Op-ed

Israel at 75: ‘Only together can we reach our goals’

In a pre-recorded video screened at the opening 75th Independence Day ceremony, the prime minister stressed unity as central to the wonders of modern Israel. Was he listening?

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

Israeli fighter jets perform in an air show marking the country's 75th Independence Day over sailboats in the Mediterranean Sea in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Israeli fighter jets perform in an air show marking the country's 75th Independence Day over sailboats in the Mediterranean Sea in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

This Editor’s Note was sent out earlier on Wednesday in ToI’s weekly update email to members of the Times of Israel Community. To receive these Editor’s Notes as they’re released, join the ToI Community here.

This is not how Israel expected to turn 75. This is not how Israel deserved to turn 75.

Not with bereaved families plunged into divisive politics as they mourned their loved ones on Tuesday’s Memorial Day. The hitherto respectful and respected presence of government ministers at the cemeteries — designed to signify the leadership’s respect for those who have fallen in the defense of the country, and their support for families that will never be whole again — this year became an ordeal for many, and especially for those in Beersheba expected to tolerate the utterances of National Security Minister and racist provocateur Itamar Ben Gvir.

Not with rigorous precautions surrounding the Independence Eve opening ceremony in Jerusalem — routine security to prevent terrorism supplemented by additional measures designed to prevent and quickly thwart any embarrassing public signs of anti-government dissent from participants or attendees.

Not with that annual celebration on Mount Herzl overshadowed this year by fears for the very nature and values of this country — so that the brief passionate speech by Yom Kippur War hero Avigdor Kahalani, declaring that he was lighting his Independence Day torch with respect “for my country, which I love so much, Jewish and democratic,” received some of the night’s most passionate applause. While nearby, hundreds of demonstrators held a rally denouncing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for “tearing the country apart” with his bid to politicize and shackle the judicial system, and in Tel Aviv tens of thousands gathered for an alternative Independence Eve event, with speakers vowing to protect the rule of law and marching beneath a vast “Torch of Democracy” banner.

Avigdor Kahalani lights a torch during the 75th anniversary Independence Day ceremony, held at Mount Herzl, Jerusalem on April 25, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu chose not to risk heckling and boos by addressing the Jerusalem event live, and instead supplied a two-and-a-half-minute video whose content highlighted precisely what Israel should be celebrating on this resonant 75th anniversary, precisely what Israel deserves to be celebrating.

“Let’s stop the noise for a moment,” pre-recorded Netanyahu began. “Let’s look for a moment at the great wonder that is the State of Israel.”

He spoke of 75 years of miracles, achieved by “one people,” working “together.” As one people, “we rose from the ashes of the Holocaust to the summit of rebirth,” he marveled.  “As one people,” Israel won its wars, absorbed millions of immigrants, advanced a thriving economy, achieved historic peace agreements, developed the cities and infrastructure of the nation, and built the IDF.

More miracles lay ahead, he promised, but they would only be possible “when we march together… only together can we reach our goals.”

“To do it together,” he elaborated, “is to argue for and against around the Shabbat table, until the moment the food arrives. To do it together is to cry together at the Memorial Day ceremonies and celebrate together on Independence Day.”

But if Israelis have rarely been able to end our arguments when the food arrived, we have seldom been as riven as we are today. And as the prime minister knows all too well, this year, perhaps more than any in the past 75, we were no longer able to cry together at the Memorial Day ceremonies.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara at the 75th anniversary Independence Day ceremony, held at Mount Herzl, Jerusalem on April 25, 2023. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

For all the paternal bonhomie of his Independence Day message, with a little joke about us inventing Waze to make sure we choose the correct direction, and all his rhetorical focus on the central imperative of unity, it is he who has exacerbated our divisions, to devastating effect since his electoral triumph late last year. He who empowered the inflammatory Ben Gvir as police minister and the theocratic Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, giving Smotrich authority in the Defense Ministry too. He who has spent his first four months back in office steamrollering legislation that would give him near-absolute power. He who has refused entreaties from our president and the leader of our most vital ally to abandon that package of laws and instead build broad consensus for genuine judicial reform, temporarily suspending it only when he overreached by firing his defense minister, his polling numbers plummeted, and even some of his coalition loyalists got cold feet. He who is looking ahead to a mass pro-overhaul rally outside the Knesset on Thursday, which is being promoted in some quarters with the most deliberately divisive overtones.

“We have one people and one country,” Netanyahu said piously from the big screen as we turned 75. As he watched himself from the audience, one can only hope that he was also listening.

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