As this year is coming to a close, we take stock and try to assess what 2021 has brought to our world and whether developments affected the realities of the Jewish world and those of Israel.
Sadly, during this past year too, the leading event has been the Coronavirus pandemic which has paralyzed whole countries and communities and has taken a terrible toll of human lives. Lockdowns, separation from loved one and bereavement on the one hand, masks and vaccines on the other hand, have been the order of the day everywhere. If there is anything that the pandemic has reminded us, it is the fact that we are all members of the family of man, that the virus knows no boundaries and does distinguish between our skin color, black white or yellow, our country of origin, our social status. We are all vulnerable.
While on the one hand incredible scientific breakthroughs and technological innovations have expanded our boundaries , opened up possibilities we never imagined and new vistas for humanity, the calamities that hit our planet as a result of climate heating – the melting of icebergs, inundations, typhoons, fires, made us finally realize that change is already here, and that if we do not take immediate and resolute action, there is not much that we will leave behind for the next generations.
The main concern for the Jewish world this year has been an unprecedented wave of antisemitism. Political tensions, polarization between left and right, the growth of radical groups the renewal of nationalist movements and neo Nazi parties in Europe and the US have brought about a sizeable increase in the number antisemitic incidents as well as in their extremism. Accusing the Jews of creating and spreading the pandemic has been used as a new motive to bolster antisemitism, In the United States 60% of hate crimes have been perpetrated against Jews. The social media are no doubt playing a major role in the spread of hatred and antisemitism. Truth be told, in the past year the Governments in Europe and the United States have mobilized and adopted strategies to fight against this scourge. But the Jewish world must remain vigilant and active, and the State of Israel too must play a more active role on this stage.
Seventy six years after the end of World War II and the darkest page in human history, we witness a more recent phenomenon – that of Holocaust revisionism, of Holocaust distortion. It is a result of authoritarianism, populism, dictatorial regimes, nationalisms and anti-liberalisms that have been spreading in the world in the past decade. Countries like Poland and Hungary, for instance, feel a need to reinvent their identities, they need a "usable" past, and so they embellish their history, claiming that they have been the victims and denying the collaboration of some of their citizens with the Nazi killing machine. During this past year, the Jewish world has witnessed an increase of this dangerous trend.
The pandemic has also had an impact on the nature of relations and communications between Jewish communities and groups- making it impossible to gather; and yet digital meetings – by zoom, have made those meeting more frequent and more affordable.
Two of the largest Jewish communities in the world – the US and Israel have experienced changes of the Government with all that these come to bear in the relations between the two Governments.
In Israeli there has been a democratic change of Government. After three years of instability, and polarization, we are experiencing something we did not believe possible: a grand coalition formed by right, center and left wing parties who, those who not long ago delegitimized each other and now work together; a coalition which includes for the first time an Arab party. The immediate result is an already visible change of attitude towards the Israeli Arab minority and this can no doubt have a positive impact on our divided society .
In the coming year the challenges Israel will continue to face ,both internal and external, are great: internally, a deep divide still exists in the Israeli society not only among Jews and Arabs, but among Jews themselves over political values and the role of religion in public life Seventy three years after the establishment of their state ,the Jewish population in Israel remains united behind the idea that Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people and a necessary refuge from the rising antisemitism. But alongside this unity, the Israeli society becomes increasingly divided on many public policy issues, on identity, marriage, divorce, conversions, military service, gender segregation and public transportation. Jewish identity in Israel is complex, spanning notions of religion, ethnicity, nationality and family. Although the accepted definition of Israel is "a Jewish democratic state" the divide is between those who want Israel to adopt more Jewish religious values first, and those for whom democracy is the leading principle. Will the new Government be able to create in 2022 a different climate, one of better understanding and acceptance among the various groups? This is the fervent wish we can express.
Externally – Israel will continue to face two major challenges in the security and diplomatic arenas : the Iranian threat perceived as existential, and the Palestinian issue .The Israeli Government fears that the renewal of the 2015 nuclear deal ( JCPOA) currently negotiated with Iran will not stop it from developing nuclear capabilities, and this, in turn, entails tensions between Israel and the American administration. A close cooperation with the Administration will continue to be vital: and so will have to be a more balanced bi-partisan policy.
On the Palestinian front the past year has witnessed another round of violence with Gaza, growing tensions, incidents and acts of terrorism in Jerusalem. The new Government will have ensure not only with the security of its citizens wherever they live, but also to improve the lives of Palestinians, respect their human rights, and present a political horizon.
The new year of 2022 is already around the corner, and we must all resolve to make it a better year for all of humanity, the Jewish world and Israel