On Israel’s 60th anniversary, the chairman of Bicom urges its neighbours to grasp the chance to make peace
As we celebrate 60 years of Israel’s independence this week, it is an opportune time for reflection. Yom Ha’Atzmaut ends a week of introspection and remembrance in Israel, with memorial days for the Holocaust and Israel’s fallen soldiers in the last few days. Our joy is as ever set in a wider context. We should not allow ourselves to celebrate until we have remembered, and understood the pain and sorrow of the past.
I am a son of Holocaust survivors. My parents endured the horrors of the Nazi genocide, and met in a Swedish refugee camp following the war. They rebuilt their lives, raised a family in Finland and made their own contribution to the development of the state of Israel. Israel, too, was born out of the Holocaust, a response to the guilty conscience of the world that stood by as six million of our parents, brothers, sisters and children perished.
And so we are right to celebrate Israel’s independence. There is a great deal to be proud of, much of it unthinkable even 10 years ago. Israel is among the most developed and culturally exciting places on Earth. Its economy has become robust and stable. Israel is a global leader in cutting-edge technology, in medical research and in the arts. El Al, the national carrier, is accepted throughout the world. Israel is also a full member of the family of nations, with diplomatic ties around the globe. In its own region, Israel is part of an alliance of moderates who together confront threats emanating from Iran and its allies. Israel has contacts with half of the Arab states, and full peace with some. It is a remarkable achievement for any young state, let alone one facing such existential threats over the years.
Israel is engaged in a sincere attempt to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians. Israel’s government is committed to concluding a peace deal with their Palestinian counterparts by the end of this year. And as the Palestinians develop their capacity for self-rule, Israel will hand over responsibility in order to bring into being an independent and viable Palestinian state, living alongside Israel in peace and security. Israel’s commitment to peace is all the more remarkable when the Palestinians of Gaza, under Hamas leadership, continue to attack innocent Israeli civilians every day.
Israel cannot achieve this alone. I urge Israel’s neighbours to join the project of bringing peace, stability and prosperity to all the peoples of the region. Now is the time for moderate, realist leaders to come together and lead their people to a better future. My experience across the region tells me that people want to improve their lives, to live in peace and safety.
But peace is more than a political deal between leaders. If we are to see real change, the peoples of the region, too, will have to reach an accommodation with Israel. Beyond the trials and tribulations of the various peace initiatives, the citizens of the region — from commerce to culture, science to sport — must show their political leaders the way forward. Arab states and their citizens, buoyed by their oil revenues, can do so much to improve the lives of all the peoples in despair in the region, bringing real change to their daily lives. I look particularly to the Gulf states, which share with Israel the vision of a moderate Middle East, to bring their resources to bear on bringing peace to the region. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s recent visit to Qatar gave us a glimpse of what might be possible. And it is a tantalising possibility.
Our obligation as Israel’s supporters throughout the diaspora is to support these people in their search for peace. Israel is neither a charity case nor the poor relation that we patronise with pity. The state of Israel is the best insurance policy for the continuation Jewish life in Britain and throughout the world. Israel’s position in the region will directly shape how we live our Jewish lives in the future. What Israel does now to confront obstacles and build bridges to peace will ensure our freedom in the future. We should be overwhelmingly proud and overt in our support for Israel because there is much to be proud of.
Poju Zabludowicz is Chairman of the board of Bicom, the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre; a member of the board of the Jewish Leadership Council; and Chairman & CEO of the Tamares international investment group