Michael Boyden

Does Israel have a Future?

We Jews have an uncanny habit of practising hara-kiri. I don’t mean the ritualistic suicide practised by the Japanese samurai, but rather the ability to self-destruct. We’ve done it before.

Following Rehoboam becoming king in 926 BCE, Israel split into two kingdoms. The Northern Kingdom remained independent until 722 BCE, while the Southern Kingdom was conquered by the Neo-Babylonian Empire in 586 BCE.

In the year 73 CE, the 960 Jewish zealots living atop Masada preferred to commit suicide rather than fall into the hands of the Roman Empire.

Some sixty years later, Bar Kochva and his followers mounted a revolt against the Roman occupation. Rabbi Akiba mistakenly acknowledged him as “the king messiah”. However, the rebellion was savagely put down, and Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel ended for almost 2,000 years.

As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the State of Israel, some are questioning whether our country has a future.

The proposed judicial reforms being advanced by the government have exposed the cracks in Israeli society and brought into question what unites us. Defence Minister Galant warned of the impact on the military of the current divide.

Last week’s Ha’aretz supplement featured an article by the economist Prof. Dan Ben-David in which he questioned whether Israel could survive with an increasingly large percentage of uneducated charedim unable to make a meaningful contribution to Israeli society.

If that were not enough, messianic, religious zealots and the most right-wing government in Israel’s history make it unlikely that we shall be able to arrive at a two-state solution even if the Palestinians were prepared – which they aren’t – to compromise. As a consequence, Israel will become an apartheid state.

We Israelis used to say: “Yi-yeh b’seder” – it will be okay. However, many are now wondering whether that will indeed be the case unless Israel’s political leaders are prepared to take the bold steps necessary to ensure that we have a future.

What are those “bold steps”?

Let us see the government and the Opposition reaching sensible compromises on the proposed judicial reforms.

Let us see a government that insists that the charedi school system in its entirety integrate a core curriculum to ensure that its children have the skills required to pursue further education.

Let us see a government unprepared to be held to ransom by messianic zealots.

I don’t see it happening, but as our national anthem puts it: “Od lo avda tikvateynu” – we haven’t yet lost our hope.

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.