Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Israel: The Jewish State


Israel: The Jewish state.  Is it a good thing? Is it necessary?  Of course Israel is a good thing and it is necessary, but should it be a Jewish state?  I do not ask this question flippantly or frivolously.  With My Main Mensch Moshe, say that ten times fast, here in Israel we switch from discussing business to the future of Israel.  Where I am just a casual observer, my man shares with me his thoughts, experiences, opinions, etc. His experiences are first hand and he Obi Wan Kenobi to my Luke Skywalker.
Last March I wrote of being a secular American Jew in Israel which included this excerpt:
Let’s go back to the idea of the Jewish state and the man most often credited with spreading the concept; Theodor Herzl.  Herzl is credited with being the driving force of the Zionist movement, though he did not create the name, following the publication of his 1897 book Der Judenstaat.  The movement promoted the settling of European Jews in the ancient biblical Jewish homeland of Palestine.  Having witnessed Jewish persecution in the late 19th century across all of Europe, Herzl concluded:
“The Jewish question persists wherever Jews live in appreciable numbers. Wherever it does not exist, it is brought in together with Jewish immigrants. We are naturally drawn into those places where we are not persecuted, and our appearance there gives rise to persecution. This is the case, and will inevitably be so, everywhere, even in highly civilised countries—see, for instance, France—so long as the Jewish question is not solved on the political level. The unfortunate Jews are now carrying the seeds of anti-Semitism into England; they have already introduced it into America.”
In its simplest definition: Zionism is a nationalistic movement that supports the establishment and protection of a Jewish State for the Jewish People to preserve the Jewish culture.  The drive to create a homeland where persecution does not exist, where being a Jew is not punishable.
I still believe in the Herzl’s vision, but I am troubled by the potential perversion of Herzl’s dream.  Preserving the Jewish culture at the expense of another culture is not the doings of a  great society.  And yes Israel has faced clear and present dangers throughout its brief history, but there comes a time when self-preservation can become apartheid.  And yes I am aware of the ugly connotation of the word, but when you perform social and economic discrimination based on race, it is what it is. 
To make matters worse, anyone who criticizes Israel is called anti-Semitic and when the New York Times is called anti-Israel we have entered strange times.  But I get the sense that the new right-of-center Israel, the byproduct of the influx and propagation of nationalistic Russian emigrants and the high birthrates of religious conservatives, is willing to preserve the Jewish culture at all costs.  But will it still be Israel? 
Discrimination plays out every day across the globe, but state sponsored discrimination is another dangerous matter.  Right wing politicians have used demagoguery to promote nationalism for centuries and we see varying degrees of this in both developing and developed nations.  It is ugly and it is denies the laws of nature.  Israel is proud of its status as the only true democracy in the region and can point to its neighbors’ atrocities that have become all too familiar.  But shouldn’t we expect more? 
So yes, I believe in the ideal of a Jewish state.  I believe after millennia of anti-Semitism, persecution, and genocide a Jewish state is necessary.  But if in becoming and preserving that Jewish state makes Israel what it has fought against, does it really represent what it was intended to become?
Aren’t all men created equal and born with unalienable rights?

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