The year it all changed
On May 24, Israelis celebrated the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem in the streets around the Jerusalem Great Synagogue. (photo from Ashernet)
Everything changed in 1967. Fifty years ago, Canada celebrated its 100th birthday, hosting an Expo in Montreal and, at least in the narrative we like to tell ourselves, came into our own as a country.
We became a country in 1867, “came of age,” historians tell us, at Vimy Ridge, in 1917, gained full autonomy from Britain’s Parliament in 1931, and adopted our very own constitution in 1982. But 1967 is when we stopped being a baby-country and became a confident, adult-like state on the world stage.
It’s possible that few Canadians pinpoint 1967 as a particular turning point. The various measures of Canadian pride – the U.S. exchange rate, hockey titles, military engagements, pop cultural contributions – have ebbed and flowed in the successive decades. National unity saw multiple flashpoints, from the October Crisis just three years after the euphoria of the Centennial, to the referenda of 1980 and 1995, the latter of which almost ended the nation. Free trade and globalization altered us once again.
“Canadianness” itself changed dramatically in this half-century, from a concept rooted in British heritage to a recognition of “two founding nations” to celebrating multiculturalism and a belated recognition of the rights and tragic history of indigenous peoples resulting directly from our national project. In this time, too, Canada has gone from a staid, comparatively conservative place to one of the most liberal countries in the world. Institutionalized antisemitism, which was still rife in the Canada of 1967, has become almost entirely absent (although incidents and acts of antisemitism, like much else, continue to occur).
While nothing really substantive changed overnight, 1967 is a symbolic moment in Canadian history.
For Israel, 1967 had symbolism but, in very real, tangible and irreversible ways, it was a year when everything changed. While it didn’t happen overnight, it did take a mere six days. The Six Day War, which began June 5, 1967, literally and figuratively reshaped Israel, the Middle East, Diaspora Jewry and global diplomacy.
In its early years, Israel experienced exponential population growth like almost no country on earth has seen. It went from the proverbial desert to a blooming success, first through innovations in agriculture and, later, in technology and almost every other sector of human endeavour. A successful nation was born. But the Jewish state was never accepted by the neighbours it defeated in 1948-’49 and, in 1967, war came again.
Yet the result was so quick and so decisive that some viewed it as a sign of Divine intervention or evidence of chosenness. More realistically, it was a people holding their ground because there was no alternative.
The experience affected not only Israelis but Jews everywhere. Canadian Jews and others in the Diaspora volunteered, sent money, prayed and organized. Less than two decades after it had begun, Jewish self-determination in the ancient land and modern state of Israel hung by a thread. And then victory.
The anxiety before and jubilation after transformed into something new and unexpected. The control by Israel over the West Bank (formerly part of Jordan) and the Gaza Strip (which had been under Egyptian control) led to a new dynamic in Israel – and in the world’s approach to Israel. Having been seen as the underdog, Israel in 1967 transformed – in the eyes of the world and, to an extent, in the eyes of Israelis themselves – into a powerful regional force.
The occupation has been the defining foreign policy concern for Israel for half a century now and affects the way Israel is treated on the global stage. Jerusalem, reunified under Israeli control during the war, is a flashpoint of local and international conflict over competing claims. Israelis will likely be forced to reckon with the legacy of 1967 for many years to come, as it seeks to protect both the democratic and Jewish natures of the state, as well as reaffirming its commitment to minority rights and to pluralism.
Despite this overarching conflict and its associated violence and threats, Israel has developed an economy and culture that is a human-made miracle of the modern world. The list is familiar and endless: scientific and academic achievement, technological innovation, global emergency response, lifesaving medical advancements. Even Israel’s intelligence capabilities, born of necessity, are so advanced that the president of the United States foolishly can’t help bragging to adversarial foreign despots that he has insider intel.
Amid all these challenges and hard work, Israelis self-report in international studies to be among the happiest people on the planet. (Canadians also rank high.) Even with room for improvement, this reality is perhaps the greatest achievement of all.