In recent weeks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has released powerful Facebook videos about diversity, peace, and many other important societal issues.
Of all these impactful sentiments, it was his message to the Arab citizens of Israel that resonated strongly with me. His call for the Arab citizens of Israel to take part and be welcomed in Israeli society reminded me of an important lesson I learned while on a recent trip to the Holy Land.
About a month ago, I had the incredible opportunity to attend a life-changing expedition to Israel. No, this wasn’t Birthright, and it wasn’t my first time in Israel either. This journey was about understanding Israel from a different perspective — not only as a Jewish state, but as home for all who choose it.
In previous trips, I prayed at the Western Wall, floated in the waters of the Dead Sea, and climbed to the highest point of Masada, yet in doing so, I only understood a part of what makes Israel so incredible. This time, I was exposed to the other fascinating cultures of Israel and understood their unique connections to the ancient land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
For the first time, I stepped foot in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and witnessed the spiritual wonder of the Christian faith. I entered a mosque and learned from a Sufi, a spiritual priest, about the mystical teachings of Islam — not extremist interpretations often portrayed in the media. I spoke with Arab and Palestinian leaders about coexistence, and how they too believe in Israel’s democratic and pluralistic values. Indeed I understood very quickly that Israeli society does more than just tolerate people of different backgrounds, faiths, and sexual orientations, they truly embrace and celebrate them.
When it comes to the Israeli Defense Forces, the evidence of inclusion is even clearer. “We had the privilege of speaking with some soldiers from the IDF who spoke freely about their homosexuality and how it was not something they felt ashamed to express, but rather free to celebrate.” Delaney Kahlert, a second-year student at San Diego State University, said. As each day passed, I felt as if my entire view of Israel changed and for the better.
When issues of social inequality arise, we are always told that as a people we need to become more “tolerant.” However, the way we move forward as a society is not tolerance, but acceptance. Israel is a thriving, diverse democracy because as a Jewish country, it accepts people from all walks of life. It is a beacon of progress and hope in an otherwise hostile region and has been at the forefront of progressive values throughout its 68 years of existence.
When Prime Minister Netanyahu calls for Arabs to play a role in society, he is not just asking them to get involved, but to invest in Israel’s future. The Prime Minister understands that Israel’s success comes in large part from Jews and Arabs living side by side, and working together towards meaningful coexistence. A prosperous Israel is one where the Jewish state is seen as a home for people from all backgrounds and who all have an equal opportunity to succeed.
Though there are still many issues that Israeli society must overcome, I am proud to be an American-Israeli, and as the activist Bassem Eid states, “Homeland is not the place where you are born, homeland is the place where you find justice, dignity and freedom.”