An Eternal Optimist in the Land of Israel
What a powerful week of study, friendship, camaraderie and spirituality. During the CCAR convention this week, over 300 rabbis, spouses and friends gathered together to learn, pray and (re)experience the joys of Israel. In our final day, we traveled to the Interdisciplinary Center at Herzliya. We began the morning with a panel moderated by Rabbi Rick Block. This panel, in which we were able to learn from Professor Uriel Reichman, IDC Herzliya President and founder and Amnon Rubinstein, former Minister of Justice and Education, discussed 10 questions facing Israel today, focusing on Israel and Democracy. Shortly after the panel, we were addressed by Ron Prosor, the Permanent Israeli Ambassador to the UN, who gave us an overview of some of the challenges of being an Ambassador for Israel to the UN. These morning sessions really helped to give an “inside look” not only at the political situation Israel finds herself in, but also to the positive possibilities that lie ahead for Israel and her neighbors.
After a short coffee break, we were broken up into 3 tracks: 1) Start Up Nation and the Israeli Entrepreneurship Spirit, 2) The Crisis of Governance in the Middle East: Implications for Israel and 3) Between Positive Psychology and Education. As I am really interested in how Israel is able to maneuver as the only Democracy in the Middle East, I chose to go to the section option: looking at the Crisis of Governance in the Middle East. The presenter, Amichai Magen, is a senior lecturer at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center at Herzliya. In his lecture, Magen began by presenting a triangle of the Modern International Order. This triangle, with Peace in the middle, had as its three points: International Organizations, Economic Interdependence and Democracy, with arrows going from every point to every other point. According to Magen, true peace can only be obtained when the governance structures really do have relationships that lead to and depend on each other.
Israel, a very young country, is actually one of the oldest Democracies on Earth. This is significant, as she is surrounded in Northern Africa and the rest of the Middle East by nations that are neither democratic and are not served by major world institutions such as the Euro League. The situation really does begin to fall apart and becomes extremely fragile when those institutions that are specifically created to help to proctor peace are either not in existence or under-utilized, whichever the case may be. There are major consequences of this crisis of governance in the MENA (Middle East and Northern Africa) region which include conditions of instability, understated uncertainty in the area regarding diplomacy among others, threats to regional security, and of course humanitarian problems.
While this area of the world does seem to be in a constant state of flux and can sometimes be scary and/or at least frustrating for Israelis, there are also some areas of good, some areas of hope. To start with, there is some room for alignment (even it is luke-warm at best) of key interests between Israel and the pragmatic Arab states of Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia towards an “Axis of Stability” in the region. With the rise of Kurdish autonomy and possible statehood, there is a chance for Turkish-Israeli rapprochement. This would certainly give Israel another potential partner in the region– a plus for anyone who supports and loves Israel.
This convention challenged each and every one of us in so many ways, and I leave Israel to head back to my community with more knowledge – with lots of ideas and ways to help educate and inform my congregation. Israel is not perfect; however, she is a beacon of hope in a region that unfortunately has very little hope. As the only democracy in the region, Israel must continue to lead the way in so many areas – in her democracy and human rights to begin with. While I believe this region has a long road ahead, I do believe that peace will come…with God’s help, sooner or later. Dr. Magen ended his presentation with the following quote, “Anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist,” by David Ben-Gurion. Yes, this is why Dr. Magen, and I as well, remain an eternal optimist with respects to Israel and her neighbors.
Rabbi Erin Boxt serves Temple Kol Emeth in Marietta, Georgia. This is his third time at a CCAR Convention.