Yom Ha’atzmaut, which begins at sunset on May 4, invites us to look at Israel through a long lens and see how utterly different it is today than when it came into being 74 years ago.
There are many who remember how encircled and outnumbered the just-declared state was on the fifth day of Iyar in 1948. There was no guarantee that Israel wouldn’t be overrun and wiped out by the surrounding Arab armies — not then, and not in 1967, when a similar coalition, backed by the Soviet Union, threatened war while the United States was too distracted by Vietnam to offer even moral support.
Many remember 1967, how Israel survived and how it prevailed again in 1973, but not without the cost of 2,400 lives lost and a badly strained economy. It was Israel’s peace agreement with Egypt in 1979 that removed the most powerful Arab country as a strategic threat to Israel’s existence. That agreement wasn’t universally welcomed, but it has lasted more than four decades.
Today, threats and enemies remain, but unlike in the past, everyone seems to be normalizing relations with Israel — a country that is technologically advanced, economically stable and tied to its partner and strategic asset, the United States. The close American connection has melted the Three No’s of the 1967 Khartoum Resolution: “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it …” In its place, the Abraham Accords includes Arab countries that have said yes to all three prohibitions.
In this country, the annual Gallup poll of country favorability found that 71% of Americans gave Israel a “very favorable” or “mostly favorable” rating. That’s in line with average favorability ratings since 2013 and a leap from the 45% in 1989. The results put Israel in good company; among the countries Gallup rated, only Canada, Great Britain, France, Japan, Germany and India ranked higher.
Lately, Israel has become positively associated with coronavirus research. With each surge of the coronavirus pandemic, it was often a surprise to hear Israel mentioned in the media as one of the countries that was doing something right in beating back COVID.
In January of 2021, before most Americans even got their first inoculation, The Atlantic highlighted how Israel had vaccinated six times more of its population than the United States. Writer Uri Friedman said the reason Israel was able to act so efficiently “traces back decades to the embryonic health infrastructure created before the State of Israel even existed.” Israel’s universal health system, present at the country’s founding, was able to reach a population in danger seven decades later.
Then there are the more anecdotal accolades. Tel Aviv made the Forbes list of the world’s 15 best cities, coming in eighth. And Time Out ranked Tel Aviv as the world’s most fun city for the second year in a row and the second-best city in the food and drink category.
Speaking of food and drink, Israeli food is having a bit of a moment in the states, too, as chefs like Michael Solomonov introduce the public to both familiar and unfamiliar culinary offerings.
None of these was on Israel’s founders’ list of goals 74 years ago. It’s important not to forget Israel’s successes.