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Celebrating Israel’s 50th birthday Thursday, the liberal Israeli paper Ha’aretz lauded the country’s enormous achievements but said they have been “darkened by clouds of failure and hardship.” Israel, it said in an editorial, is “at the top of the ladder of inequality among developed nations” and has limited its citizens’ freedom of choice in important areas because of “a political covenant with the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox streams.” Ha’aretz also condemned the “skeptical and negligent approach of all the governments until the late 1970s toward peace agreements with Arab countries.” Israel will need “spiritual strength” if it is to transform itself “from a national movement to a civilized and developed nation,” it added. “Improving democracy, firmly establishing the rights of the individual, granting equal expression to minorities, supporting the weak, encouraging excellence and maintaining a non-patronizing relationship with Diaspora Jews are the necessary conditions for this to happen.”
The conservative Jerusalem Post said in an editorial Wednesday that “[s]omehow, even during our birthday celebration, speaking of achievements is not quite in fashion.” Even so, it added, “The resurrection of an ancient people in its own land, following the destruction of a third of its number in the Holocaust, is unique in history and represents ample cause for celebration.” Quoting an opinion poll in Ha’aretz that showed 82 percent of Israelis expect Israel will live to celebrate its 100th anniversary, the Post said it wasn’t the “confidence of the overwhelming majority” that was striking but the question itself: “[W]hat other nation celebrating its jubilee would even ask such a question?” In a jubilee interview with the newspaper, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Israel “the greatest success story of the 20th century, and in many ways the greatest triumph of a people of all the nations of history.”
The Israeli anniversary was the subject of front-page stories and editorials throughout Europe Thursday, many of them emphasizing current tensions within Israel at least as much as the reasons for rejoicing. Le Figaro of Paris carried an interview with Leah Rabin, widow of assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in which she said his killer, Yigal Amir, was “the product of a climate orchestrated by Likud.” She added, “I absolutely blame ‘Bibi’ for the hate campaign he carried on against my husband.” If “Israeli society is desperate” today and “the young want to leave the country,” it’s because of him, she said: “This government must be overthrown by any means.”
The liberal French daily Libération devoted its whole front page and five inside pages Thursday to the Israeli jubilee, including a two-page joint interview that Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres gave Ha’aretz and three European newspapers. “We are cousins, we were cousins, we will remain cousins,” said Arafat. “For Israel to remain a Jewish state, we have to have a Palestinian state,” said Peres. Libération’s editorial said that deep rivalries between Israeli communities of different regional origins explained “the acceptance of the sinking of a peace process the success of which was the essential condition for Israel’s entry into adulthood.”
In Rome, La Repubblica headlined its main Israeli jubilee story “The fifty joyless years of Israel”; Turin’s La Stampa headlined its “Israel, fifty years of joy and mourning.” In Madrid, ElMundo called on Israel in an editorial to end its present “stubbornness” and to ensure the peace process resumed, “so that in 2048, Israel will be carrying on as strongly as now … and that a viable and peaceful Palestine will be keeping it company.” In London, the Times said Israel would remain “a restless, innovative society” and continue to make sacrifices to support its own. “Israel at 50 is not facing a midlife crisis, but a succession of second childhoods,” the Times said. “It is unlikely that ‘normality,’ whatever that is, will prove a blessing or burden for Israel in the near future.” The liberal Guardian wished Israel “all the best on its 50th birthday, but urge[d] it yet again–people and government–to try harder still to achieve the just and lasting peace they and their neighbours so badly need.”
In Paris, Le Monde’s editorial Thursday was devoted to the recent advance of the right-wing, racist, anti-Semitic People’s Union Party, which won 13 percent of the vote in regional elections in Saxony-Anhalt in eastern Germany. It said the result was “very worrying” and reflected not only specific grievances in the east but also more general German fears: “Immigration, Europe, and globalisation are nourishing deep identity anxieties,” it observed. Slogans such as “Germany first” are becoming more and more fashionable, and they are even being used by the Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder to increase his chances of becoming chancellor in September, LeMonde said. On another note: A survey in the paper Wednesday revealed the principal cause of popular discontent in France is noise.
The Italian and Spanish papers mainly led their front pages with congratulatory remarks on the imminent launch of the European single currency, which both countries have qualified to join. Corriere della Sera of Milan carried a front-page commentary by Ennio Caretto titled “The American Euro-Fear” on the reportedly growing anxiety in the United States about the effect the new Euro may have on the dollar.