When Jews returned to Palestine/Eretz Israel in the 19th century they created the infrastructure for a new beginning. They started to develop agriculture, not exactly a traditional Jewish undertaking in the diaspora and developed national and communal institutions, some of them groundbreaking. They founded the State of Israel in 1948 with a progressive Declaration of Independence and imbued it with the spirit of Jewish renewal and hope, modernity, liberalism, solidarity and brotherhood on the ashes of the Shoah. Zionism was destined to replace orthodox Judaism which had nothing timely to offer any more after having completed its job of maintaining Judaism in the diaspora over the millenia.
Secular Zionism was invented by Theodor Herzl primarily as a response to anti-Semitism. When implemented in Israel in earnest in the wake of the destruction of European Jewry, in addition to socialism, it drew heavily on ancient Hebrew motives. It limited itself to inspiration from the Tanach (the Hebrew bible) and connected directly to the times of the Palmach (the Hagana’s leadership corps at the time of creation of the State of Israel) to shed the ghetto mentality of the diaspora. Zionism took little if anything from the times inbetween, thus largely neglecting the considerable body of progressive Jewish thought that had developed in the diaspora from times immemorial, including more progressive interpretations of Judaism.
Nevertheless, secular Zionism managed to rule supreme between 1948 and 1967 while orthodox Judaism kept losing ground. Zionism seemed to be winning the battle of cultures but, having spent most of its energies on building the state, failed to establish itself as a progressive and inclusive alternative, one that could complete the transformation of the people of Israel to modernity and true democracy.
The conquest of areas of Eretz Israel in the 1967 Six Day War, parts that had not been incorporated into Israel at its inception, created an opening for a powerful response. Orthodoxy embarked on an astonishing recovery: Led by Gush Emunim, the messianic religious settler’s movement it started embracing nationalism big time followed by eager to compete Zionists who couldn’t resist the temptation of Eretz Israel. It has never looked back since.
Orthodoxy’s gradual adoption of nationalism of the basest kind, high birth rates among the religious population, similar nationalism supported by a growing part of the secular majority and a failure of secular Zionism to fight back forcefully has brought the State of Israel the present Netanyahu government: A chauvinist coalition one of whose major purposes has become to forge legislation for an untempered nation state in a liberated Eretz Israel. As if the State of Israel and its Declaration of Independence is not good enough. This coalition wants a nation state, full stop. It wants a nation state which gives clear preference to the Jewish majority over all other ethnic groups in the country, forever. This coalition will not consider Israel’s progressive Declaration of Independence as the only appropriate legal basis for its establishment. Israel, the Start-up nation whose innovative spirit, creativity and ingenuity continues to inspire the whole world has decayed politically and morally after being infected with the lethal bug of nationalism.
This nation state which was created to be the ultimate answer to anti-Semitism has been flaunting world opinon for years and has become the biggest single motivator of anti-Semitism in the world thereby endangering Jewish communities everywhere. This nation state that was destined to become a safe heaven for Jews from all over the world has, through its own misguided policies, become the place where Jews, while very well defended, are nevertheless under bigger physical threat than anywhere else in the world.
This nation state ignores many of the obligations that it committed itself to keep when it joined the United Nations and the Geneva conventions. It does not accept international interpretations of the laws that hold that the occupation of the West Bank is illegal, it claims that our status is different and that Israel, because of historical and legal reasons has certain rights and privileges. At the same time, this nation state is unable or unwilling to claim these privileges rightfully in a court of law or legalize them by annexing all the territories it claims.
This nation state cherishes land over people and for some strange reason is convinced that G-d will be with us, no matter how badly we conduct ourselves, not only in the court of public opinion, but according to our own Torah. We do all these objectionable things despite the fact that they clearly go against the holy obligations that we as Jews are supposed to observe, based on our own written and oral law and worse, based on our own tragic historical experience which should be a beacon always reminding us how far we have deviated from where we should be.
This is a nation state whose spiritual fabric is controlled by Jews whose definition of Judaism starts and ends with Kashrut, an ever increasing dose of misogyny, strict Shabbat observance, settling Eretz Israel and keeping out non-Jews, those with Jewish ancestry but not Jewish according to halacha (Jewish Law) and those who would like to convert. Orthodox Judaism, by virtue of state law, continues to hold a stranglehold over all issues of personal status and prevents religious equality for Jews from other denominations.
Despite having been founded by refugees and celebrating Passover, the ultimate reminder of how to treat the other, this is a nation state that actively discriminates against or mistreats the strangers amongst us, be they local Arabs or migrants and refugees whose misery has brought them here. It is a nation state that after trying once or twice in earnest to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians, has now decided to limit itself to go through the motions of peacemaking, if at all and is presently clearly not willing to make the necessary concessions to end the conflict. It would rather continue to settle the land of Israel at its convenience than compromise with the Palestinians who also claim some the land for which they have both moral and international legitimacy.
This is a nation state which insists on keeping a local Palestinian population under occupation for 47 years, an occupation that is considered illegal by the world community in toto, by every single other country in the world (!). During that time this nation state has killed thousands of Palestinians, maimed thousands more, jailed hundreds of thousands over the years and still keeps almost 10,000 in our jails. It still apprehends Palestininan minors and sometimes jails them, some of them younger than 10 years old. Among the things this nation state wants to permit forcefeeding jailed Palestinians who go on a political hunger strike, in abrogation of their human rights as prisoners, after keeping them for extended periods in administrative detention and without access to legal recourse.
This is a nation state that was created to unite its people behind it but through the controversial policies it insists on pursuing, is spreading strife and disunity among Jews and their communities the world over.
Calling this nation state Jewish, doesn’t make it so. Not by a long shot. The Jews as ethnic minorities were victims as citizens of unmitigated nation states more than any other peoples. As Jews we have an obligation to make this nation state worthy of its name. If we do not reaffirm that it is based on Israel’s Declaration of Independence without qualifications we will lose our moral right to a Jewish nation state and deservedly so.