September 3, 2013
5773 in Israel: Conclusion? Transition!
Nothing truly ends with Rosh Hashanah except for the arbitrary calendar of the Jewish year. It is a cycle that is in our minds, with no detectable bearing on reality. Proof No. 1: I’m writing this column even as events in Syria are still unfolding. The Syrian war will not end before Rosh Hashanah. Proof No. 2: I’m writing this as the debate about the Western Wall still rages. It isn’t likely to end before Rosh Hashanah. Proof No. 3: Well, there’s really no need for more examples. Point taken: Rosh Hashanah is a time of looking back, because sometimes it is good to reflect. And there’s a certain melancholic quality to it. Fall is soon coming, pinching one’s heart, as a famous Israeli song contends. Atonement is upon us, igniting its engine of fear and trembling.
So how was 5773? Looking through the narrow lenses of my binoculars, it was a year of unresolved issues. Nothing ended, nothing was brought to conclusion, nothing stood still. The promise, for example, that this would be “the year of decision” on Iran’s nuclear program once again proved empty. During September 2012, almost a year ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew a “red line” beyond which Iran cannot be stopped — and asked the international community to draw a “red line” as well for Iran, beyond which action would be taken to halt its nuclear program. His red line pointed to summer 2013 as the time for decision, experts assumed at the time of the speech. Well, summer is gone. Netanyahu, just weeks ago, said that Iran is “weeks away” from the line. “They haven’t yet reached it, but they’re getting closer to it, and they have to be stopped,” he said. If it happens two days after Rosh Hashanah, should we still count it as a promise well kept?
And even as it was assumed that the passing Jewish year would be the year of decision, it is also assumed that the still-ongoing secular year 2013 is the year of decision, too. The incompatibility of two calendars is a nuisance and a blessing for those wanting second chances at keeping promises alive. Like President Barack Obama, who declared a long time ago that Syria’s Bashar Assad should get off the world stage without delivering the means to achieve such a goal. Obama also promised to provide Syrian rebels with weapons and didn’t quite deliver — for reasons not to be discounted. And his secretary of state, John Kerry, promised to renew negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians and made good on his word. However, Kerry’s promise to have an agreement between the two parties within nine months is a leading candidate to be the top unresolved issue of 5774.
This year, Israeli elections catapulted to power a man who promised to be a contender for prime minister — Yair Lapid, the leader of the Yesh Atid Party. Of course, it is much too early to eulogize the young, healthy and talented Lapid, but many Israelis would tell you, as they are telling the pollsters, that he is the broken promise of the year. And very few of them would tell you that he can become prime minister of Israel. In early August, 82 percent of the Israeli public told Panels Politics that Lapid isn’t fit for the top job. So yes, he might become a comeback kid, but this would require a major comeback. The promise of Yesh Atid was fulfilled in one way only — keeping Israel’s Charedi parties out of the coalition and beginning the process of stripping away some of their special government benefits. But the promise to draft Charedim into the military will have to wait. There have been some steps forward: There is a plan; there is a timetable; but all that could easily change before it is implemented three or four years down the road.
I’ve made a habit of looking back on Erev Rosh Hashanah at the articles I wrote throughout the year. It takes a long time to do (meaning, I probably write too much), but it is always revealing. Last September, I wrote about the approaching 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur war and the lessons of history. A year later, I find myself very busy this week attending launch parties for the five books on the war I have been involved with in recent months. Attending them, listening to the old soldiers and generals talk about the battles of the southern front on the Egyptian border, one can’t escape comparisons between then and now, between Sadat’s Egypt and Sisi’s Egypt.
Promises broken this year? Democracy in Egypt is a contender for the most blatant one. Last year, not long before Rosh Hashanah, President Obama congratulated the newly elected president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi. “Millions of Egyptians voted in the election, and President-elect Morsi and the new Egyptian government have both the legitimacy and responsibility of representing a diverse and courageous citizenry,” the White House said. But from summer 2012 to summer 2013, the Obama administration apparently changed its mind. Hopes for next year’s Egypt are quite different from hopes for last year’s Egypt.
A year ago, I wrote a lot about the Jewish vote in the coming November presidential election. In fact, I published a short book about the Jewish vote in the 2012 elections. This seems a long time ago. Another broken promise? I never really believed the hyped Republican claim that 2012 would be much different than previous elections, but those who did can count another disappointment. And, yes, the passing year for me was a lot about elections. Until November, it was the American race, after which began the Israeli race. Netanyahu and his political buddy, Israel Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman, promised to have a party of 47 Knesset seats. They ended up with 31.
In December, I laid out a proposal for solving the controversial issue of Women of the Wall – one quite similar (if not as detailed) to the Natan Sharansky plan. Make your own Kotel, I suggested: “You don’t have to call it Robinson’s Arch. Call it the Kotel. Take the part of the Wall you can get, and this will be your Kotel. Make it lively and welcoming, make it better than the ‘other’ Kotel, make it cool and fashionable, make people want to go there, make it a place that is no less important and busy and symbolic to Jews around the world.” The Sharansky plan is a promise that isn’t yet broken. But those hoping to see its fast completion will also have to wait at least another year.
The Talmud (Megillah 31) teaches us that Ezra the scribe established the reading of Parashat Ki Tavo — a parasha filled with godly curses that we read last week — on the last Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah. “Why is that? In order that the past year finish along with all of the curses associated with it.”
5773 was not a year of many great curses for Israel or for the Jewish people. We have a problem, though, with things that are not yet a curse or a blessing — those things that cannot end just because a year has gone by. We have a problem with summing up a year that was a year of transition — but transition toward what is still unclear.
Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, please visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/Rosnersdomain.