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Somber Independence Day in Israel

Israelis celebrated the 37th anniversary of their independence today in a less than joyous mood. Festivities were muted. There were far fewer flags on display than in past years, less bunting and ribbon-bedecked portraits of national leaders on commercial premises, more modest decorations and fewer colored lights on public buildings, reflecting budget cuts and the high cost of electricity.

For the first time since the anguished days following the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the national spirit is low. It was mirrored in President Chaim Herzog’s Independence Day address, broadcast on radio and television last night.

He dwelt on what he saw as the most serious threats to Israeli society: the “grave economic crisis”, the armed conflict in Lebanon not yet fully ended and, “internal problems that give me particular cause for concern” — extremism, fanacticism, racism, which threaten the fabric of Israel’s democrary.

Sullen, heavily overcast skies, chill winds and unseasonably low temperatures contributed to the somber mood though they did not keep tens of thousands of Israelis from the beaches, picnic grounds and camping sites. By mid-morning, parking lots were filled to capacity at those sites.

Thousands more Israelis, many accompanied by their children, strolled through military bases and installations which traditionally are open to the public on Independence Day. They viewed the new, sophisticated weaponry and other equipment of the Israel Defense Force, military hardware they had heard or read about but never had a chance to see.

Nevertheless, Herzog’s words appear to have had an impact. “This 37th Independence Day falls in a difficult time, but one not without hope and expectation,” he said. “We are still in the throes of a grave economic crisis, the armed struggle in Lebanon has not yet been concluded, and peace is still not assured on our northern borders.”

EXTREMISM IS OF PARTICULAR CONCERN

The Chief of State added: “It is our internal problems that give me particular cause for concern. Extremism still flourishes and to our sorrow, marginal elements in our society — particularly young people — have become the captives of strange, violent doctrines held by fanatical groups, alien to the true spirit of Israel.

“On the margins of our society, we hear advocacy of racist concepts and of actions that contradict the Torah and tradition of Israel and the values of our society. The tensions in religious circles have also become more severe and give cause for anxiety because of their characteristic tendency to escalate, and the very few factors preaching and practicing moderation and restraint.”

The President singled out no group or individual. But in a country as small as Israel, specifics are not necessary. The public knows to what and whom he referred.

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