About a week ago, in a rather drawn-out discussion of graduates from my alma mater in LinkedIn about whether Amanpour should have been granted an honorary degree, one of the participants, when questioned about his right to criticize Israel, referred to our common “Holy Land.” I assume he’s Christian, but that is of little matter.  His assumption immediately raised my doubts.

First, if Israel is your “holy land” (and all things considered, that encompasses quite a number of people), does that give you the right to judge it? To be concerned for its welfare and the welfare of the holy places, yes.  But to judge?  I thought to write to the alumnus that Israelis often don’t understand that particular attitude – especially when it leads to negative criticism.  They seem to have no problem for the blind support of evangelical Christians and born-agains like George W. Bush.  Still, is that assumption valid? I don’t think so, not because I’m against criticism but because the criticism will inevitably be shaped by religious expectations and assumptions that may not be relevant to what is actually taking place here and now.

Second, I was annoyed. I don’t regard Israel as my holy land.  I live here. His very assumption that we were sharing a similarly religious view of this land was incorrect. Let me clarify: I think that for any Jew for whom being Jewish is important, Israel is the center.  It is the homeland, the source of Jewish texts, Jewish history, and the Hebrew language – it is where a Jew has a sense of being most rooted to his past and most alive.  But it is not specifically “holy,” for “holy” implies a divinity.

When I visit the Western Wall and am informed that the Shekinah dwells there, I can appreciate the religious conviction of about 2000 years while not sharing it. I’ve never understood the idea of a god overseeing the fate of the Jewish people, while I do believe in a moral compass to history. For me, all religions are both true and false: false when they claim to hold an exclusive truth, which inevitably leads to hatred for those unfortunates who hold different beliefs; true, as they encourage religious awe and sense of communion and compassion for all things. A religious life can encourage a profound respect and consideration for others; in this respect, it is probably inimitable.

But again, this does not make Israel my holy land. It makes it a place where I can wish “Shabbat Shalom” on Fridays, or share holiday greetings with nearly everyone around.  There is, at times, a warm, communal feeling special to Israel.  Israel is my most intimate of lands, my familial homeland. For both Christians and Muslims, it can be neither of these. It can, after all, only be a holy land