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Jewish Journal

Israel faces challenges on three fronts

by Sergio DellaPergola

May 15, 2008 | 6:00 pm

Israel at 60 faces three major challenges: identity, technology and politics. The future Israel will have to strive and struggle to maintain a credible role as the cultural and spiritual center of Jewish peoplehood. Demography will continue to play a fundamental role here, but the main challenge will be whether Israel can strengthen internal and transnational Jewish cultural bonds to preserve some consensus among the Jewish people.

Jewish religion and identity will remain central to how Israel sees itself and Jews worldwide perceive Israel. But to be viable, Israel's Jewish identity must be attractive to an array of Jewish constituencies, each of which will view Israel as a place that, permanently or occasionally, is home.

On the technology front, Israel will have to expand its already remarkable facilities to become, even more than now, a world center for research and development capable of offering its creativity and services to Jews and others beyond the limited space of its local market. Israel must join the world's most developed societies.

To achieve this, Israel will have to overcome the distinctions that persist between greater Tel Aviv and the country's peripheral areas, and limit the deepening socioeconomic differences between the country's richest and poorest.

On the political front, Israel will require leaders that can take the country to new horizons. Many Israelis today feel that our political leaders do precisely the opposite, slowing down the major transformations we need to make in such areas as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel-Diaspora relations, the relationship between religion and state, public investment vs. privatization in the economy and more active participation of private individuals in civil society.

Politics in Israel will have to be reinvented so it again becomes a driving force for the fulfillment of Jewish dreams. The overarching issue of peace and normalization of ties with Israel's neighbors is crucial to this because the final outcome of the Middle East conflict will result either in the fulfillment of dreams or disaster.

These three major challenges share something in common: urgency. Every day that passes without progress brings potentially irreversible negative consequences that threaten the very survival of Israel and the Jewish people.

The way we respond to these challenges ultimately will determine the future course of the Jewish people -- and Israel's fate at its 120th birthday.

Sergio DellaPergola is a professor at Hebrew University and a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute in Jerusalem.

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