Late Friday, I was accused of “high treason” against the State of Israel. Calling someone’s loyalty into question is a tactic most frequently employed by far right nativist and fascist movements, and such a crime is not one can commit through convictions or their expression. But beyond the fundamental baselessness of the accusation, I would like to take seriously its general implications of disloyalty toward the State of Israel, of which I see myself as a committed and yet devotedly dissenting citizen.
All states are means, not ends. Anyone who sees a state as an end in itself is flirting with totalitarianism. For most citizens of democratic republics, the state is a framework that enables individuals and communities to live securely and prosper. It is a means to these ends. And security in a republic depends upon the existence of structures that ensure that the power of the state cannot be turned upon indivuduals and communities unjustly without avenues for redress and correction.
No republics are perfect. The question of loyalty to a republic is always a question of the republic’s loyalty to its objectives. Given that they are ideal objectives, republics will always fall short. The question for their citizens is, then, if any republic at any given moment has lost the ability to function as a framework for the pursuit of those ideal objectives. In other words, has it become such a fatally flawed means that it can no longer function or be fixed with regard to its ends?
The State of Israel states two objectives in its founding document:
THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
The first objective is to ensure a National Home for the Jewish People in its historic homeland by absorbing Jewish refugees and encouraging Jewish immigration. The second objective is to function as a liberal society and state for all of its citizens, Jewish and non-Jewish alike in equal measure. It is noteworthy, in my view, that a great deal more text is devoted here to the second objective than to the first. One must keep in mind that several preceding paragraphs are devoted to establishing the People of Israel’s right to live in this land and to its acute need for self-determination in the form of a dedicated nation state at this historical juncture. But this paragraph is the one that outlines the nature of the state, and it leans heavily on its second objective, to be a state for all its citzens.
The semi-colon that divides between the first and the second objectives is found in the original Hebrew text as well. What is a semi-colon? It marks a division of thought that is stronger than a comma, but weaker than a full-stop. One of its more specific functions is to connect parallel ideas of equal weight without subordinating one to the other.
This has always been the challenge of the state: to offer national rights to one people while respecting the individual rights of all people and to do so in a way that does not subordinate the latter to the former. In practice, it has fallen far short. Within a year or so of this document’s ratification, the State of Israel saw fit to prohibit approximately 700,000 non-Jewish non-combatants from returning to their homes as was their right. There are arguments over how and why these people left this or that place, but there is no argument that the decision to close the door on their return was taken by the government of the State of Israel. The state also saw it necessary to place its non-Jewish citizens under military rule for roughly a decade and a half. And it has not only been “open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles” but has dedicated state mechanisms and public funds to recruitment and support of Jewish immigrants in the name of ensuring a Jewish majority. All of this raises the question of whether it was ever possible to pursue the second objective on equal footing with the first. As such, is this a shortcoming that can be repaired or is this a fatal flaw in the structure of the state?
I have long since taken the position that a state cannot devote itself to the protection and facilitate the expression of national rights for some and individual rights for all. Something in the structure of the state must change. But I remain devoted to changing that structure from within. I do not advocate taking up arms against the state. I do not advocate giving material support to those who would take up arms against it or call for its overthrow. I certainly do not care less for the security and prosperity of Jewish citizens than for non-Jewish citizens. Commitment to equality entails assertion of one’s own rights in parallel to those of others. But I do call for fundamental change effected through non-violent means. And I believe, based on ample testimony from leaders of the military, state security and intelligence movements, that Israel is in a secure enough place that this does not threaten it.
I have distilled my views on the State of Israel and what I seek from its structure of governance down to two basic principles, red lines if you will:
1. A secular democratic republic with full separation of religion and state. The apparatus of the state should be sensitive to the religious commitments of all its communities, but none should be elevated over the other. Rationale for legislation may be inspired by traditional ideas and principles, but should be articulated with secular rationale. This means if one cannot locate a secular rationale, a bill cannot be made law. Otherwise, the legislative branch will be open to communities attempting to elevate their will over one another.
2. Constitutional recognition of Jewish historical rights and Palestinian historical rights in equal measure. I do not compromise on the former or the latter. They must be considered of equal validity for both practical and moral reasons. Without equal recognition, the state will not be able to offer its non-Jewish citizens national expression. This will continue to result in inequities that will continue to foster enmity and threaten the stability of the state, both politically and materially, impeding its ability to offer security and prosperity to its citizens. And as such, immigration and asylum rights for Jews and Palestinians must be available in equal measure.
These changes in the structure in the state are nothing more and nothing less than a way to make that semi-colon a non-subordinating dinstinction of the two parallel objectives in Israel’s declaration of independence. In practical terms, this might be implemented in a single state with a strong constitution supported by a majority, or in a confederated two-state solution. I do not see a full two-state solution as possible or desirable, as any de jure arrangement would very likely leave the Palestinian state de facto subordinate to the Jewish state. I oppose such an arrangement on ethical grounds, but even more so as I believe it would continue to threaten the stability of the political framework and thus fail to ensure the security and prosperity of the citizenry.
Is this “high treason”? In truth, this wasn’t a new charge. “Kapo” is also a name that has been thrown at me. But I submit that what I propose is nothing more than what is necessary to realize the objectives stated clearly in the State of Israel’s founding document, objectives to which I remain wholly committed in equal measure.
The Jewish nation’s struggle for self-determination and independence continues. Both hang in the balance as they have for every second of every minute of every day since David Ben Gurion declared the State with the above words. I see myself as participating in this struggle and devoted to it, as a Jew and as an Israeli, whether I struggle non-violently against my fellow citizens, my fellow Jews, or anyone else. And I would suggest that anyone who cries “treason” in response does so in an attempt to silence and demonize dissent, and impedes the objectives of the state and the welfare of its citizens.