E pluribus unum… 102 different origins… And, from that, a single nation!
The first multiethnic nation, in other words, that really works.
The first republic on the Rousseau model, where one fine day someone said, “Let’s make a Contract” and lo! the Contract was made.
Country of refuge.
Country of a promise.
A superfluous country for superfluous people.
The world may return to being uninhabitable for all the Mireille Knolls of France, and this little country will be all the more precious.
Democracy is hard? Slow? It takes time to build a democracy? In Israel, one night—14 May 1948—was all it took.
To fashion a democracy, a democratic tradition is required? A common culture? A memory? Israel’s pioneers from Russia, Central Europe, Germany, and the Middle East had none of that. And yet…
The Israeli miracle.
The wonder of a social bond forged from nothing.
The marvel of a dead language, reinvented and revived.
Still we hear that no democracy can long survive the state of emergency known as war. Except Israel.
Terrorism has been in Israel not for 7 days (as it had in the United States when the Patriot Act was passed) and not for 7 years (as in the France when the liberticidal measures of 1961 were adopted), but for 70 years—and yet its institutions hold and liberty is not infringed.
Yes, 70 years during which Israel has lived, as the verse has it, beside its sword, and yet the spirit of liberty has never waned or wavered.
70 years without a single day of peace, and no Israeli, Jew or Arab, would leave the country for another.
Athens, not Sparta.
A pugnacious press, unsparing of the country’s leaders.
A stubborn legal system that, when a prime minister strays, does not hesitate to send the prime minister to prison.
A rebellious writer, David Grossman, the pride of the country.
Another: Amos Oz.
And another: A. B. Yehoshua.
Is there anywhere on earth where the famous “right to criticize Israel” is better exercised than in Israel?
Is there an NGO more insistent on denouncing the disproportionate use of force than Israel’s Breaking the Silence?
Another democracy where a minority hostile to the country’s founding principle (Zionism) enjoys, like Israel’s Arab minority, full rights of citizenship?
Another country that, in time of war, would tolerate seeing towns like Israel’s Arab town of Kufr Manda side with the enemy?
Arabic: Israel’s second official language.
A roster of Arab legislators unimaginable in France’s National Assembly.
An Arab judge sitting on the Supreme Court.
And, leading the same court, a woman, Esther Hayut, the third woman elected to that lofty post.
When a defensive wall encroaches on the Palestinian village of Beit Jala in the West Bank, the court orders the wall to be moved.
In Bil’in, the wall damages century-old olive trees. The trees are replanted.
A military blunder? Condemned.
An inappropriate order? Overruled.
An operation inconsistent with the ethical notion of the “purity of arms”? Bring the case, in mid-operation, before the competent court. This happened.
Field hospitals that treat enemy wounded.
Dispensaries in the Golan Heights that are the only places in the area where Syrian victims of Bashar al-Assad can find refuge.
For other Syrians, the hospitals in Safed, Kiryat Shmona, Nahariya, Tiberias.
And the town of Jubata al-Khashab, in Quneitra province: rebuilt with public and private funds from Israel.
And the humanitarian operations of the Israel Defense Forces…
Is there another country in the world that, proportional to its population, sends its army on so many humanitarian missions at such cost?
In Mexico, after the September 2017 earthquake…
In Nepal, Haiti, and Turkey after the earthquakes of 2015, 2010, and 1999…
In the Mediterranean, in 2003, when the legendary Unit 669 flew to the rescue of ten Turkish sailors caught in a typhoon…
In Sierra Leone, when Israel was the first to come to the aid of thousands of poor people displaced by mudslides…
And all the Israeli NGOs that are digging wells in Africa, dispatching firefighters to Puerto Rico, and sending doctors without borders to Madagascar and Zambia.
The good robots of Hadassah Hospital.
The world’s most advanced research on Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cell therapy, brain surgery, and more.
Wisdom and study.
Knowledge both secular and Talmudic.
The beauty of Tel Aviv and the white stone of Jerusalem.
And Jaffa, with its espaliered streets and blockhouses of emblazoned ochre stone.
And the rocky landscapes of the Negev in which one detects the imprints left by eyes that looked upon them centuries before our time.
And those rocks and megaliths that appear to have been created by the finger of God.
And those high deserts.
And those seas lower than the sea.
And the kibbutz near Tiberias where Sartre had the feeling that everything “was speaking in secret to its soul.”
And that other kibbutz in which I found myself in June 1967, too late for the Six Day War but in time to understand the meaning of the verse, “Your children shall be as the sand of the sea.”
Indeed, earth or sand?
Another Babel, or a new type of kingdom?
The granite of walls or the gentle shade of Talmudic commentaries?
A state like any other, or a return to Jacob—that is, to the man who was called Israel because he wrestled with the angel?
In Israel, it is not nature that is generous with man, but rather man with nature because he augments it with his intelligence.
Israel is one of the riskiest tests, and one of the noblest, that the Jewish people have had to undergo.
For having embarked on it, will Israel suffer the blame leveled by Samuel on the people who subjected themselves to Saul, or will it remain, if only a little, the pupil of Moses?
Will it evolve from the fascinating country it already is to one wholly admirable or even sublime?
And what does Israel tell us about what it means to be human?
Happy birthday, Israel.
Translated from the French by Steven B. Kennedy.
Bernard-Henri Lévy is a philosopher, activist, filmmaker, and author of more than 30 books including The Genius of Judaism, American Vertigo, Barbarism with a Human Face, Who Killed Daniel Pearl?, and The Empire and the Five Kings. His most recent film, Slava Ukraini, will premiere nationwide on May 5, 2023.