Israel currently finds herself locked in a historical debate with respect to what the future direction of the country should be. It is not about `’right versus left” but rather about should the country be Israeli first or Jewish first.
Let us look at a few facts. The founder of the Zionist Movement, Theodor Herzl, was a secular Jew. His idea of a “Jewish State” was similarly secular in nature. So were the vast majority of the Jewish pioneers who came to Israel during the first waves of Aliyah. Almost all of Israel’s political and military leaders have come from a secular Zionist background, including oddly enough, our current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
The trend to a “Jewish State” for some versus an “Israeli State” for all was unwittingly put into motion at the beginning of the reborn State of Israel. Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, viewed national unity of the new nation already under attack to be of paramount importance and made 3 major concessions to Israel’s orthodox population: 1) Not to change the religious “status quo” then in existence; 2) to grant a military exemption to the approximately 600 students studying torah at various yeshivot; 3) to allow “religious parties” to participate in the Knesset. Hence the separation of “church and state” was abrogated from the establishment of the State of Israel.
Again it was mostly non-secular Israelis who fought for all of us in 1967 and took back Judea and Samaria; as well as the Golan and Gaza. And then, once again, the secular majority looked the other way while Gush Emunim put up settlements without Government approval. From a historical and a security standpoint Jews have always had a case to settle in Judea and Samaria. However, for the first time, we now began to hear that it was our right and obligation to settle throughout the newly freed territories because “God willed this land to the Jews”. That was never the Zionist argument and that argument should never be the reason for the State of Israel to reject any reasonable opportunity to end our conflict with the Palestinians.
Most recently the outgoing Netanyahu Government thought it necessary to bring forth and narrowly pass the new “Nationality Law” that recognised Israel to be the national home for the Jewish people. The bill squarely placed being Jewish as more important than being Israeli. While most Israeli Arabs are certainly not Zionists they are Israelis; as are many Jewish Israelis who don’t consider religion to be the defining reason for their living in the State of Israel.
So that brings us to where we are today – into an era of uncertainty. Prime Minister Netanyahu appears ready to make further concessions to orthodox and right wing Jewish political parties in order to buy their support for legislation that would protect him from any criminal prosecution. Should such a scenario come to pass it would threaten, perhaps irreversibly, Israel’s democratic foundations, while at the same time increasing the likelihood that the character of Israel will become more Jewish and less Zionist.
There is a demonstration against these threats to our democracy and our society which is to be held at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, the 25th of May. It is to be hoped that their will be a massive turnover that will cause those in power to think deeply before they try to use their political power in a manner that would damage the country – perhaps forever!