Mending the rifts: If you will it, it is no dream

The State of Israel is a magnificent achievement of the Jewish people and Zionism; the prophets’ vision of the Return to Zion is coming true before our eyes, fulfilling the prophet Ezekiel’s Dry Bones prophecy and the prophet Amos’ revelation, “I will bring my people Israel back from exile.”

In parallel with the re-establishment of Jewish settlement in Israel in the 19th century came the vision of Benjamin Ze’ev Herzl and his colleagues in the Zionist congresses beginning in 1897; the Balfour Declaration of 1917; and the United Nations decision of November 29th, 1947. These bestowed a political facet upon the hope of generations.

The road was thorny with the miseries of exile and the Holocaust, yet, with tenacious political struggle, it ultimately led to a state. Although initially imperfect – there is no such thing as a perfect human creation – it is a wonderful achievement, not only as the defining ethos of a Jewish state, but also as a democratic state, inclusive of its minorities and striving, albeit not always sufficiently, for equality.

A comparison between Israel in the seventieth year of its establishment and the reality of my childhood in the first decade of the state reveals great progress in every field. We have come a long way towards realizing the principles stated in the Declaration of Independence — a magnificent document, suffused with Jewish and Zionist spirit, which strives for equality and peace.

That was the good news: however, there are quite a few other phenomena that are not positive, most of which revolve around the same baseless hatred that led to the destruction of the Second Temple.

These include the Wars of the Jews – both tribal and sectorial – and alienation from the other, with the “I” overpowering the “We”.

The sectorial discourse often overlooks Israel’s minorities, which comprise 20% of the state’s population, and disregard the principle of equality, which is one of the tenets of the Declaration of Independence. Forgotten too are our brothers and allies, the Jews of the Diaspora, with whom we are vitally linked.

The Israeli system is sorely in need of genuine efforts to bring people together and mend the rifts in society, instead of unraveling the fabric and widening the chasms.

On a personal note, as someone who has held various positions in public service for four and a half decades, these shortcomings cause me great sadness and I feel a burning need to correct them. If only the energy expended on the sectorial “I” for various issues, some of which are trivial and essentially unimportant – including some recent legislation on which an astounding amount of time has been spent – was dedicated instead to the truly important issues, we would be regarded differently by ourselves and others. We are dealing with conflicts that are not fostered by Jewish ethos, and solutions for divisive issues that would be acceptable to at least most, if not all, the population, are within reach.

However, there is now an idealistic initiative bringing together concerned business people and academics who are driven to act with decency and tolerance to mend the rifts and foster discourse. The Israeli Congress on Judaism and Democracy is scheduled to convene next week. It was initiated by Haim Taib and Yosef Zarzavsky from the world of business, together with Prof. Shahar Lifshitz, dean of Bar-Ilan University Law School, and Prof. Ariel Bendor, in an effort to generate a discourse focused on solutions to central issues of conflict. These issues require harmony and a peaceful alliance within the Israeli, Jewish and democratic fabric.

The Congress’s founders wisely established a diverse public advisory council comprised of men and women, who are secular, traditional, religious, haredi, Muslim Arabs, Christians and Druze, many of whom take part in the Israeli discourse. For lack of space I will not name them, but each and every one of them is a credit to the State of Israel.

The goal is to create circles of discussion and mediation, to arrive at a consensual essence for all aspects and principles of the Declaration of Independence. The topics will include: Who is a Jew (at times this is actually a question of Who is a Rabbi); marriage and divorce in Israel, a topic that is constantly unraveling; the character of the Sabbath in Israel; the status of women; the status of Israel’s minorities; and attitudes among the streams of the Jewish people in Israel and the Diaspora.

As for myself, years of experience and contact with all layers of Israeli society have left me with a deep conviction that it is essential and objectively possible for us to reach understanding among ourselves based on tolerant harmony between Jewish and democratic values. This can be achieved without injuring the cardinal beliefs of each group and while taking the other into consideration. This requires determination and common sense, and a mutual acquaintance that is currently extremely lacking. This is not easy and of course it requires persistence and persuasion. The Congress – so named for a reason – entreats us to walk this path.

We must be willing to invest resources and efforts in establishing a better society defined primarily by togetherness – without negating differences and diversity. In the timeless words of the visionary of the state of Israel, “If you will it, it is no dream.”

This op-ed appears ahead of the First Israeli Congress on Judaism & Democracy which will open, in the presence of President Reuven Rivlin, on February 11 at the International Conference Center (Binyenei Ha’Uma), Jerusalem. Elyakim Rubinstein, the Congress’s Honorary President, is the Deputy President (Ret.) of the Supreme Court Of Israel.

About the Author
Elyakim Rubinstein retired recently as deputy president of the Israeli Supreme Court.