The publication of this book in English, Hebrew and Arabic within the same volume, comes at a time when Israel is in the midst of a major debate about the future identity of this multiracial, multiethnic, multireligious and multilingual Jewish state. Israel is confronting a brain drain, the loss of respect for its state institutions, police and courts, decline in the service in the hospitals, deterioration of schools, and the perception their elected officials are either inept or corrupt, and maybe even both. In addition, a quarter of the members of the Knesset refuse to sing Hatikvah and or salute the Israeli flag.
A Country Holy to “Half of Humanity”
As a country located in a land holy to “half of humanity,” Israel lives under a microscope, where its every move is discussed, dissected and analyzed. In another context, journalist Zev Chafets observed that Israel no longer enjoyed “the benefit of the doubt” as it once did. Those with “little or no ideological bent” relished in debunking “myths” about the Jewish state. In their quest for a new slant on the conflict, they found one. “Arabs biting Jews had long ceased to be news; but Jews biting Arabs—that was a story.”
The failure of the media to provide an unbiased account of the Arab/ Israeli conflict affects all of us, for as journalist Matti Friedman contends, “the Western press has become less an observer of this conflict than an actor in it, a role with consequences for the millions of people trying to comprehend current events, including policymakers who depend on journalistic accounts to understand a region where they consistently seek, and fail, to productively intervene.”
Objective of Oren’s Manifesto
Few individuals are as equipped as Michael Oren to assess the issues Israel confronts. As a historian, former IDF paratrooper, former Israeli ambassador to the US, member of the Knesset and a former Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, his background and broad experiences, he seeks to engage the Israeli public in a serious conversation, which says is “tragically not taking place but must begin at once.” His objective in this manifesto is “to designate the ways in which Israelis can continue living with the contradictions and with greater harmony, prosperity, security, and purpose.” He examines policies Israel must implement “to ensure it future as a country in which the vast majority of Jews still believe, will be willing to fight for, and want to live in.” It is ultimately crafted to stimulate young Jews in Israel and the Diaspora to become advocates who establish movements to promote decisive changes. Israel 2048: The Rejuvenated State is a “blueprint” for Israel not only to survive but flourish and prosper through the next hundred years.
“A Blueprint for Survival”
Oren offers a number of approaches “to foster a sense of belonging” by recognizing those areas of Israeli life that connect all Israelis, including inter-community dialogue, universal national service, and more representation in government agencies. He also wants Israel and Jews throughout the world to recognize the legitimacy of Reform Judaism, that is practiced by the majority of American Jews. “Diaspora Jews,” he notes, “account for some 6.5% of its [Israel’s] GDP—roughly equivalent to its defense budget—and have contributed massively to building Israel’s educational, medical, cultural and financial infrastructure.” Israel must define Jewish identity “in national terms, emphasizing peoplehood over observance.”
Saving the maximum number of Jews from assimilating by bring 10,000 young secular Jews to Israel each year, and providing them with stipends, positions, and other inducements enabling them to live in Israel is another major goal.
With regard to Haredim, he suggests the present situation is unsustainable. Rather than supporting “proposed legislation… penalizing Haredim and their schools for draft evasion,” which he realizes “will surely backfire and result in large-scale unrest and incarceration,” he suggests “the state must make a historic effort to engage ultra-Orthodox leaders in a dialogue.”
At the same time, he wants to break the Orthodox monopoly so Israelis can choose between Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform religious functionaries to officiate at their religious and life cycle events.
A Final Note
Oren asks rhetorically why is it that Israeli leaders “rarely articulate a vision of Israel’s future?” He posits it is because they are so preoccupied with relentless security threats and other day-to-day concerns, fear of discord or merely on their part, the absence of initiative and creativity. How Israel resolves the myriad challenges it faces he says, will determine whether the Jewish state will be seen simply as an inspiring but transitory failed experiment consigned to a long list of other abortive states or one that lives up to its obligation where “Jews take responsibility for themselves…as a free and sovereign people.”
(Michael Oren, 2048: The Rejuvenated State (New Milford, Connecticut: The Toby Press, 2023) ISBN- 978-9655263527)