unsurprising that Gur never mentioned Sadetzki even as he lauded the triumvirate’s third member, former Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov; she and her fellow Health Ministry staffers are a major reason why Israel still lacks a functional test-and-trace system.

Sadetzki, an epidemiologist, was the ministry’s director of public-health services and the only member of the triumvirate with professional expertise in epidemics (Bar Siman-Tov is an economist). As such, her input was crucial. Yet she adamantly opposed expanding virus testing, even publicly asserting that “Too much testing will increase complacence.” She opposed letting organizations outside the public-health system do lab work for coronavirus tests, even though the system was overwhelmed. She opposed sewage monitoring to track the spread of the virus. And on, and on.

Moreover, even after acknowledging that test-and-trace was necessary, ministry bureaucrats insisted for months that their ministry do the tracing despite its glaringly inadequate manpower. Only in August was the job finally given to the army, which does have the requisite personnel. And the system still isn’t fully operational.

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