image Photo: Flash90

Israel celebrates 75th Independence Day

The Jewish State and its allies celebrate the country’s rebirth in 1948.

By Erin Viner

Annual Independence Day commemorations began last night with torch lighting ceremony in Jerusalem attended by dignitaries and honored guests, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Independence Day directly follows Memorial Day honoring the country’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror, which concluded at sundown.

While both dates have traditionally served as markers of unity in a nation that has fought repeated wars since its creation, this year’s celebration comes amid mass protest over deeply divisive plans by the government to push through restrictions on the judiciary.

As millions of Israelis celebrated at barbecues, picnics, private and street parties, tens of thousands of others demonstrated at an “Independence Party” in Tel Aviv last night, where they waved blue and white Israeli flags that have become a symbol of the weekly protests against the judicial overhaul plans – now entering their 16th week.

While Independence Day is traditionally an occasion for the open display of patriotic unity, Israelis remain polarized over the planned legislation that proponents say would restore balance to Israeli authorities and critics say removes checks on those in power.

Many view the dispute as one of the worst crises since the foundation of the country 75 years ago.

“This could be like the last Independence Day as we know it. Next year it might be completely different, it might be like different rules or restrictions,” protester Ido Durst, 23, told Reuters. “We have to make a stand especially today.”

Israeli President Isaac Herzog acknowledged the rift in a celebratory greeting.

“Shalom, dear friends from around the world! As Israel reaches a historic milestone—75 years of independence!—we have the opportunity to pause and reflect with gratitude on the miracle that is our Jewish and democratic state,” he said, before going on to say, “Of course, this time of celebration comes at a moment of reckoning, what we call in Hebrew ‘cheshbon nefesh,’ for the State of Israel and the Jewish People at large.”

Pointing out that, “Like many democratic societies around the world, our collective, within Israel and between Israel and our global Jewish communities, has been facing real questions about who we are, and what we would wish for our beloved country,” the Head of State stressed, adding, “Of course, we must not forget that asking ourselves questions about our identity and our joint purpose is a gift. Having a country to shape together, to share together, to argue over, even, was a distant dream not long ago. And it is a blessing that we should not take for granted.”

President Herzog continued, “So dear friends, these turbulent times, highlight just how much we have built in this country over these past 75 years, and just how precious it is to so many. It highlights the deep caring of millions of people inside Israel and beyond it, to whom our country profoundly matters. And it is just that quality of deep caring that has helped our people survive and thrive for millennia,” before issuing a call for, “Dear friends, let us come together at this meaningful moment to celebrate everything we have built together and everything that we have yet to build. May we all have a wonderful Independence Day for the State of Israel! Best wishes to you all from the President’s Residence in Jerusalem. Yom Ha’Atzmaut Sameach (Happy Independence Day in Hebrew), friends!”

One of the day’s most popular events one was the annual Israel Air Force (IAI) flyover f fighter jets and helicopters across the entire country, in a tribute to the 120 outstanding soldiers, representing all branches of the IDF. For the first ever time, aircraft from the United States, United Kingdom, Italy and Germany joined the IAF in the skies above Israel during the annual display.

The 60th International Bible Contest was also held in Jerusalem, as is traditional on Independence Day. 16 finalists of the overall 41 contestants from 20 nations around the world participated in the competition, which was won by Israeli religious seminary student Emouna Cohen.

World leaders also paid tribute to Israel’s anniversary.

“On behalf of the people of the United States, I extend our best wishes to the people of Israel as they celebrate 75 years of statehood,” said United States President Joe Biden in a statement. “When David Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s independence in 1948, he announced the birth of a state ‘based on freedom, justice and peace.’ Just 11 minutes later, President (Harry) Truman announced that the United States would be the first nation to recognize the government of Israel. Today, we are still proud to be counted among the first of Israel’s friends and allies. And the United States recognizes the resilience of Israel’s democracy—the bedrock for our robust and special relationship.”

Describing himself as “a life-long friend and supporter of the State of Israel” who has “worked my entire career to deepen and strengthen our partnership” to witness “the benefits to both our nations,” the US leader said he wanted to mark the occasion by reaffirming “our enduring friendship and commitment to Israel’s security. Yom Ha’atzmaut Sameach!”

The US House of Representatives passed a resolution by an overwhelming majority to “encourage the expansion and strengthening of the Abraham Accords” 2020 normalization of ties between Israel and several Arab states, to “ensure that existing agreements reap tangible security and economic benefits for the citizens of those countries and all peoples in the region.”

In other signs of solidarity, many American landmarks were illuminated in the blue and white colors of Israel’s national flag, including New York’s Empire State Tower and City Hall, San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid Tower and the Niagara Falls. New York Mayor Eric Adams today raised the Israeli flag on Wall Street alongside interim Consul General Israel Nitzan.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen released a video statement in which she commented, “75 years ago a dream was realized with Israel’s Independence Day. after the greatest tragedy in human history, the Jewish people could finally build a home in the Promised Land. Today, celebrate 75 years of a vibrant democracy in the heart of the Middle East.”

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier also issued a video statement, saying that his people “are full of admiration as we look to Israel’s development and flourishing through the decades, and we want to use to use all the strength of our friendship to support Israel’s path to the future in freedom, justice and security with equality of social and political rights, as the Declaration of Independence promised all citizens 75 years ago.”