TEL AVIV, Israel — The entire country watched live Thursday as Israel’s first lunar mission, Beresheet (“Genesis”), prepared to land.
With 13,000 meters to go, halfway through descent, the control room lost contact with the little spacecraft. It rebooted the ship and restarting the main engine, prompting cheers.
But it was too late; the main engine had failed to fire for long enough to control the descend. Beresheet landed too quickly; in other words, it crashed.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, newly-re-elected to an unprecedented fifth term, was in the audience. He was asked to say a few words — an almost impossible task. No politician wants to speak at a crash, to be linked somehow with a failure.
Yet Netanyahu took the microphone. He turned to the audience, shrugged, and said: “If at first you don’t succeed, try again.” He vowed that Israel would return to the moon in two to three years, and complete the mission.
Netanyahu’s perfect, off-the-cuff response shows why he was re-elected, defying the media, the “deep state,” and the exit polls. He is able to connect the aspirations of Israelis to a broader mission, to the world in general and beyond. In Netanyahu’s own resilience — his comeback from political defeat in the 1990s, his stand against Barack Obama’s hostile administration, his fight against spurious corruption charges — he embodies something of the Israeli character.
The Israeli moon mission was the result of a largely private sector-driven initiative, and partnerships with American companies like SpaceX. Netanyahu is the champion of both elements. More than any other Israeli leader, he has been responsible for the long-term reform of Israel’s economy away from statism and toward free-market innovation. And more than any statesman in Israel’s history, he has reached out to the U.S., speaking directly to the American people.
At the same time that Israel was watching the moon mission on Thursday, another mission failed to launch: that of Palestinian anti-Israel activist Omar Barghouti, who was barred from entering the U.S. as he was to embark on a speaking tour for “Israeli Apartheid Week.”
There will be howls of protest from those who claim that the Trump administration’s decision to keep Barghouti out of the country is an assault on free speech and academic freedom.
How ironic: the radicals who want to exclude Israelis from trade, from academia, and even from competitive sports demand now find that they themselves are boycotted. It is the perfect response to a campaign that does not actually seek to help Palestinians, but merely to damage Israel.
For nearly two decades, ever since the disastrous United Nations World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, Barghouti and others have tried to cast Israel as an “apartheid” state, encouraging the “boycott, divestment, sanctions” (BDS) movement to isolate and perhaps destroy it.
And yet Israel has survived — and thrived. The key has been innovation: a new security barrier (or “wall”) that uses high-tech sensors to keep suicide bombers out of Israeli cities; the Iron Dome missile defense system — another joint Israeli-American partnership — to stop Palestinian rockets from hitting Israeli civilians; and new space technology that has catapulted this tiny nation of some seven million people into the forefront of human ingenuity and exploration.
Israel’s opponents console themselves with political victories. The election of Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), the latter Palestinian-American, has brought a new cohort of anti-Israel left-wingers into the halls of the U.S. Congress. Omar, a BDS supporter, has also secured a place on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. And Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), the Democrats’ emerging ideological leader, empathizes strongly with their cause.
On college campuses, the enemies of Israel — and of the western liberal academic tradition — continue to win victories. Even Harvard, which was once a refuge from the anti-Israel hysteria at other Ivy League campuses like Columbia, has now succumbed, with the student council voting to provide $2,000 for Barghouti’s “Israeli apartheid week.”
The radical campaign against Israel has come with a rise in antisemitism against Jewish students, almost all of it driven by the left.
These are real threats to the long-term U.S.-Israel alliance, whose results will be evident the next time a Democratic administration takes office in the White House. The current field of Democratic presidential candidates almost seem to be competing with each other to offer anti-Israel statements and to condemn the Netanyahu government for existing.
And yet Israel thrives. While its enemies aim rockets at Israeli cities, Israel rides rockets to the moon.
Long ago, Israelis decided not to let their fate or well-being be determined by their enemies — or their own failures. There is a lesson in that for Americans — and for the whole world, especially for people with histories of persecution. In that, Israel’s lunar mission, while unsuccessful, is not just an achievement for the Jewish state, but all of humanity.