Israel's Independence at 67: Living Up to the Ideals of Its Founders

04/23/2015 03:09 pm ET | Updated Jun 23, 2015

As Israel celebrates its 67th Independence Day, it is easy to fall into one or two categories in reaction.

One entails an "oy gevalt syndrome" -- the sky is falling. Just look at Israel and its relations with its main ally, the United States. After national elections, an Israeli government that looks to be more right-wing than its predecessor is on the verge of being formed, which may inevitably exacerbate relations with the U.S., possibly further isolate Israel from the European Union, and spur expanded BDS activity on campuses and elsewhere. And Israel's democratic values may be under assault from Haredi and right-wing politicians who will seek hypernationalist legislation limiting the rights of those who express opposition to Israeli policies.

The other perspective is one that says that despite all the complaints and criticisms, Israel has never been doing as well or been in a better place. U.S.-Israel relations remain strong in spite of the spats between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Terror against Israeli citizens is way down. The regional chaos actually benefits Israel in two ways: by distracting Israel's enemies from focusing on the Jewish state, and moving the Saudis and the Gulf states into a tacit alliance with Israel based on the shared interest of combating Iranian expansion and aggression. And Israel's economy remains strong, led by the vital high-tech sector, which continues to enhance Israel's business status in the world.

I prefer to look at this moment through a lens that can both enjoy the miracle of what Israel has become and still, even on a day of celebration, be aware of the many challenges facing the Jewish state as it heads into its 68th year. Paraphrasing the old Ben Gurion line, I will rapturously celebrate the wonder that is modern-day Israel as if there were no negative realities surrounding its existence, and I will see clearly and worry a great deal about the struggles ahead for Israel as if the miracle of Israel's very existence and its development were not relevant.

Another way of putting it is that I am as determined as ever, on the occasion of this anniversary, to combat the egregiously distorted image of Israel that exists in too many places in the world and on too many campuses and mainstream protestant churches in the United States. Israel is far from perfect as a society or in its treatment of its Arab community and of the Palestinians. But it has always been and still is the only true democracy and respecter of human rights in the region and would have made peace with the Palestinians on many an occasion had it not been for ongoing Palestinian rejectionism.

I will continue to fight the BDS folks and all those who demonize Israel, because they are dealing in lies about the Jewish state.

At the same time, and having nothing to do with the distortions from outside, as an activist Jew who has spent all of his adult life fighting for Israel and caring about its future, I worry about some of the directions Israel is going in.

How will Israel remain both Jewish and democratic if it cannot find a way out of the current stalemate? With all the legitimate concerns about security, particularly regarding an expansionist and potentially nuclear Iran, what is going to be done about the severe domestic challenges? I think of three that demand immediate attention: income inequality, the need for affordable housing, and the quest for religious pluralism.

So on this important day, I can live with these dual feelings: an immense pride as a Jew in the glories of the Jewish state, and a realization that the challenges facing Israel are profound and require new initiatives.

Of course, my bottom line as a lifelong and proud Zionist is a belief that Israel will emerge triumphant, and that whatever obstacles it will face will be overcome.