Israel sets an example of freedom, tolerance

My grandfather, who lived to be more than 100 years old, used to say, “I’ve seen them all and there are none like the Jews.”

Our small Druze town had remained virtually the same for hundreds of years under Ottoman and later British rule. When Israel was established in 1948, rapid development ensued, and for the first time, our homes had electricity and running water and every child received a quality, free education.

Even amongst all that modernity and relative luxury, my grandfather’s greatest praise for Israel came as a result of how the young state treated its less fortunate citizens. For the first time in his life, my grandfather, a retired factory worker, received a pension and had access to quality health care. He said that a society could be judged by the way it treats the elderly, sick and unemployed and that Israel had proved itself both strong and compassionate. Certainly, he would say, such a nation would prevail.

That is the untold story of Israel, a nation that measures its strength not by its wealth or military prowess but by the vibrance of its civil society and the diversity of its democratic system. In a country where the symphonic orchestra, the theater and the university were all built before the state’s political institutions, there are now more than 40,000 independent civic associations. They strengthen our system of education, protect our environment and work to bring peace and justice to our region.

Israel is an immigrant society with a diverse population: 1.3 million of its citizens are Arabs belonging to various religious and ethnic groups. Indeed, some still suffer from poverty and lack equal investment in their communities from the government, but Arab-Israelis still have a standard of living higher than any of their brethren living in the region. They are full citizens who can vote and be elected to public office. They have the right to worship, assemble and speak freely without fear of intimidation or oppression. Since the establishment of our young nation, the freest Arabs in the Middle East reside in the Jewish state of Israel.

With all the challenges it faces, Israel remains the only democracy in the Middle East. This alone does not make Israel’s political system perfect, but it is the endless pursuit of greater equality that sets Israel apart from its neighbors. In my hometown, I have seen the fulfillment of the Israeli Dream: young professionals of all faiths who have established successful careers in law, medicine, business and diplomacy. We all come from middle-class families that used the public school system and government universities to create a better future for our children. None of us would have had that opportunity were it not for the free and open society in which we live.

Today, our freedom is threatened by the vile ideology of hate spewed by Hamas, Hezbollah and other similar organizations. With the support of their backers in Tehran and Damascus, these extremists rain rockets down upon Israeli villages and send suicide bombers into our buses and markets. Their supporters espouse a false narrative of eternal victimhood, attempting to justify every act of brutality and blaming Israel for every hardship. This empty rhetoric does not change the fact that the shrapnel of their weapons knows neither age nor ethnicity. And the resulting violence affects every Israeli regardless of race or religion.

The defense against this onslaught requires military action, but the solution to the complex issues that have brought us to this point is found in the strong bond that has developed between Arabs and Jews in Israel. If we peacefully co-exist in Haifa and Asifiya, why not in Gaza, Beirut or the rest of the region?

Recently, I attended a ceremony at Georgia’s state Capitol commemorating the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Like Anwar Sadat and Yitzhak Rabin, he gave his life in defense of the dream of co-existence. Because of what my grandfather saw, my children and I are able to live this dream as citizens of Israel. Today, we look to our borders wondering when our neighbors will embrace the dream of peace rather than the nightmare of war.


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