As the seventh and penultimate day of Chanukah arrives, the candles are once again lit, wispy cotton wicks floating in pools of golden oil, touched by a burst of white flame. In Israel the spreading fire that killed 42 people and consumed 4 million has finally abated. And the freeze that Obama attempted to impose on hundreds of thousands of Israelis also melted in the light. And after a severe drought, rain has begun to fall upon the land. But the worst is not over. Not by far.
A united nation determined to protect its independence can only be broken through terrible force. But that description cannot be applied to Israel today. Like the Maccabee kings, its prime ministers have learned to come when Rome calls. And they have also come to believe that if they do not do what they are told, then Rome will remove them or take away their sovereignty as a nation. Its politicians and power brokers care more about their own ends, than the survival of the State of Israel. Which is why they are more willing to listen to Washington or Moscow, than to their own citizens. Or to plan for their country's future, rather than for their own.
The news is not nearly as bad on the 'street level' where despite housing numerous quarreling communities, from the religious to the secular, and the imported cultures of a hundred countries from the East to the West, most Israelis agree on the survival of the State of Israel and the need to fight terror. But the country's political system makes it virtually impossible to implement them or to maintain a stable government. And like Western cultural elites, the Israeli cultural elite is a self-destructive leftist mess that is doing everything possible to destroy its own country.
Netanyahu is one of the best and worst Israeli Prime Ministers, because he combines economic reforms with a spineless foreign policy. And that he is to be preferred, because the only alternative is a Kadima drone or a Labor leftist who would give away everything without having to be asked twice, shows just how bad the crisis of sovereignty is.
Meanwhile on the left Barak and Livni are showing off Israel's crisis of unity by strongly hinting to Washington D.C. that if Netanyahu's government were to fall, then they would be much more reasonable about the country's sovereignty and its borders. And the Beltway establishment has responded by trying to pressure Netanyahu into tossing out two immigrant parties, one of Middle Eastern Jews and one of Russian Jews, and replace them with Livni's Kadima party. A party that is left wing not because it believes in anything, but because that's what Obama wants.
The Israeli right has failed to produce leaders. Begin is a well-loved failure who began the process of turning over Israeli territory in exchange for pieces of paper and presided over the disastrous Lebanon War. Shamir proved too weak to do anything but hold the course. And Netanyahu turned out to be even weaker. The illusion of Labor leadership died after the Yom Kippur War. And the Likud is overstaffed with 'princes' like Olmert, Netanyahu and Livni who are where they are because of the role their parents played in the party. Meanwhile the Knesset is padded out with ethnic and religious parties who only exist to take a set amount of money out of the budget and pass it on to their supporters, while nurturing their grievances against the country and all the other ethnic and religious parties competing for those same Shekels.
Begin's worst failure was his refusal to attack the culture of government bureaucracy that his Labor predecessors had installed as a reward for their own party members. That bureaucracy has since become a Praetorian Guard, investigating and removing Prime Ministers and Presidents on corruption charges when the right strings are pulled. The false rape charges against President Katzav, manufactured in order to allow Peres to replace him, showed that the "Guard" was willing to drag Israel's reputation through the mud just to reward one of their own failed ex-PM's with a ceremonial position at the top.
And Netanyahu is well aware that his own time may come, when the constant investigations that serve as warning shots will suddenly bear fruit. Then the headlines will suddenly be full of stories more damaging than revelations about a bed installed in his plane, and parliamentarians who live the high life because they were given a number on a party list while children in the working class towns of Israel go hungry, will put on the mantles of justice and the press will call for his head.
A similar situation led to the fall of the Maccabee dynasty, a civil war and eventually a full-fledged Roman takeover. The miracle of Chanukah eventually drowned in power plays between warring factions. The light that burned for eight days could not withstand the unwillingness of powerful men to stand by a Jewish state, rather than sell out to foreign tyrants.
Israel was rebuilt based on a consensus of mingled history, idealism and survival. That consensus maintained a fragile unity, in the face of conflicts and contradictions-- but as the years have worn on, that consensus has begun to fall apart. The country has come a long way from the Kibbutz and the agricultural ideal is now mostly vested in Religious Zionists, not the old Socialists who long for the bright lights of Paris, not the privatized communal farms of today. And they are the only people who are still invested in the land. The left has moved on. The right has faded away into memorials and commemorations, which their sons and daughters cynically attend before going back to selling off the country to the highest bidder.
The old socialists have had their vision of Israel broken apart before their eyes, and they've turned on the country as a whole. They are willing to give away the land, because they have no use for it anymore. An Israel that is based on free enterprise and is not run by their comrades is not a country they want to be part of. They know that they can't turn the clock back, and so they've turned on Israel instead. It has failed to live out their 19th century vision of agrarian socialism and so they want to turn it over to a politically correct minority, that is also the regional majority.
The right has also lost its vision for the land. The dwindling Israel at the mercy of great powers is not what they envisioned, but it happened on their watch. And they have no way to reverse the process. To turn Israel back into a confident and strong nation. Unlike the left, they have failed to pass on their legacy to a new generation. While the left has radicalized, the right has become more moderate. Its horizons have shrunk. It can talk about Trumpledor or Avraham Stern, but not about the future. Because it no longer sees the future.
The only people who still have a vision for Israel's future that doesn't depend on its dissolution, are Religious Zionists who have not lost hope, because they still have faith in a divine plan. They have worse setbacks than the left or the right, but those have still not broken them, because their vision is religious, rather than idealistic, and much less dependent on the realization of a linear program. But even they can be broken. And the political authorities are doing everything to break them. Because if their vision for the land has fallen apart, no one else may fulfill theirs.
A situation in which hope has vanished from Jerusalem and resides among the hillsides, all too closely echoes the events of the original Chanukah. And not for the first time in the history of the land either. Chanukah temporarily bought time, but did not stop the clock. The same fault lines that led to the events of Chanukah brought down the country not long after.
The signing of Israel's Declaration of Independence left many of those fundamental questions unanswered. And that is only natural. Countries develop their identity and ideals over time. But Israel is tearing itself apart, its morale is in decline and it is undergoing dramatic changes. Its survival is on the line, not just in the face of terror or war, but of its internal tensions and its interaction with Europe and America. To be sovereign, Israel must be united. Not under one political party, but a consensus of what the country is. What it should be. Not in every detail, but enough to command the loyalty of its people and the commitment of its leaders.
As Chanukah winds down and parents distribute 'Chanukah gelt', chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil, to the children-- they are commemorating the restoration of a Hebrew currency after the defeat of the Seleucid Empire which had banned such a Jewish nationalist symbol. These shining candies are symbols of ancient Israeli sovereignty minted in defiance of an empire. They remind us of one of the things that the Maccabees fought for. Sovereignty. As the light of another Chanukah's menorah goes out, these symbols of freedom remind us of what it is we are still fighting for.