Theodor Herzl had a very different image in mind when he envisioned the zionist state to what we know as the State of Israel, 2015 model. From a liberal light unto the nations it has become a racist fear mongering state, second only to North Korea as the most hated country in the world.
Since its foundation, Israel has grown more conservative with each election cycle. And while at first it was merely economically conservative, in the past 40 years it was becoming more religiously so.
Not that there weren’t political parties that called for a more Jewish-centric Israel, as opposed to a Hebrew one, but their ideas weren’t taken as granted. They were part of the discourse. Now the issue of religion rarely comes up because everyone assumes the same – this is a Jewish-Orthodox country, with Orthodox courts of “law”, and decisions regarding a person’s personal religion will be made either there or in the Knesset. A clerk from the ministry of interior will decide if a person is Jewish or not, based on their method of practicing Judaism.
Where’s the right to choose? Where’s the acceptance of the other? Why a Muslim person has a right to marry according to his faith under Israeli law, but a reform Jew can’t?
The right of return was based on the Nazi Nuremberg laws, that require one grandfather to be Jewish for a person to be labeled as one. Netanyahu calls for Jews to emigrate from Europe to Israel, did he bother checking if they’re Orthodox or not? Of course not. In his eyes, for this purpose, they’re Jews. But once they’re here, and they want to get married, or someone in their family died and they want to burry them in a Jewish cemetery, then they might discover they’re second class Israelis. Good enough for anti-semitism statistics, but not enough to have equal rights in the State of Israel.
The issue isn’t with the Orthodox criteria for who’s a Jewish person, it is with the state unacceptance of every other form of Judaism. Let the Orthodox have their school of thought, let Reform have theirs, same with Reconstructionists and Conservative. The situation is so absurd that Jews living in New York have more freedom to practice their faith than if they were living in Tel Aviv.
The country we live in today isn’t the one Herzl envisioned, and not the one Ben-Gurion announced it’s establishment. The balance has shifted. This is a religious Orthodox state and liberal views have no room in the public discourse.
We see it everywhere – the great gaps between rich and poor, the dismantlement of the social security network, the fear of once left wing politicians to voice their view on religiously sensitive political issue such as public transportation on a weekend, civil and not Orthodox Jewish marriage, operation of businesses on Shabbat, the occupation, the settlement industrial complex, the “kashrut” industry. All these issues that affect daily lives of millions of Israelis are discussed in depth because politicians are too afraid to raise them or them being shut up violently in the off chance that they do.
This country no longer stands for the values it was founded on. The young generation of 20-40 year olds grew up during the days of the Second Intifada and they are the ones voting for Bennet, Shas and Baruch Marzel. Even those among this group that care more about social issues will vote for Kahlon before they’ll vote for Meretz or the Arab parties. Because Kahlon is “one of theirs”. A religious conservative.
I’m not being naive. No political leader with governance aspirations will commit political suicide and declare himself an atheist or agnostic. Surely not in a religious country such as Israel. Even in less religious one it doesn’t happen. Even in Scandinavian countries that are considered to be as liberal as they come. In fact, the only elected head of state who’s also a self proclaimed atheist is new Greek PM Alexis Tsipras. He came to power after years of corruption from the country’s ruling monarchs and conservative leaders.
If I was being optimistic I would say that I hope we’re going in that direction. Unfortunately, we’re much more economically stable than Greece, and are much more conservative.
This country is no longer liberal. And by the looks of it soon it won’t be Jewish, if Bennet’s plan of annexation to be implemented. And it won’t be long – a few election cycles – 5-10 years, before he gets to a position where he can make it happen. And then what? Israel won’t be able to keep Arabs as second class citizens, they’ll get voting rights and, given that today they are already the majority in the area between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River, they are granted to take over the parliament. And it could happen in our lifetime.
Zionism has been around for about 120 years. The least we can do is give it a respectable send off.